One Sunny Day: A Child's Memories of Hiroshima
With the media focused on the bombing of civilians in Ukraine and Gaza, revisiting the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and its impact on the civilian population, seems timely. The publication of this new edition of One Sunny Day by Hideko Tamura Snider includes her memories of that day in August of 1945 in Hiroshima when she was ten years old. It is, at times, difficult to read.
One Sunny Day opens with Hideko’s memories of the first ten years of her life in Tokyo and Hiroshima. This is a good introduction to her recollections of the rhythms of daily life in her extended family household. This builds to a recounting of the events of the days preceding, during, and following the dropping of the bomb. The first half of the book deals directly and indirectly with the impact on the city, its people, and the author.
The second section of the book recounts the circumstances that led to Hideko’s moving to the United States, which in the end leads to her decision not to move back to Japan, although visits home are important elements in arriving at that decision. Central, too, is the ongoing trauma that remains with her, especially the death of her mother in the bombing, for which she takes some blame. Her mother’s death haunts her, sometimes literally.
Over the decades, there have been numerous accounts of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and its effects on the city, its people, and much of the world. The first, and best known of these, is John Hersey’s Hiroshima.
One Sunny Day is Hideko Tamura Snider’s valuable contribution to this body of literature. Sections of what became the book were written for different reasons and audiences at different times. The point of view shifts from recollections of a ten-year-old child to a parent writing for her children, and then to a mature adult grappling with the trauma of these horrible events that began on August 6, 1945, just after 8:15 in the morning. These shifts in Hideko’s perspective are part of what gives this book its special power.
“Suddenly something flashed behind me. I jumped up, jerked my head to look out the window, and saw a huge band of white light plummeting past the trees and the stone lanterns on the ground, with a swift swishing sound like a massive gushing waterfall—an impossible, unreal, and incomprehensible sight.
“A thunderous, deafening explosion jolted the air and reverberated through my body, followed by a violent quake . . . It was pitch dark all around me, as if the sun had disappeared. I could think of only one thing: this must be the end of the world.”
It was not the end of the world, but rather the beginning of a lifelong struggle by Hideko Tamura Snider to reconstruct her life.
Those who have read John Hersey’s monumental account published in 1946, or the accounts of others, may not be shocked by Hideko’s account of the horror. For those new to the subject this section may require many pauses while reading. There is something about the agony of this child, and Hideko’s ability to capture the moment, that makes for very difficult reading.
The results of that day were devastating for this young girl who lost her neighbors, the family home, and her city. Trying to put her life back together would prove fundamentally impossible. Building a new life would be a difficult necessity.
Less than a decade after the bombing, Hideko Tamura was given an opportunity to go to the United States to pursue a college education. This first trip to the place of origin for the bomb that redirected her life was both eye-opening and confusing. She was able to pursue her studies and develop good relationships with those around her, including one relationship that seemed to be moving toward marriage.
However, her depression seemed to be worsening. Hallucinations involving her mother, and later a sudden fear that she herself was dying would sweep over her. She searched for answers in religion but found it increasingly difficult to accept the concept of a god.
When her education and professional training in counseling ended, she decided to return home and help in the rebuilding of a new Japan. Once there, she continued to be confronted by depressing memories and difficult family relationships. At one point, Hideko seriously contemplated suicide. She came to realize that she could not resettle into Japanese society and decided to return to the United States.
In Chicago, Hideko began once again to build a new life. Although there was greater success this time, it was not a smooth road. She found rewarding work in the care of cancer patients; some satisfaction in the anti-nuclear and Ban the Bomb movements, and other peace movements nationally and internationally. She was married twice, the first resulting in the birth of two children who grew into successful and brilliant careers. The second marriage was to her first love from her student days with whom she finally reconnected, Robert Snider.
Nonetheless, the trauma of the Hiroshima bombing never left her, although she was able to ultimately make some peace with it. She travelled to Japan and was involved in the creation of the Peace Tower and Memorial in Hiroshima.
In March of 2020, she took part in the ceremonies marking the 75th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. At the National Air and Space Museum, Hideko Tamura Snider came face to face with the Enola Gay, the aircraft that delivered the bomb to Hiroshima on that sunny Monday morning in 1945. When asked by a journalist if she felt anger over what had happened, she said, “No I’ve never felt anger but . . . the deepest grief at the bottom of my heart all my life.”
Near the end of the book, she writes this: “The Hiroshima Experience was and remains an Ultimate Abyss—the theft and decimation of the Radiance of Life.”