The Flowers of Hiroshima, A Book Review

When I first read this book, I had just turned 14. I have never forgotten the heartbreak. This is a review of The Flowers of Hiroshima by Edita Morris, re-read more than 50 years later.

image of the cover of The Flowers of Hiroshima.


Told in the first person, this is the story of a Japanese family and their American boarder. The tone is loving and tender and heartbreaking.

Yuka-san, a young housewife, meets Sam Willoughby outside of her home. Sam, a young American on a business trip to Hiroshima, wants to stay with a native family. Yuka’s family could use the extra money. So Sam becomes her lodger.

Yuka-san loves her family, friends, and neighbors. She worries about her husband. Takes delight in her two children, her beautiful sister, and her American lodger. And she hides the ugliness of post-atomic-bomb-life from Sam.

She watches Sam fall in love with Ohatsu and hopes that he will marry her sister and take her to America. But Ohatsu loves another. And Yuka cannot deny her sister a chance for happiness. Then the shadow they live under touches each of them and changes all of their lives.


Fourteen years after the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, Yuka and her family live in the “back alley” of Hiroshima. They rent their two-room home with its “handkerchief-sized garden” on a road “as narrow and twisting as a chewed-up string.”

We see lives with limited opportunities and terrible economic and social pressures. And we get glimpses of the stories behind physical and emotional scars.


Edita Morris (1902-1988) was born in Örebro, Sweden, to Reinhold Toll and his first wife Alma Prom-Möller. The youngest of four daughters, she grew up on her grandmother’s farm and in Stockholm. Her “strong-willed divorced mother” and a “good girls’ school” educated her.

While engaged to a young lieutenant from a noble family, she met journalist and writer, Ira Morris. Ira was the son of an American millionaire and envoy to Stockholm. They married in 1925. His political and social interests sparked hers. They traveled extensively and became political activists. During WWII, they lived in America.

Morris had her first short stories published in the Atlantic MonthlyHarper’s Bazaar, and other publications. Her first novel, My Darling from the Lions, was published in 1943.

In 1959, she published The Flowers of Hiroshima. It won the Albert Schweitzer Prize in 1961. Morris wrote many other books, but The Flowers of Hiroshima is her best known work. They translated the story into 39 languages and made an opera. Hollywood purchased the film rights but never made a movie.

Her inspiration came partly from her visits to Japan. But she also drew on the experiences of her son, Ivan Morris. Ivan was an intelligence office in the U.S. Navy. In that role, he visited Hiroshima immediately after the bombing. He later became a distinguished Japanologist.

Morris and her husband founded a rest house in Hiroshima for victims of the bomb. After her death, the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture, usually known as the Hiroshima Foundation, was established.

She died in Paris in 1988.


This is a relatively short and easy read. It moved me as a teen and left an indelible memory. When I decided to devote part of this month to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, I decided to re-read this story.

As an adult rereading the story, I recognized some mild propaganda. There is some dated language but the characters, time, and place are so well rendered that it is easy to overlook. Finally, there are a few places where the Japanese viewpoint slipped into a more American one. These things were minor.

The character Yuka is always compassionate. She never casts blame or expresses hatred, not even when her worst fears come true. It’s a heartrending story of dignity and compassion and suffering. It grabbed hold of my imagination as a teen and in rereading it. Several passages moved me to tears. 

If you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend this book. I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of The Flowers of Hiroshima by Edita Morris. Have you read any fiction about the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki?

What They Learned about Radiation After the Bomb

Within six weeks after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, three US and two Japanese teams studied the impact of radiation. The Japanese wanted to know the medical effects on survivors. The American’s wanted to know how and why people died from the blast. The Americans gathered information for a few months and left. Later, President Harry Truman approved a broader research effort. What they learned about radiation after the atom bomb blasts and what we continue to learn affects all of us today.

The yellow and black symbol for radiation danger.

The ABCC and the RERF

The National Research Council formed and funded The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) to study the medical and biological effects of radiation after the A-bomb. They hoped to produce useful data for peacetime uses of atomic energy.

By 1950 the ABCC employed 143 allied and 920 Japanese personnel in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Unfortunately, the ABCC did not help the Japanese they studied. Signs and magazines were in English. Linoleum floors caused pregnant Japanese women wearing traditional wooden clogs to slip and fall. They didn’t offer or give medical treatments. And they offered little or no compensation for lost work to their study participant.

Over time, the hibakusha (atom bomb survivors) lost faith in the ABCC. The Atomic Energy Commission planned to withdraw their support. An appeal by an American geneticist gained the organization time and funds. But it wasn’t enough.

In April 1975, they established a new binational organization run by both the United States and Japan. And the ABCC became the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF). 

The Participants

A 1950 census had helped identify 280,000 hibakusha all over Japan.

The ABCC recruited about 75,000 hibakusha who still lived in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The participants included men and women of all ages. 

Later, the ABCC recruited an additional 20,000 to 25,000 participants.

The organization intended to follow these people for decades.

Calculating Exposure

Scientists put an enormous effort into estimating each person’s exposure level. Select survivors gave detailed information about where they were when the bomb hit. They collected copper from temple roofs at various distances from the hypocenter. Using mass spectrometry, they measured an isotope to help them estimate the amount of radiation. In 1957 and 1958, Oak Ridge National Laboratory built typical Japanese houses at the Nevada Test Site. After atomic bomb tests, they measured radiation inside and out of the buildings.

They interviewed 28,000 survivors in the 1960s. Information gathered included the survivor’s exact position, standing, sitting, direction faced, exact location within the building, and the building’s construction materials. 

