James Yamazaki was a doctor deployed overseas in WWII and later traveled to Nagasaki to study the effects of radiation. He spoke to us in his home in White Salmon, Washington.

James Yamazaki was born in the U.S. to parents who immigrated from Japan. At one time he had dual citizenship, but he says his father chose to sever his and his brothers ties to Japan so the family would be perceived as more American.

Family portrait of Yamazaki (left) as a child with parents and two brothers.

Family portrait of Yamazaki (left) as a child with parents and two brothers.

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Choosing Medicine

Yamazaki said it was his relationship with his family doctor when he was a child that may have sparked is initial interest in medicine. That doctor made house calls and had a way with kids, he said, drawing pictures with them and making them feel good. But as far as choosing pediatric medicine as a specialty, Yamazaki said that was basically an accident. Instead of sending his application for residency to a general hospital, he sent it to a renowned children’s hospital, which ultimately accepted him.  

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Healthy Living and Good Genes

Yamazaki recently turned 99 years old. He said his father lived to be 101, despite the fact that his father was a smoker. Yamazaki said before Aki passed away last year, after nearly 80 years of marriage, she would cook healthy food with lots of vegetables.

Health and wellness reminders posted on 99-year-old James Yamazaki's refrigerator door.

Health and wellness reminders posted on 99-year-old James Yamazaki’s refrigerator door.

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He prepares simple food for himself now, and sometimes gets help with tasks and appointments from  his daughter Caroline and home health workers who look in on him regularly.

Treating Injured Soldiers And Being Captured By The Nazis During World War II

Yamazaki was deployed in Germany and treated soldiers injured in battle before he was captured by the Nazis. He said the famous author Kurt Vonnegut was in the same contingent, but ultimately they were sent to different camps — Vonnegut’s WWII experiences are reflected in “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Yamazaki spent many months in a prisoner-of-war camp in miserable conditions and little food before he and the other prisoners were liberated by the Allied Forces and he was able to go home to his wife.

Investigating the Effects of Radiation On Children Born After The Atomic Bomb Was Dropped on Nagasaki

A few years after the war ended, James Yamazaki was among the first Americans to travel to Japan to look into what effects the atomic bomb had on children who were in the womb when the bombing took place.

Dave Miller looks through pictures from Yamazaki's personal collection.

Dave Miller looks through pictures from Yamazaki’s personal collection.

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He said he was surprised by the warm welcome he was given by the Japanese and was concerned that he would be perceived as the “enemy” but he found only help and hospitality in the country, which he had never previously visited.

Yamazaki said he and other researchers identified 30 women who were pregnant during the bombing and found that their children were born with small heads and had mental retardation, among other profound effects.

James Yamazaki explains post-WWII photographs from Nagasaki that Dave Miller looks through before the interview.

James Yamazaki explains post-WWII photographs from Nagasaki that Dave Miller looks through before the interview.

Allison Frost/OPB

Yamazaki’s Take On Nuclear Weapons In 2015

Yamazaki said he doesn’t think there’s enough attention paid to the devastating effects of nuclear weapons. He said if people could have seen what he did, they would not forget that in one instant 80,000 people could be obliterated, leaving dramatic and lasting effects on the landscape and survivors. Yamazaki declined to explicitly state a position on any specific geopolitical situation, but he did say there are already enough nuclear weapons on the planet to destroy it many times over.