Messages from Late A-bomb Witnesses: Part 1: Messages through the 1980s


Cries from the soul must continue to be heard

Many late witnesses to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima have left behind words imbued with their wish for peace, powerful words that transcend time. “Messages from A-bomb Survivors” (originally published in 2001) is a two-part series which features the thoughts of notable figures whose words have appeared in the Chugoku Shimbun and in their writings.

Fumio Shigeto: President of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivors Hospital

A-bomb survivors are the foundation for peace

“What happened in Hiroshima must never be repeated. A-bomb survivors are the foundation for peace in the world.”

Until his retirement in 1975, Dr. Shigeto treated more than 100,000 A-bomb survivors. Endeared as a “benevolent father,” Dr. Shigeto’s way of life was a major influence on Kenzaburo Oe, the Nobel laureate for literature and author of Hiroshima Notes, as well as many other people. In the year he retired, Dr. Shigeto was interviewed by the Chugoku Shimbun and said:

“The A-bomb survivors are the ones who suffered the experience of the bombings, so they need to convey their accounts to those who did not suffer this experience. Above all, they have an important mission to prompt others to remember the bombings.”

Kiyoshi Kikkawa: “A-bomb Victim No. 1”

Survivors, in a weak position, must unite for strength

“The humiliation I felt that day drove me to the survivors’ movement.”

Two years after the atomic bombing, Mr. Kikkawa was called “A-bomb Victim No. 1” by a group of American journalists and scientists when they saw the keloid scars that covered his back. After he left the hospital, he opened a souvenir shop by the A-bomb Dome, and when asked, would show his scars. He was sometimes criticized for this, branded a “peacemonger.”

“If people are willing to buy my souvenirs, I won’t hesitate to show them my body,” he once said. “Who has the right to stop a survivor from trying to go on living while cursing nuclear weapons?”

Mr. Kikkawa created the first organization of A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima, and later became a driving force behind protests against atomic and hydrogen bombs. He would say to his wife, who endured the hardships with him: “The survivors are in a weak position. The city government is working hard to reconstruct the city, but the survivors are being left behind. Two is stronger than one. We must unite.”

Shinoe Shoda: Tanka poet

We must convey this unparalleled atrocity

“The atomic bombings were by far the most hideous atrocity ever committed. Because human beings have already used atomic bombs, we must convey the tragedy of this fact so that the same mistake will never be repeated,” Ms. Shoda said in 1960, when she published Arekara Jugo-nen (Fifteen Years Since Then), in which she wrote about her life after the atomic bombing. In 1947, when Japan was under occupation, she secretly published Sange, a collection of tanka poems about the bombing. The poem “Futoki Hone” (“Big Bones”), which later met with some controversy over the final form of the poem, is inscribed on the pedestal of the Monument of the A-bombed Teachers and Students of National Elementary Schools.

Goryo Ouchi: President of the Hiroshima Prefectural Medical Association

Hiroshima physicians must help save humanity from extinction

“Today, as the nuclear arms race continues with no end in sight, it is time for the physicians of the world to stand together to prevent nuclear war. The physicians of Hiroshima, an A-bombed city, also have the responsibility of conveying the reality of the atomic bombings to help save humanity from extinction.”

Dr. Ouchi expressed this resolve in an address he gave in 1982 after becoming president of the newly established Hiroshima Branch of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). After the war, he accompanied the “Hiroshima Maidens,” a group of young women who survived the atomic bombing, when they visited the United States for medical treatment. He also made efforts to provide health examinations for A-bomb survivors residing in North America.

Shinso Hamai: Hiroshima mayor during the postwar period

No More Hiroshimas

Known as the “A-bomb Mayor,” Mr. Hamai delivered the first Peace Declaration in 1947. He was also instrumental in realizing the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Act, which fueled the reconstruction of the city by creating new facilities and infrastructure, including Peace Memorial Park, the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims, and Peace Boulevard.

“It was my desire to make it a rule that the citizens of Hiroshima always pay their respects to the victims, and be with them in spirit, at every event,” he wrote in his book A-bomb Mayor.

Mr. Hamai also helped spearhead the fundraising drive to preserve the A-bomb Dome, an effort that had been on the verge of collapse. At the ceremony in 1967 which marked the completion of work to reinforce the shattered building, the mayor said: “Through the process of gathering financial support, I have learned a lot. The most significant lesson that I have learned is the fact that the fire of ‘No More Hiroshimas’ continues to burn in the hearts of many. I hope sincerely that the A-bomb Dome will have an impact on humanity for a long time to come and serve as a reminder of the past and a symbol of the tragedy that took place in Hiroshima.”

