It was August 6 when the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. Only three days later, August 9th, the second one fell in Nagasaki. This week marks the 67th anniversary of the blasts that ended WWII and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, some during and some after via the radiation.

I’m not going to go into the details of the bombings, the reasons, and why it happened. There are plenty of strong opinions on whether or not it was necessary. There are also many articles you can read about this to brush up on your history and form your own opinions. I do want to tell you a pretty amazing story, though, about one particular man who got hit by both blasts and survived to the ripe old age of 93 despite everything. To do that we should probably start with a paragraph or two regarding the radiation side of things.

Radiation From Nuclear Blasts

There was much short-term sickness from the radiation of the blasts. Tens of thousands of people died from this as well as various cancers in the years to follow. According to the Radiation Dose Reconstruction US Occupation Forces In Hiroshima Nagasaki paper (what a terrible name), of the 200,000ish current survivors (as of 2011) of the blast, approximately 1% of them are recognized for having illnesses caused by the radiation from the bombings.

Now, this number is of course probably lower than the actual one. There are going to be people who don’t want to ask for a handout. There will be others who don’t want the attention. It’s hard to know exactly how many people have had lasting effects from the radiation itself, but considering it’s been 67 years now they’re all going to be fairly old already, at least 67 years of age (if they were in their mother’s womb during the blast, for example), it really shows how tough we as a species can be.

Now, not to take away anything from any of these victims, but the human body is an amazing thing. It’s actually quite resilient to radiation. We evolved for millions of years in an environment where we were constantly being bombarded by radiations from the sun and other elements. In fact, you’re being bombarded by radiation just reading this article. Don’t worry, it’s a very safe amount, much safer than flying in an airplane, for example. This XKCD comic sums it up pretty nicely, I think, and really puts it all into perspective.

But, it’s not just our ability to take radiation. So long as we don’t receive a fatal dose of it our body can actually heal itself over time. Because radiation damages our DNA and the chemical bonds inside it definitely takes a while… but our body is constantly repairing solar radiation damage like this on a much smaller scale. If it didn’t, the sun would melt us all and we’d all live in caves lined with lead and look like AKB48 fans (just kidding AKB48 fans, just kidding… don’t be angry).

You got angry!

All that being said, though, it’s probably not a great thing to be hit by atomic bombs. That’s pretty obvious. While most radiation is fairly harmless to people in normal quantities, nuclear blasts are pretty full of radiation and a lot of people got caught up in it. So many people died from it and are still feeling the effects.

The Hibakusha: Caught In The Blast Radius

The Hibakusha (被爆者), literally “explosion affected people,” are those who are survivors of an atomic blast. As of 2011, 430,000 hibakusha have their names recorded on the memorials (they add new names every year on the anniversaries of the bombings). At the time of the bombing Hiroshima had approximately 350,000 people living in it. Nagasaki had an estimated 240,000.

If all these numbers are correct, then there are approximately 160,000 atomic bomb survivors still alive today which is a pretty large number, all things considered. Other sources say 200,000. Still, from horrible times always comes inspiring stories of human kindness and survival. Take Eizo Nomura, for example. He was the only 560 feet from ground zero (that’s 170m), yet he survived because he was in the basement of a reinforced, concrete building. Escaping through the fire and surviving the radiation sickness, he went on to live to his eighties. 560 feet, though. Can you imagine?

The most inspirational story, however, comes from Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the man who survived both nuclear blasts. Either he was the luckiest or unluckiest man alive. I’ll let you judge.

The Luckiest And/Or Unluckiest Man In History

In January 2009, Tsutomu Yamaguchi was the first person to be officially recognized as a double atomic bomb survivor. He is one of 165 presumed double bomb victims, though he’s the only official one. How’d this all happen? Of course, there’s a pretty good story that goes along with it:

When he was 29 years old, Yamaguchi worked at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. He was in Hiroshima on a business trip when the atomic bomb dropped on August 6, 1945. He was a little less than two miles away from ground zero, getting burns and rupturing his eardrums. Compared to so many others, he was quite lucky. He tried to find the Hiroshima Mitsubishi Offices but it was just rubble. So then, he spent the night in a Hiroshima bomb shelter to try and figure out what to do next.

The next day, he followed a rumor that there were trains running in the outskirts of the city. Indeed they were, so he hopped on a train to Nagasaki. I think you know where this story is going. Arriving in Nagasaki, he found his wife and 2-year-old son. From there he made his way to the Mitsubishi office in Nagasaki and told his boss about the bomb in Hiroshima. It went something like this:

“You’re an engineer,” [the boss] barked. “Calculate it. How could one bomb…destroy a whole city?” Famous last words. [At that moment] a white light swelled inside the room. Heat prickled Yamaguchi’s skin, and he hit the deck of the ship engineering office. “I thought,” he later recalled, “the mushroom cloud followed me from Hiroshima.” (from The Violinist’s Thumb)

The thing is, the US wasn’t even planning on bombing Nagasaki. It was the secondary target. Weather made it so the primary target that day, Kokura, was unfeasible. Even Nagasaki barely happened because of cloud cover (they were ordered to do a visual drop) and things only cleared up at the last minute right before they’d have to leave because of fuel. So, it was essentially thanks to the weather than Yamaguchi got hit twice.

