- The Case of Leslie Satoru Nakashima and His Breaking News Dispatch
That the atomic bomb, more than Russia’s entry into the war, compelled Japan to surrender as she did on August 15 instead of waging a showdown battle on the Japanese mainland is a justifiable conclusion drawn after one sees what used to be Hiroshima city. [. . .] I’ve just returned to Tokyo from that city, which was destroyed at one stroke by a single atomic bomb thrown by a super flying fortress on the morning of August 6 [. . .] There’s not a single building standing intact in the city—until recently of 300,000 population. The death toll is expected to reach 100,000 with people continuing to die daily from burns suffered from the bomb’s ultra-violet rays.—Leslie Nakashima, September 27, 1945
On August 27, 1945, Kaua‘i-born Leslie Satoru Nakashima, penned the first eye-witness report of Hiroshima’s devastation to be published in Western media. The article, “Hiroshima as I Saw it,” recounted his observations after arriving in Hiroshima on August 22, sixteen days after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city and several weeks before any foreign war correspondent had been able to enter the city. Few are aware of this and even the historical record in Hiroshima erroneously attributes the first news report to Wilfred Burchett.2
Without the aid of translators or interpreters required by those Western reporters who would break the story after him, Nakashima [End Page 1] encountered the stories of survivors—many of them acquaintances of his from his native land of Hawai‘i, as well as his own mother—who recalled their experiences of survival and loss. Reading Nakashima’s article syndicated in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, his nine siblings living in Hawai‘i must have been shocked and relieved to read about the status of their mother—information that was not available to most Japanese Americans with family or kinship connections to Hiroshima and Nagasaki until months or sometimes even years later. Consequently, because their father was not mentioned in the report, this was also how they learned that he already passed away (since communication between the family had been cut off by the circumstances of war).3
Leslie Nakashima was a well-known, popular, and celebrated journalist in the prewar Japanese American community. Having spent nearly a decade on the staff of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (1924–1934), interrupted only by a brief period (1928–1930), during which time he served as the premier sportswriter for the Nippu Jiji, his reputation was solid. According to the Shin Sekai Asahi Shinbun, Nakashima was known for his “accurate and speedy reporting,” which was “familiar to all American readers.”4 He was referred to by the Rafu Shimpō as a “one-time ‘star’ of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s city staff.” General manager of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Joseph Rider Farrington, described Nakashima’s good standing as follows:
Adept at all types of reporting and in the field of government, politics and sports was outstanding for his work. . . . Although of Japanese ancestry, he is an American citizen and is held in high regard by American citizens of many other races in the Territory of Hawaii, both for his work as a newspaper man and his fine character.5
Despite his near-celebrity status in the prewar years, Nakashima’s story, as well as the fact that Japanese Americans had significant material ties to Hiroshima, faded into obscurity behind the tropes of Japanese American loyalty that have dominated post-war themes in Japanese American history.
In 1997, historian Yuji Ichioka examined the case of Kazumaro Buddy Uno, a controversial Kibei journalist, who according to him, was “banished into historical oblivion.” In his study, Ichioka brought attention to the marginalization of Japanese American experiences that do not fit neatly into the narrative of Japanese American loyalty [End Page 2] and insisted that Japanese American history must become “inclusive” of the complex histories of its constituents.6 This article examines the case of Leslie Satoru Nakashima and the circumstances of his breaking news story, the first eye-witness report on the aftermath of the...