Former “Hiroshima Girl” to give A-bomb account on Peace Boat voyage

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

Shigeko Sasamori, 81, an A-bomb survivor and resident of Los Angeles, has been appointed a “Special Communicator for a World without Nuclear Weapons” by the Japanese government. She will relate her account of the atomic bombing in Vietnam and other countries during a Peace Boat voyage. After receiving medical treatment in the United States for scarring from the blast, Ms. Sasamori chose to lead a new life there. In spite of her advancing age, she continues to actively share her experience in various parts of the world. “I was given the opportunity to live, so I have a mission to fulfill,” she said. Prior to setting out on the voyage on July 18, she paid a visit to Hiroshima, her hometown, to see the site where she experienced the atomic bombing.

“I saw a plane in the clear blue sky—it was so beautiful. I was here, gazing at it,” said Ms. Sasamori, whose name at that time was Shigeko Niimoto. A first-year student at the Hiroshima Girls’ Commercial School, she was mobilized to help dismantle buildings to create a fire lane around the west end of the Tsurumi Bridge (now part of Naka Ward) on the morning of August 6, 1945. Because she was exposed to the atomic bomb at roughly 1.5 kilometers from the hypocenter, her burns were so severe that she was unable to even grasp a pencil. Just 13 years old, she had to abandon the idea of returning to school.

The personal account she wrote seven years after the bombing reads: “I have decided to go on in the world without worrying about my burn scars.” She recalled that she could come to feel that way thanks to her encounters with caring people and the support she received from them.

When she was 19, Ms. Sasamori met Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto of the Hiroshima Nagarekawa Church and was baptized. Reverend Tanimoto, who passed away in 1986, helped spearhead an effort to send young female A-bomb survivors to the United States for medical treatment. In 1957, she traveled to the United States for the second time with support from Norman Cousins, the American journalist who successfully implemented the project and was later made an “Honorary Citizen of Hiroshima.” She went to nursing school and found work in the United States. She also gave birth to a boy, naming him Norman after Mr. Cousins, who died in 1990, and raised her son as a single mother. Ms. Sasamori began sharing her A-bomb experience after moving to the West Coast in 1980.

She has since related her A-bomb account at the U.S. Senate, the United Nations, and at colleges and churches across the country. Three years ago, she visited Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, and last year traveled to New Zealand. She also ably uses a tablet computer to convey information about the “Hiroshima-Nagasaki Peace Project,” an effort she has launched. “I’m in my 80s, but it’s never too late to learn,” she said with a smile. Ms. Sasamori will leave Yokohama Port on July 18 to share her A-bomb account along the Peace Boat voyage.

Reflecting her positive attitude, she said crisply, “We must not make war. That’s all I want to say. Thanks to good health, I can be on the go. I want to live in the present and send my message to people around the world.”


Medical treatment of the “Hiroshima Girls” in the United States
Supported by citizens of both Japan and the United States, 25 single women from Hiroshima (ranging in age from 18 to 30) received medical treatment, including surgeries to remove scarring from burns, at one of New York’s best hospitals in 1955 and 1956. The women were dubbed "Hiroshima Girls" by the local media and their appearance served as evidence of the horrible consequences of the atomic bombing. Back in Japan, their presence was a significant factor in the enactment of the Atomic Bomb Medical Relief Law in 1957.

(Originally published on July 14, 2013)