How this El Cerrito woman survived Hiroshima — and the years that followed

Aug 4, 2016

May Yamaoka spent the first years of her life in Lodi, California – born there to Japanese immigrant parents. In 1938, her dad decided to move the entire family back to his village outside Hiroshima. The idea was to help his kids connect to Japanese language and culture. Then came war, and everything changed.

On August 6, 1945 – the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan – 16-year-old May and her younger sister, Mana, were at work. Mana helped clear debris from demolished buildings in town; May worked in a cigarette factory at the city’s edge.

May survived the blast, returning to live in California several years later. She married a Japanese-American who’d been held in an internment camp here, and together they built a life – three children, three grandchildren, a home in El Cerrito. And for many years she kept her stories of surviving the A-bomb to herself. But now, at the age of 87, she’s sharing her experiences, and fulfilling a promise she made to her dad back in Japan.

To hear May's story, click on the audio player above.

Berkeley’s annual Peace Lantern Ceremony, commemorating victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, happens this Saturday.