(Above) Hibakusha panelists (from left) Shigemitsu Tanaka, Noriko Sakashita, and Kazuhiro Yoshimura
Noriko Sakashita, Kazuhiro Yoshimura and Shigemitsu Tanaka have devoted their lives to telling their personal A-bomb stories in order to educate the public about the dangers of nuclear weapons.
By Hirotoshi Nishikawa and Toshi Abe
Three hibakusha (victims of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) stopped in Philadelphia on April 29 to share their personal World War II experiences and then continued on their way to New York to be present at the opening of the United Nations Non-Proliferation Treaty Review.
The three hibakusha, Noriko Sakashita from Hiroshima, Japan, and Kazuhiro Yoshimura and Shigemitsu Tanaka from Nagasaki, Japan, each spoke to a hushed audience at a packed meeting room at the University of Pennsylvania’s Houston Hall. There the trio told their personal stories to some 100 people, including students as well as many members of the general public. Sakashita, Tanaka and Yoshimura have devoted their lives to telling their personal A-bomb stories in the belief that it is the most effective way to educate the public about the dangers of nuclear weapons.
Prof. Frank Chance provided two-way translations throughout the program.
Sakashita was with her mother at the time of the 1945 atomic blast. She remembers walking with her mother as they attempted to return home and the many people they had to pass who were crying for help. Her mother spent the rest of her life feeling great guilt for her futility in not being able to help the many injured who were beyond help.
Yoshimura remembered the terrible suffering of the victims and recalled seeing how flesh melted from the victims as a result of the heat emanating from blast.
Thousands of hibakusha died directly from the effects of the radiation, which also resulted in cancer, infertility and birth defects among survivors. The black rain that fell soon after the blast was such that people who survived wished they had died immediately.
All three speakers spoke of being stigmatized and castigated by society. Sakashita also thought that her fiancé would reject her when he found out she was a hibakusha. Instead, he told her that he knew she was a hibakusha and that it did not matter to him. He told her that his father said to him, “If she is a survivor, that means that she is a special person. And being special, that makes her worthy of being married to you.”
Tanaka shared artifacts with the audience, including a sample of ceramic roof tile that showed bubbles on the side exposed to the extreme heat generated by the A-bomb blast. He also shared aerial photos of his city before and after the bomb blast.
Dennis Morikawa, the Embassy of Japan’s Honorary Consul General in Philadelphia, delivered the event’s opening remarks and gave his thanks to the audience. Rob Buscher, a board member of the JACL Philadelphia Chapter, introduced the panel and also gave his own personal testimony.
Buscher’s great-grandparents immigrated to the United States in the 1920s from Hiroshima, and many of his family’s relatives perished on Aug. 6, when the first atomic bomb dropped on that city. For Buscher, the word gaman, which refers to “enduring the unbearable with patience and dignity,” applies to the hibakusha, whose strength and resilience inspired many of them to devote their lives to spreading a message of peace throughout the world.
The many organizations and individuals who were able to contribute to this event included Buscher, Frank and Linda Chance, William Gardner, the Harmony for Peace Foundation, Philadelphia Chapter of the JACL, Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia, Fariha Khan, Nihon Hidankyo, Christian Morssink, Hiro and Sumie Nishikawa, Madame Saito, Tomoko Torii, Andy and Pat Toy, Kyoko Toyama, UPenn Asian American Studies Program, UPenn Center for East Asian Studies and Keijiroh Yamaguchi.
Thanks were also extended to the entourage accompanying the three hibakusha in their travels through the U.S., which includes Junko Gushi, Sumiko Hatakeyama, Eiichi Honda, Tamie Kameda, Keizo Kodera, Sachiko Matsumoto and Chieko Wada.