Arata Osada: Professor of Hiroshima University

Human beings can prevent war

“The power of art and literature, which directly strikes a chord in people’s hearts, provides strong support to the peace movement, too.”

This statement is from an article Professor Osada contributed to the Chugoku Shimbun in 1950, one year before he published Genbaku no Ko, or Children of the A-Bomb: Testament of the Boys and Girls of Hiroshima, a collection of essays met by a favorable response from around the world.

In the foreword of this book, he wrote:

“The fact that human beings can prevent war must be a part of the new history of human beings.”

Professor Osada called for a “moral adoption campaign” to support A-bomb orphans and continued to stress the importance of peace education and the peace movement.

Kiyoshi Tanimoto: Christian minister

The spiritual foundation for peace is weak

“The spiritual foundation for peace is weak. People tend to think that the peace they advocate is the only absolute peace, but they are wrong,” Reverend Tanimoto said when he was asked about the peace movement of those days in a survey conducted by the Chugoku Shimbun in 1961, when the movement against nuclear weapons was splintering.

Reverend Tanimoto visited the United States on many occasions to speak about the tragedy of the atomic bombing and he devoted himself to supporting the “Hiroshima maidens” and “A-bomb orphans.” In this respect, he was a religious leader of action.

Tamiki Hara: Writer

Hearing the voices of Hiroshima

“But in the future too... Are human beings only to lead miserable lives between wars? Unless deadly rays of the atomic bomb burn one’s own skin, will he not understand the meaning? Will it be useless to protest against people killing each other? ...I don’t know. The only thing I know well is that I hear the feeble voices of the many seriously injured people lying in the horrible scenes of Hiroshima and what they are all calling for, looking up at the sky.” (From his essay “About War”)

Mr. Hara’s novel Summer Flowers was based on his experience of the atomic bombing while in Nobori-cho (Naka Ward, Hiroshima) and his flight to Yahata-mura (in today’s Saeki Ward). He later committed suicide by jumping in front of a train on the Chuo Line in Tokyo.

Yoko Ota: Writer

Carrying out a duty to write

“‘Give back a lasting peace,’ I said, looking up at the sky. I thought God would not refuse to give back peace to human beings, who had suffered so much.”

This excerpt is from Ms. Ota’s novel, Shikabane no Machi (City of Corpses), which she wrote in the roughly three months that followed the atomic bombing. The novel marked the start of Ms. Ota’s work as an “A-bomb writer.”

She experienced the bombing at a location about 1.8 kilometers from the hypocenter. She fled, seeking refuge, with her mother and sister, and they slept out in the open for three days. They lost everything in the A-bomb attack—Ms. Ota didn’t even have paper or pencil.

In the foreword to Shikabane no Machi, she wrote:

“The family who offered us shelter and others in the village gave me old, sooty brown paper from their sliding doors, toilet paper, and a few pencils. With the shadow of death hovering above me, I didn’t want to die until I had done my duty and wrote about what had happened.”

Ms. Ota’s theme was always the atomic bombing. At a round-table talk in 1953, she stated without reservation:

“You cannot call it literature if it looks away from war.”

Sankichi Toge: Poet

Give back peace, that will never end

Sankichi Toge, a well-known poet, passed away in 1953 at the age of 36. This poem is found in the prologue to his book Poems of the Atomic Bomb.

Give back my father, give back my mother;
Give grandpa back, grandma back;
Give me my sons and daughters back.
Give me back myself.
Give me back the human race.
As long as this life lasts, this life,
Give back peace
That will never end.

Through the poems he wrote during the postwar period of U.S. occupation, Sankichi Toge denounced the inhumanity of the atomic bombing. During this time, he became a central figure in Hiroshima’s literary life.

In his postscript to Poems of the Atomic Bomb, the author wrote: “While compiling this book, I am ashamed of my laziness as a poet over the past six years with regard to the atomic bombing. I am also ashamed that this book of poetry is too weak to help all individuals, races, nations, and humanity as a whole grasp the meaning and significance of this event in the course of history by conveying its true reality, rather than expressing a simple memory from the past to the future.”

Yuichiro Sasaki: Photographer

Encouraged by the silent spirits of those who died

“The reason I have been able to continue taking photos is because, for me, it’s a way of offering prayers for the repose of my 13 relatives.”

Mr. Sasaki lost 13 relatives when the A-bomb exploded. He continued taking photos through the post-war years from the time he entered Hiroshima three days after the atomic bombing. In all, he took more than 100,000 photos, including more than 4,000 photos of the A-bomb Dome alone. Gazing through his viewfinder, he worked to warn others that the A-bombed buildings were disappearing and that people’s memories of the tragedy were fading.

“The silent spirits of those who died keep encouraging me to click the shutter,” Mr. Sasaki once said.

