Study Guide

Hatsuyo Nakamura in Hiroshima

By John Hersey

Hatsuyo Nakamura

Mrs. Nakamura was a tailor's widow who had three children. When the book opens, she had just returned home with her three children, having evacuated the night before due to several air raid warnings.

Where She Was When It Happened

Since they'd had an eventful night, Mrs. Nakamura told the kids to stay in bed longer than usual (we bet they were pretty much a-okay with that) and she was looking out the window at a neighbor who was being forced to take his house down to make room for a fire lane. As she was staring at him, the bomb was dropped. She lost consciousness as a result.

What Happened Next

When she came to, Mrs. Nakamura rescued her children and headed for the evacuation zone with a neighbor.

Before leaving, while she was on the hunt for some fabric to use for bandaging, she did something kind of bizarre-o with her most prized possession: her sewing machine:

While fetching the cloth, she noticed her sewing machine; she went back in for it and dragged it out. Obviously, she could not carry it with her, so she unthinkingly plunged her symbol of livelihood into the receptacle which for weeks had been her symbol of safety—the cement tank of water in front of her house, of the type every household had been ordered to construct against a possible fire raid. (2.8)

It's hard to understand Mrs. Nakamura's reasoning for doing this, but it definitely speaks to her not being entirely together in the aftermath of the blast—and hey, that's totally understandable, right? It seems that she was just utilizing that "symbol of safety" in a crisis, even though it's hard to imagine water being considered a safe place for a metal sewing machine…

Anyway, once she and the kids were evacuated, they were laid up feeling sick for some time. Eventually, through Father Kleinsorge's assistance, they ended up at the Novitiate for a little while before going to stay with family for the longer term.

In the years that followed, Mrs. Nakamura struggled to make ends meet and suffered from chronic health problems.

Afterthoughts of War

However, Mrs. Nakamura eventually found a good job, got health benefits, and achieved some stability, and she was ultimately able to retire in comfort. So, she actually ended up enjoying her life quite a bit (health problems and all):

It was time for her to enjoy life. For her pleasure in being able to give gifts, she took up embroidery and the dressing of traditional kimekomi dolls, which are supposed bring good luck. Wearing a bright kimono, she went once a week to dance at the Study Group of Japanese Folk Music. In set movements, with expressive gestures, her hands now and then tucking up the long folds of the kimono sleeves, and with head held high, she danced, moving as if floating, with thirty agreeable women to a song of celebration of entrance into a house… (5.23)
Hey, that actually sounds like an awesome retirement. We want something as chill as dancing classes and doll-making in our golden years. Get it, Mrs. Nakamura!

Hersey mentions that, as Mrs. Nakamura's circumstances had gradually improved, her personality had undergone some changes, too,

It appeared that all along there had been, deep in her temperament, a core of cheerfulness, which must have fuelled her long fight against A-bomb lassitude, something warmer and more vivifying than mere submission, than saying, "Shikata ga-nai." The other women took to her; she was constantly doing them small favors. (5.15)

For those of you who don't speak Japanese, Hersey is referencing one of Mrs. Nakamura's go-to expressions, which means something along the lines of "It can't be helped"—which was basically her attitude about the bomb and all the crummy things that had happened to her as a result, according to Hersey: "As Nakamura-san struggled to get from day to day, she had no time for attitudinizing about the bomb or anything else" (5.6).

In short, in stark contrast to others like Mr. Tanimoto, her post-war coping meant staying far away from politics. She preferred crafting

According to Hersey, her tendency to want to avoid politicizing or dwelling on her role in the Hiroshima tragedy was pretty common:

Like a great many hibakusha, Nakamura-san had kept away from all the agitation […] (and) shared with some other survivors a suspicion of ulterior motives on the part of political-minded people who took part in the annual ceremonies and conferences. (5.18)

Her reluctance to politicize her tragedy meant she didn't seek health benefits as quickly she might have otherwise, though. That's the downside to her homebody ways. At least she had a pretty happy time later in life, though.

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