Tanka, Japanese traditional poem, by A-bomb survivor to be included in Peace Declaration on August 6

by Keiichi Nagayama, Staff Writer

In the Peace Declaration that Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui reads out at the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony on August 6, he will include a tanka poem, a short form of Japanese poem that consists of 31 syllables. The poem, composed by Kimie Murayama, 79, an A-bomb survivor living in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, depicts her mother embracing Ms. Murayama’s sister, who was covered in blood because of the atomic bombing. Ms. Murayama strongly hopes that the horrific A-bomb memories will be handed down to the next generation.

In English, the poem states: “My mother embraced my sister, blood spurting from her head with the bobbed hair, then went mad.” When Ms. Murayama was told that her poem would be included in the declaration given by the City of Hiroshima, she was quietly delighted. “I have been hoping that I can convey my desire for peace in my own way through writing tanka poems,” she said.

The atomic bomb exploded when Ms. Murayama was five years old and was at the front door of her house located in Minamikanon-machi (now part of Nishi Ward), about 2.3 kilometers from the hypocenter. She suffered injuries to her left arm from falling roof tiles. Back then, her sister was three years old. Flying shards of glass from the blast pierced her head and lower back, causing serious injuries. Her mother took Ms. Murayama’s sister in her arms and ran to an evacuation center. Ms. Murayama said, “My mother had a frantic look on her face and her hair was disheveled. She looked completely different from how she ordinarily looked, and I was unable to say anything. I just ran after them.”

After the war, Ms. Murayama studied biochemistry in college and eventually became an associate professor and researcher at Juntendo Graduate School. She began to compose tanka poems in her 50s while still working. When she read an association magazine from Chōon (The Sound of the Ocean), an organization of tanka poets, on the advice of an acquaintance, she felt that even fragmentary messages can reach people’s minds and so she devoted herself to composing tanka poems.

The poem that will be included in the Peace Declaration was written in 1995. Ms. Murayama’s older sister, who experienced the atomic bombing with her, has suffered health problems related to autoimmune disease, and Ms. Murayama has also suffered from such symptoms as a falling white blood count. Moved by her experience of the atomic bombing, she composed 20 tanka poems for a collection titled August 6, 1945 with the wish for a world free of nuclear weapons. These vivid poems include: “People are floating one after another in a drain channel, uttering words that make no sense.” “Whenever I move to a new place, the back of the chest of drawers, stained with blood, stings my heart.”

Ms. Murayama currently serves as president of an A-bomb survivors’ group in Bunkyo Ward and continues to speak about her A-bomb experience several times a year. She is concerned about the state of the world in which leaders are obsessed only with protecting their own nations’ interests as global tensions rise. “It makes me very anxious to think that another war might break out. I never want to experience that again,” she said. She and her sister, Natsue, 77, who lives with her, nodded to each other.

(Originally published on August 2, 2019)