“I remember it very vividly” she said. “I
was 15 years old at that time.”
Fujioka was born in the United States, where she and her family—father,
mother, and eight siblings, of which she was the oldest girl—lived
in Liliha on North King Street, in a predominantly Japanese
Fujioka attended Kai‘ulani Elementary school in Kalihi
where she learned to speak English. When her parents decided,
early in 1941, when she was 11, that she needed to experience
her Japanese heritage, they announced they were sending her
to Japan for secondary school. She needed to learn to speak
Japanese. (She had only a few years of brief one-hour tutoring
sessions in Japanese.)
To prepare her to enter secondary school in Japan, her parents
sent her and her younger sister to their home village of Saka,
a few miles from Hiroshima, to live with her maternal grandparents,
who were farmers, and study at a Japanese school.
The Japanese school was in Hiroshima, which at the time, was
a military city. Fujioka went to school by train every day
and when she wasn’t in school she helped her grandparents
work their farm.
I never had to farm before,” Fujioka said. “They
(her grandparents) used a tool that seemed so impractical to
clear land.” She added that “In school one of our
classes was to teach us how to farm land. Imagine something
like that here in the U.S.”
Fujioka prepared for a year and then had to undergo three days
of testing in order to be accepted into high school in Hiroshima.
Two days consisted of writing; the last day was a physical
I was more afraid to take the physical because I had never
had P.E., and I was worried I wouldn’t make it,” she
But make it she did. Fujioka was admitted to Japanese High
School in Hiroshima City.
After Pearl Harbor the conflict between the United States and
Japan escalated into war and Fujioka found herself stranded
in Japan. She recounted an experience of a male classmate who
would whisper to her in English, “Let’s hope we
can go back to Hawai‘i.”
School became harder to attend during the war times,” she
said, explaining that Japan had manpower shortages as a result
of its ongoing war with China. “We were sent to work
in factories because there was no one else to do it.”
Because she was an American citizen, Fujioka was given janitorial
work to do. On the “fateful day,” as she calls
it, she remembers riding the train from Saka into Hiroshima,
to work at an office building on the city’s outskirts,
to which she had been assigned. She recounted that she and
other office workers saw a B-29 fly across the sky. She said
it was unusual, because there were usually more than just one.
Many thought the plane to be a reconnaissance craft searching
for something. Many of the residents of Hiroshima at that time
had been instructed to stay clear of buildings and to lie flat
on their stomachs should anything serious happen such as a
We saw a flash of light and then a huge cloud of smoke. The
city was like an inferno. There was an eerie boom, and the
whole earth shook like it does when there is thunder.”
The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was nicknamed “Little
Boy,” because it was the smaller of the two atomic bombs
dropped in Japan. It was dropped from a B-29 called Enola Gay.
The bomb exploded above the city, killing everyone within a
two-mile radius, including about 2,000 Japanese Americans who
were attending school.
In Japanese, the nuclear survivors are known as hibakusha.
Fujioka is hibakusha.
Fujioka was to remain in Japan for three more years, due to
political issues with her citizenship, before returning to
She will never forget that day. She will never forget running
away from the blast and lying down flat on her stomach in an
open field, covering her eyes, ears, and nose to keep the toxins
out of her system. She will never forget the many burn victims
who came to seek refuge in her office building, only a few
the first few hours, and then by the hundreds.
After the atomic bomb was dropped, Fujioka remembers an increase
in hostility from her neighbors, who resented her being an
American, saying it was her country that killed their sons.
Fujioka began teaching advanced Japanese in 1990 at Hawai‘i
Loa College. In 1992, the two campuses merged into HPU. In
the intervening years, Fujioka has endured the loss of a husband
to a heart attack, the loss of a son to drowning, and the loss
of a daughter to breast cancer. She now lives in Kailua with
her remaining five children, all but one of whom live a few
I think that experience in Hiroshima prepared me for the heartache
I was to endure later on in my life,” she admitted quietly. “I
think had it not been for that, I would not have been strong
enough to endure my losses.”