We sat down today to talk with Michelle Young, the founder of Untapped Cities and her connection to Hiroshima through her grandfather, who survived the atomic bomb 68 years ago.
Untapped: Last year, on the 67th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, you wrote, “It is hard to imagine my world without him, someone who has given and taught me so much.” We’re sorry to hear about your loss this year, how are you honoring him this year?
Michelle: It’s been a hard year, as he was very much the patriarch of our family. We were arranging a meet up between one of the Tuskeegee Airmen, who I met at Obama’s inauguration this year and my grandfather, but he got sick and passed away before we set a date. I’ve made a pact to finally visit Hiroshima myself and I’ve been doing more research into locating where he might have been standing when the bomb dropped.
Today, I looked at the sobering 360°panorama photo stitched together by Harbert F. Austin of Hiroshima after the bomb and read this New Yorker piece about the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. If you look closely at the panorama, you can see people biking next to the rubble and children walking in the roads. Besides the destruction, it’s also I’d like to also check out the statue that survived Hiroshima that’s right here in New York City on Riverside Drive.
Untapped: Your grandfather wasn’t Japanese, but he was in Hiroshima?
Michelle: That’s right. Taiwan was occupied by Japan before WWII. The strongest students were sent to Japan to study and he was in Hiroshima when the war broke out. He was drafted into the Japanese military at the time because of the occupied status of Taiwan and he drove truck supplies between the outskirts of Hiroshima and the center of the city. At the time of the atomic bomb, he was only 19.
Untapped: How did he survive?
Michelle: My grandfather was a really social guy throughout his life. He saw a friend driving a truck out of Hiroshima as he himself was driving into the city, and stopped to have a talk. That’s when the bomb was dropped. He saw the mushroom cloud, later thinking that a row of houses may have blocked him from direct rays. Some of my research this year, after coming across NukeMaps, a site that let’s you simulate nuclear explosions, showed me that depending on the wind direction and speed, he may have been fortunately been out of the fallout zone even if close to the city.
Untapped: What other notable adventures did he have in his life?
Michelle: After the atomic bomb, he retreated back into the outskirts and returned to the city the next day. They didn’t know it was nuclear of course, with the chaos. His description of shriveled bodies and people crying out for water are unforgettable. Even during the war, he made multiple sea trips between Taiwan and Japan, lost friends whose boats were destroyed. His appendix also exploded just before his last trip back. If he had gone on the first ship, he would have likely died onboard with the lack of medical care. Instead, he got to take a warship, which he always talked about excitedly, after his stay in a Japanese hospital.
Another story the family tells include when he had to be smuggled between Germany and Austria on a group tour in the ’70s because he only had a single entry Visa. The tour guide went through the border in his home town and got the border patrols a bunch of beer. I like to think that my adventurous travel streak comes partially from him.
Read more about her grandfather’s experience at Hiroshima here.