Tsutomu Yamaguchi: The man who survived two atomic bombs

On the morning of August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The attacks brought World War II to an end but also caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Atomic bomb mushroom clouds over Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right). Img Source: Wikimedia Commons

It is estimated that at least 125,000 people were killed. Many people managed to survive the attacks but only one man can say that he survived both Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Tsutomu Yamaguchi.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi
Tsutomu Yamaguchi, as a young engineer.

It’s said there were around 160 people affected by both bombings but Tsutomu Yamaguchi was the only one that was officially recognized by the government of Japan as surviving both explosions.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi was 29 years old when he was on a business trip in Hiroshima. At that time he worked at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. On August 6, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, he was just two miles away from ground zero.

He was one of the lucky survivors and spent the night in a Hiroshima bomb shelter trying to figure out what to do next. The detonation ruptured his eardrums and he was temporarily blinded by the bright flash of light. He remembers seeing the mushroom cloud before he passed out.

In the shelter where he went to spent the night, he found his three work colleagues who had also survived the blast. The four of them left the shelter the next morning; they reached the train station and took a train to their hometown of Nagasaki.

Mr. Yamaguchi was seriously injured but he decided that he was well enough to return to work on August 9th, just three days after the Hiroshima explosion.

An atomic cloud looms over Nagasaki
An atomic cloud looms over Nagasaki just after the bombing. August 9, 1945 © Wikimedia Commons

Mr. Yamaguchi was in his Nagasaki office, telling his boss about the Hiroshima blast, when “suddenly the same white light filled the room” ― the Americans detonated the second bomb in Nagasaki.

“I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima.” ― Tsutomu Yamaguchi

The US wasn’t planning to drop the bomb on Nagasaki. Nagasaki was the secondary target; the original objective was the city of Kokura, but because of the bad weather, Nagasaki was chosen instead. Japan surrendered six days after the Nagasaki attack.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi managed to survive again. In three days he survived two nuclear bomb attacks. The bombs were dropped in the center of the city and Tsutomu was again about two miles away. Mr. Yamaguchi himself experienced no immediate injury from this second explosion, though he of course was exposed to another high dose of ionizing radiation.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi
Photograph of Tsutomu Yamaguchi by Justin Mccurry. March 25, 2009.

Mr. Yamaguchi slowly recovered and went on to live a relatively normal life. What is more interesting Mr. Yamaguchi was 93 years old when he died in January 2010. The cause of his death was stomach cancer.