But, this isn’t so much the inspiring part. It’s what happened afterwards that’s interesting.

In the 1950s, Mr. and Mrs. Yamaguchi decided it was time to have children. They were feeling stronger by this time and were ready to try. At the time in history, it was thought that radiation damage would last a thousand years and be passed down from parent to child generation after generation. Considering Mrs. Yamaguchi was hit by one atomic bomb and Mr. Yamaguchi two, people probably thought their children would come out looking like monkeys. But, turns out all of that was wrong. There is no evidence of DNA damage to their children. Other children during this generation were fine as well (aka no epidemic of birth defects, cancers, and so on).

Mr. Yamaguchi himself died in January of 2010 at the age of 93. He died of stomach cancer, and while this cancer may have been caused by the radiation from the bombings, most would agree that 93 year olds tend to get cancer of some kind or another. His wife, Hisako, died before him of kidney and liver cancer at the age of 88. His son was not so lucky unfortunately, dying at the age of 59 of cancer, possibly due to radiation from the bomb. The two daughters are still alive and seem to be doing okay, though I suppose time will tell if they actually did receive any lasting effects.

There is one particular quote by Tsutomu Yamaguchi that stands out to me, though, and I’ll end the article with it.

“I could have died on either of those days,” he said. “Everything that follows is a bonus.” – Tsutomu Yamaguchi

Seriously, no complaining. About anything. You. Have. No. Reason. To. Complain. Ever. If you ever feel like your life sucks or that the world is out to get you, just think about Yamaguchi here.

So we salute you, Tsutomu Yamaguchi. You got hit by two atomic bombs, had a couple of kids despite what people thought at the time, and lived for over 9000 times the American life expectancy. You, sir, are a survivor, an inspiration, and the world’s toughest badass.


Sources: NPR, Wikipedia: Tsutomu Yamaguchi, Wikipedia: Hibakusha, NY Times, Wikipedia: Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

  • Kenneth Mendenhall

    Koichi, I love your site, but do you ever proofread? Have Hashi take a quick look before you upload next time. He can start with this article; I found three mistakes just reading through normally.

    On to pertinant stuff: I remember hearing about this guy in 2009. Pretty amazing story. Definitely not a member of the culture of victimhood.

  • Nityananda-rama Dasa

    Truly inspirational.

    Though, I hope this son hasn’t bombarded too many people with HIS radiation.

  • emilie

    Wow. Makes me believe in wonders again :)

  • Mitchell Atlas

    Kudos for the good research / fact-checking on radiation health effects!

  • Brungi

    ‘radiations from the sun*’ not son Koichi, but this is a very good article. I like the perspectives used here.

  • Shampie

    Why the unluckiest man? And why should that be a reason not to complain? He survived and had a nice long life with his wife and three kids!
    He surely had a good life. So I’m complaining whenever I want ;)

  • koichi

    We usually have someone proof read articles (not that it helps always), but this one was written at 3am on a last minute whim, so nobody was awake. What are the other two errors besides “son” vs “sun”? I’ll get the corrected, but you have to tell me what they are.

    That being said, I know grammar errors are _at least_ as bad as getting hit by two atomic bombs, so if this story is any indication you’ll probably survive the grammar sickness and go on to live a fairly normal life.

  • koichi

    Thanks, fixed!

  • koichi

    I see what you did there *rimshot*

  • Devid Pavliček

    Very interesting article. But he, his wife and son died all because of cancer, so at the end the bombing in Japan affected them.

  • koichi

    Asians are all about dying from cancer. Diet makes them less prone to heart attack, for example, compared to the Western world. When you’re in your 80’s or 90’s, there’s going to be a great chance someone will die of something, whether it be cancer or something else. Sure, it could have been from the radiation but… he was also 93. It could have been from any of the other 100 ways a 93-year-old / 88-year-old gets cancer.

    The son, though, for sure. More likely he died from radiation of the bomb.

    That being said, I’m not arguing that the bombing didn’t affect them… it affected them a lot, even more than most people, so not sure what you’re trying to say there.

  • koichi

    that cup of yours looks half full, may I fill it up for you? :P

  • William Sumners

    This guy was shown on QI (the greatest programme ever) once.

  • fee_fi_Fiona

    Wow! Quite possibly the only article I’ve read about atomic bombing that wasn’t all doom and gloom. Neat stuff.

