Features The War and Its Aftermath
Preserving the Hibakusha Legacy: Project in Hiroshima Aims to Keep Testimonies of Atomic Bomb Survivors Alive

Masuda Miki [Profile]

[2017.12.08] Read in: 日本語 |

As the hibakusha population dwindles, we move closer to a time when no victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima will be alive to share their stories of loss and suffering. To keep these accounts alive, Hiroshima has begun a project to train successors to pass down the experiences of A-bomb survivors.

Sustaining a Legacy

In late autumn, a small group gathered in a conference room at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to hear a survivor’s account of the atomic bombing of the city. The previous year, then US President Barack Obama made headlines with his historic visit to the city. But on this day the museum is wrapped in its usual air of tranquility as the 15 or so in attendance turn their attention to the storyteller—one much younger than most who have filled her role to date.

The room grows quiet as Hosomitsu Norie, an A-bomb successor, addresses the gathering. “I was born in 1963, and did not experience the atomic bombing of Hiroshima,” she explains in a straightforward tone. “But hibakusha have passed their stories down to me, and it is my role to continue sharing these with the public.”

Hosomitsu is one of around 90 trained storytellers participating in the A-bomb Legacy Successor program, a Hiroshima municipal project to preserve the stories of atomic bomb survivors. Today she is recounting the experience of Kasaoka Sadae, an 85-year-old hibakusha.

Hosomitsu Norie speaks to an audience at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

The speaker first sets the stage for the story, explaining how in the desperate closing days of World War II over 8,000 seventh- and eighth-grade students in Hiroshima were mobilized to knock down buildings to create fire lanes. Speaking in a steady tone, she tells the audience that 6,300 of the youths died in the nuclear explosion.

On the morning of August 6, 1945, Kasaoka, then 12, was at her family’s home just 3.5 kilometers from where the atomic bomb detonated. Hosomitsu recounts her experience, referring to Kasaoka by her given name.

Sadae’s parents left early to help in the demolition effort, heading to an area that was only a kilometer from where the atomic bomb would drop. She ate breakfast with her grandmother, did the washing up, and hung out the laundry to dry in the backyard. She had just stepped back inside and was standing at a window facing the direction of the bomb when the blast occurred.

Pausing a moment for emphasis, Hosomitsu continues, relating events in rapid succession.

A strangely beautiful flash, tinged with the orange of a sunrise, filled her vision. The next instant, an enormous boom shattered the window, transforming it into a wall of shredded glass. The blast knocked Sadae unconscious. When she came to, she put her hands on her head and was puzzled to find it wet.

Hosomitsu uses her whole body when relating Kasaoka’s experience.

Kasaoka’s head had been cut by the flying glass, explains the storyteller, but she had narrowly escaped grievous injury by instinctively leaning forward and covering her eyes and ears with her hands. She was nearly oblivious to her wounds, though, her senses having gone numb. With her grandmother in tow, she fled to a nearby bomb shelter. When the two emerged some time later, they were greeted by a devastated landscape.

Utility poles leaned at precarious angles, electrical lines hung slack, and bricks and rubble lay strewn across the ground. The only explanation A-bomb victims could find was that a bombing raid had occurred. They could not imagine that a single weapon could cause such widespread devastation.

A US military photo taken in November 1945 shows the heavily damaged Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall (now the A-bomb Dome) and destruction of the city center. (Courtesy of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)

Hosomitsu tells the engrossed audience that Kasaoka’s parents were killed in the explosion. Bringing the session to a close, she relates how in the wake of the bombing Kasaoka suffered health problems, including boils and anemia, and that her husband, also a hibakusha, succumbed to spinal cancer at the age of 35, leaving her to raise their two children alone.

  • [2017.12.08]

Journalist and writer. Took a postgraduate course in journalism studies at Cardiff University, Britain. Turned freelance after building up experience at Yomiuri Shimbun and elsewhere. Now mainly writes for online publications.

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