Kazuko Ohira: Poet

Telling children about the tragedy

“We live in a world where an atomic bomb may fly to us at any moment from the other side of the earth. I wanted to tell the children of today about the inferno we experienced 36 years ago and about the children who bravely lived.”

Ms. Ohira was speaking about how she came to write Shonen no Hiroshima (A Child’s Hiroshima), an anthology of poems published in 1981. She lost her husband and a child in the atomic bombing and continued writing poems to convey the sadness of a mother, and her wish for peace, to her children and grandchildren. In one poem, “Dokoku” (“Lamentation”), she calls out her children’s names over and over again. The poem has been turned into a song and sung by generations of people.

Yoshimasa Matsusaka: Vice president of the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Casualty Council

Unable to ignore the lives lost

“I cannot say whether an objective of war is right or wrong. What I can say is, looking away from the lives that are lost is unforgivable from the standpoint of medical ethics.

Dr. Matsusaka produced The History of Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Medical Treatment, published in 1969. As a physician, himself a survivor of the A-bombing, he was devoted to the medical care of the wounded and the relief efforts in the aftermath of the blast. Dr. Matsusaka was also dedicated to supporting the security of aging A-bomb survivors who were unable to work.

Michihiko Hachiya: Head of the Hiroshima Communications Hospital

Promote the instinct for peace

“It is vital to always promote the instinct for peace, which resides in the heart of every human being.”

In 1958, Dr. Hachiya was interviewed by the Chugoku Shimbun and commented on the strong response to his book Hiroshima Nikki (Hiroshima Diary). “In it I described the medical care given to A-bomb survivors, along with other aspects of the bombing. The book has since been translated and published in a variety of languages.”

Dr. Hachiya experienced the atomic bombing in Higashi-hakushima, part of present-day Naka Ward. Although he was badly injured, his body pierced by flying glass fragments, he carried on with relief efforts, providing care to other survivors.

Interview with Hisashi Inoue, a writer

Voices of A-bomb survivors are our “Bible,” leading us into the future

by Osamu Kido, Staff Writer

Time marches on and the A-bomb survivors die, one after another. How can we hear their testimonies and their appeal for peace, and hand these down to future generations? The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed author Hisashi Inoue, the playwright of “Chichi to Kuraseba” (“The Face of Jizo”) and other stage plays on the theme of the atomic bombings, and asked him what it means to listen to the A-bomb survivors today.

I understand you wrote your first play on the theme of the atomic bombings in 1994.
I had always wanted to, but I couldn’t. I first interviewed A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima back in 1961. I tried interviewing 30 survivors, holding out a microphone to record their stories, but no one would say much, except one old woman who told me, “I want the dead to forgive me for having survived.” For a long time I wondered why she had said that. I didn’t experience the atomic bombing myself. It took me more than 30 years to think and learn and write.

The City of Hiroshima and others are now collecting the survivors’ accounts.
I hear there are more than 50,000 accounts made by the survivors of Hiroshima. Collecting these accounts is a way to keep records of their memories, which make important historical testimonies. Their memories and testimonies are our “Bible.” I would like the national government and the governments of Hiroshima Prefecture and the City Hiroshima to preserve all these written materials in book form.

The survivors’ experiences are fading, and there are people who think it will be difficult to convey them to future generations.
The survivors’ experiences will never fade. The number of nuclear weapons has not decreased as we had hoped, but it did decline in comparison to the nuclear arsenals that were built up during the Cold War. This was a result of the efforts made by the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who continued to call for nuclear abolition, and their voices served as nuclear deterrence. But the nuclear weapons remain. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the younger generation will continue to learn about the survivors’ experiences and convey them to the next generation. In this way, the survivors’ experiences will never fade.

What do Hiroshima and Nagasaki mean to you?
They were the worst hell on earth, but they also represent the hope that we will be freed from that hell in the future. Feeling such unimaginable sorrow, people can still be so caring as to say, “Forgive me for having survived.” The kind hearts of people like this will light our way and lead us into the future.

What should be conveyed after hearing the survivors’ experiences and testimonies? Those who perished in the atomic bombings were deprived of their modest, happy lives by a small number of wartime leaders. Today, the revision of Article 9 of the Constitution and the idea of becoming a nuclear weapons state are being discussed. Therefore, it is all the more important that we listen carefully to every word the survivors say and make it a habit to reflect on the tragedy, giving full play to our imagination.

We must listen to as many survivors as possible and convey their experiences to as many people as we can. I believe the people of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Japan were chosen to represent the human race, which is unable to extricate itself from this nuclear peril, and have been given the mission of carrying out the responsibility to “remember, protest, and survive.”

(Originally published on July 22, 2001)