  • Kamizushi Akinari

    That the environmental movement so aggressively opposes Nuclear power demonstrate one of the worst misunderstanding of history. Sure, nuclear has it’s own little problems, notably its price, but nothing that can’t be dealt with better design and good management.

  • Tokyo_Ben

    “Affect” is a verb, so in the 4th paragraph, “have had lasting affects”) and 4th to last “receive any lasting affects” should both be “effects”, which is a noun. See this comic (7th section) for reference:

  • koichi

    Can’t argue with that. Time should make things better, though. People have short memories, I think… That or they get stubborn :/

  • koichi

    Thanks, all fixed!

  • DeTo-13

    Wow that is seriously unlucky to be directly affected by both the little boy and Fatman bombs!, imagine his thoughts after firsthand witnessing two city’s reduced to rubble and thousands of civilians killed, he must have thought Japan was being completely wiped of the face off the world.

  • Mescale

    I am offended by this article.

    It says the human body is amazing. Yet when I said this exact same thing I was ambushed by filthy doctor lovers and set right that the body is a pile of crap and actually only the doctors can save you.

    What is even more insulting was that I was replying to an article saying how crap doctors were and I agreed with it and then everyone flamed me because they think Doctor House is real.

    Face it these people didn’t survive because the human body is an amazing thing, its because the doctors in Japan, who are awful as pointed out by an article on tofugu, are in-fact god incarnate and used their amazing powers to elongate the miserable lives of the stupid useless human bodies.

    Who knows what would happen if doctors were any use, I guess Japanese people would live forever.

  • Juanpy

    Show some respect to koichi and his team! complaining about such stupid details is just unfair for them for all they do to teach us every day with such interesting articles!

  • ジョサイア

    This seem’s like something I would find on cracked. xD

  • ジョサイア

    No one can deny that the body has amazing healing property’s.

    Then again, if you ever break a bone or something you will be glad that doctors exist.

  • Mr Ben

    At 16 times the average life expectancy of an average American, he would have lived to be 1250 years of age, give or take! Certainly is extraordinary!

  • Erick Reilly

    Thanks for posting that. It was quite a story.

  • Robert Patrick

    I think you’re wrong on this one : telling people they should proof read is telling them you DO appreciate their work enough to think it matters. To you and to them. It means “I am a big fan of yours, and I want you to maintain the quality you usually provide”. Koichi saying “thanks” is also a proof of that : if you’re dedicated to your work, you want it to be the reflection of your standard of “good”, and don’t let anything slip.

    Great article, by the way !

  • Meenakshi Sriram

    love your article koichi. kudos to you and yamaguchi san, of course. thank you for writing this story (been feeling very blue lately); this helped me see things could be a lot worse.

  • ZXNova

    The people who say the body is a pile of crap is stupid. The fact the body is able to heal the way it does, the way the sprinters are able to push their limits and run a 100m in under 7 seconds, The way a human can lift 500 lbs over their head, Be flexible enough to bend their back right through their legs, Be smart enough to solve a Rubix Cube within 30 seconds. If that isn’t amazing, then I don’t know what is.

  • Drew

    Oh and this one:
    Considering Mrs. Yamaguchi was hit by one atomic bomb and Mr. Yamaguchi -two-. Was this supposed to say “Mr. Yamaguchi, too” ?

  • conpanbear

    “Even Nagasaki was barely happened because of cloud cover…” (I sometimes see mistakes, but it makes me uncomfortable to point them out; I think it’s pretty rude to harass the team because of a couple of little mistakes that don’t affect the overall meaning or truth of the article.)

  • conpanbear

    Oh, and also, as some others have pointed out, what is the “lived for over sixteen times the American life expectancy” meant to be? If Yamaguchi-san lived ’til 93, that would mean the American life expectancy could be calculated at just under 6 years ^u^v

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    No, that one’s right. As in, Mr. Yamaguchi was hit by two atomic bombs. It couldn’t be “too”, since that would imply he was only hit by one.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    And also not making them into bombs and dropping them on people. Twice. Seem to be getting somewhat better at that, though, I suppose.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Hey, I remember this rant! Doctors rule, dentists drool! Ha ha, good times.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Nah, it’d need to be a numbered list. “1 Person Who Was Atom Bombed. Twice.” They’d still find a way to split it into two pages, though.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    I guess that means he’s not really dead… Just biding his time.

  • Ricardo Caicedo

    A well researched and inspirational post. Thanks, koichi, I enjoyed reading it.

  • ジョサイア

    Yeah, so true!

  • mitsuho32

    New tweet: get over yourself, you didn’t get bombed twice…

  • averygoodgame10

    I choked on my water with this one.