Researchers used the information to calculate the dosage of radiation each survivor received. They refined the information again in the 1980s. This time they identified the radiation dosage at individual organ levels.

Possible Birth Defects

The possible effect of radiation on survivor’s children was one of the ABCC’s immediate concerns. Babies already conceived in August had small head sizes at birth. And studies done on fruit flies suggested that irradiation of adults caused heritable genetic changes and defects in offspring.

The ABCC enrolled more than 60,000 expectant mothers into their research program. (See Science Magazine’s site for details gathered during the study.) Births between 1948 and 1952 showed no correlation between parental exposure and birth defects, birth weights, or stillbirths. Unexpectedly they learned that the sex of the baby appeared to be affected by the gender of the irradiated parent. If the mother was a survivor, the likelihood of her having a daughter increased. Irradiation of the father appeared to increase the number of baby boys.

What They Learned About Radiation

image of an atom

According to Science Magazine, the ABCC/ RERF learned a lot about radiation from the atom bomb survivors. Below are some of the lessons listed by that magazine.

The younger an individual was at the time of the bombings, the greater their risk of developing cancer. The higher the dose of radiation, the higher the percentage of cancer deaths. But the risk decreased over a survivor’s lifetime.

Women were at higher risk of developing radiation-associated cancer. They believe that was largely because of additional cases of breast cancer.

Women exposed to bomb radiation at the age of her first menstruation had a higher risk of developing breast or uterine cancer later in life than those exposed before or after puberty.

Radiation most increased the risk of leukemia among survivors. Especially among those whose exposure came from near the hypocenter.

It also increased the risk of cancer of the stomach, lung, liver, and breast. Exposure also heightened the risk of heart failure and stroke, asthma, bronchitis, and gastrointestinal conditions.

How We Use What They Learned

Medical personnel, astronauts, and radiation researchers, among others, wear dosimeters. These little badges register how much radiation exposure the wearer receives. They base the recommended limits for these workers on the ABCC/RERF organization’s research.

The shielded rooms and aprons for X-rays and chemotherapy are also thanks in part to the atom bomb radiation research.

They also learned how radiation damages human cells. Read RERF’s explanation.

Have We Really Learned?

image of four hands with different skin colors clasping each other's wrists

Radiation is useful in medicine and in dating ancient objects. But did we learn our lesson about radiation as a weapon?

Time has passed. Almost 70% of the participants from Hiroshima and Nagasaki have died. The rest are in their 80s and 90s. The RERF will follow each of them until the last one dies. But the organization will continue to research the biological and medical effects of radiation for years beyond that time.

But even in Japan, people are forgetting. Once there are no more A-bomb survivors, will there be no more memories of the horror of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Will what they learned about radiation after the A-bomb be enough to keep us all from dropping another bomb, a bigger bomb, on another city? Let us pray for a lasting peace. More than that, we must work to attain peace. A peace that never fears a bomb of any kind.

Powerful Quotes About Why War

From toys to poetry, from song to all types of entertainment humans seem obsessed with war. The first recorded war, inscribed in stone, took place in Mesopotamia between Sumer and Elam c. 2700 BCE. Some believe it is an unavoidable part of the human condition. Some come to appreciate that it is a necessary evil. Let’s look at some notable quotes about why war over the years.

green toy soldier represents war

The Art of War

The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

Sun Tzu 544 BC-496 BC.
ancient chinese warrior statues why war-is it part of the human condition?

Ancient Wars

Veni, vidi, vici. (I came, I saw, I conquered.)

Julius Caesar,100 BC–44 BC.

Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum. (If you want peace, prepare for war.)

Epitoma Rei Militaris, Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, 4th century.
roman chariot and soldier

Of Kingdoms and Estates

No body can be healthful without exercise, neither natural body nor politic, and certainly, to a kingdom or estate, a just and honourable war is the true exercise.

Francis Bacon, 1561–1626.

Waterloo 1815 

You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.

Napoleon Bonaparte,1769–1821.

U.S. Civil War 1861-1865

cannon aimed at ocean defends the coast, why war--sometimes it's for defense

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.

John Stuart Mill 1806–1873. 

It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.

Robert E. Lee,1807–1870.

World War I 1914-1918

Bristish soldiers in trench during WWI

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.

G. K. Chesterton, 1874–1936.

World War II 1939-1945

We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Sir Winston Churchill British Prime Minister (1940–45, 1951–55) 1874–1965.

Yesterday, December seventh, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. We will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the U.S.A., 1882–1945.


Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood.

George S. Patton, 1885–1945.

The Atomic Bomb

Image of the bomber the Enola Gay which dropped the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima
Public domain

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British “Grand Slam” which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form, these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development.

It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the U.S.A., 1890–1969.

Spanish War 1943

War is evil, but it is often the lesser evil.

George Orwell, 1903–J1950.


image of Greek armed forces doing their duty one of the reasons why war

You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.

Robert A. Heinlein, 1907–1988

War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children

.Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the U.S.A. 1924—.

You have to make sure you know why you are going to war and then use decisive force to end it as soon as possible.

Colin Powell, 1937—.

Your Thoughts about War

Humankind has an obsession with war. There are thousands of quotes about why war. But is it necessary? Is it part of our human condition? Or have we been conditioned to believe it is? Do you believe in a defensive war? Or do you pray that the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki never happens again? Perhaps, you believe “we shall have to begin with the children” as Mahatma Gandhi does. Watch for the full quote in next Monday’s post Quotes About Peace.