  • Kageboshi

    Don’t want to complain..the article is very good..but i’m pretty sure that both bombs were detonated in the air.
    “Little boy” at a height of around 600 meters..not sure for “fat man” though.
    This means that there hadn’t been any actual ground zero, and that the 170 meters away you wrote about were indeed a bit more..but a nuke remains a
    As Einstein said..”only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and i’m not sure about the former”

  • Shaun

    No mention of the controversy he inadvertently caused in the UK?

  • Cat

    This was a really beautifully written article!

  • Kenneth Mendenhall

    Ha! Good point! I just want you guys to look as professional as possible. The mistakes I saw were “even Nagasaki was barely happened” and that he lived 16 times the US life expectancy. That would make him like 1152! I think you guys write interesting articles about cool stuff I haven’t heard of, so keep up the good work.

  • Kenneth Mendenhall

    Exactly how I feel, Robert!

  • koichi

    Your comments always my day start out right, mescale! <3 <3

  • koichi

    Thanks! Fixed ‘Nagasaki was barely’ – the other one was a joke / commentary / sarcasm, though, so I’ll have to leave that one in.

  • koichi

    Nope, talking about the number for that one.

  • koichi

    It’s a joke about how big a difference the Japanese versus American life expectancy is. Maybe I should have made that number bigger so it wasn’t in that gray area of joke and “could be a mistake”

  • koichi

    I know, right?

  • koichi

    Poor radiation, always getting the short end of the rod.

  • koichi

    I don’t like writing about sad things v(;´༎ຶД༎ຶ`)v

  • koichi

    I hope so… if it happens again there are too many bombs to go around…

  • koichi

    I can imagine! Especially since nobody’s seen anything like this before it must have been crazy to see, especially twice in a row, then have no idea what’s going on anywhere else because all communication got cut off after the bomb hit.

  • koichi

    Wait, so you’re saying Dr. House doesn’t exist? Then how do you explain that documentary about him I watch on FOX every week?

  • koichi

    hahaha, +1 +1

  • koichi

    *ahem* 16x = sarcasm / joke

  • koichi

    Thought about it, but wanted to keep the article focused more on Yamaguchi.

  • koichi

    Isn’t ground zero considered the spot directly below “air zero” even when the nuke never hits the ground? That’s what I read, anyways, though I am no bomb terminology expert.

  • koichi

    I am changing it to “over 9000″ now so there’s no question.

  • Hashi

    Not to nitpick, but no sprinter has ever run 100m under 7 seconds (and no Hashi has done it under 12). 7 seconds or less would be . . . nuts.

  • Mescale

    No of course not, everyone knows Dr House exists, I was just angry and lashed out, I’m sorry koichi, I’m sorry, everyone,… for any hurt i’ve done.

    Here watch this to take the edge off.

  • Juanpy

    putting it that way i guess ur right guys, didn’t think that one through im sorry……. : ( peace and love people! sorry again Kenneth…. i feel kinda awful now Dx

  • belgand

    Well, so long as that rod is inanimate and carbon.

  • kuyaChristian

    Definitely! But with more pen1s jokes and more profanity. :]

  • kuyaChristian

    Like I said earlier, they’ll just increase the pen1s jokes to split it into 2 pages.
    …or it can be a Quick Fix article.

  • kuyaChristian

    This is amazing. I’ve stumbled upon this years ago and I know the story all along but this article just made me remember all of it again. Thank you, Koichi. :D
    And at least I can say that I give off radiation [and others too] without sounding like a total donkey.

  • ジョサイア

    I don’t have an account…D:!!! Jk xD

  • ジョサイア


  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Oh God, how do I divide sarcasm by joke I am not good with the maths!

  • koichi

    Thank god, to find out he wasn’t a real person would be… too much for me.

  • chicken aware

    “You, sir, are a survivor, an inspiration, and the world’s toughest badass.”
    Could not agree more.

    This is one of my fears of visiting Japan…I’d go to a bomb-site, sit down to consider, and weep for centuries on end. I’m totally serious here.

  • hoshiro-

    Thanks alot koichi, you just made me cry.
    I saw this article while listening to this song

  • alan

    a few months ago i saw a documentary regarding the bombings, and will what you said is true, the bombs detonated in the air, physics explained that this was planned to be like that since if the bombs hit ground the earth will absorb some of the energy explosion, so they where detonated in the air seeking to achieve the maximum destruction possible.
    PD: a curious effect of this, was that a bounding standing directly below air zero, dident collapse for the explosion, in fact is still standing to this day.

  • Lee Rolfing

    According to that you’re correct. Ground zero is the point on the ground closest to the explosion if it happened in the air.

    I’m pretty sure if I survived two nukes I’d probably think I had super powers or something.

  • koichi

    It’s those steel frames, mang. So sturdy.

  • Jonadab

    In the English-speaking world, no subject is so inherently serious that we don’t tell jokes about it. We have holocaust jokes for crying out loud.

  • jdog

    when was this last updated?