English-language Web site gives voice to survivors of atomic bombs

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Gleaning stories from countless hours of recordings made by the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a former broadcast journalist started an English Web site last month to share their horrifying experiences with the outside world.

“I started interviewing hibakusha some 30 years ago in hopes that more young people would come to think that nuclear weapons are unnecessary and must be abolished,” said Akihiko Ito, 70. “I decided to open an English site because I thought it would be more important to convince more young people overseas that this is so.”

With help from volunteers, Ito opened the Japanese version of the Web site, “Hibakusha no Koe” (“Voices of the Survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki”), in May 2006. The English site, at VOSHN.com, was launched Aug. 20.

Visitors to the English site can listen to hibakusha talk about their experiences in Japanese while reading English translations of their accounts.

The Web site draws on 37 years of recordings Ito has collected of hibakusha accounts.

A Nagasaki native, Ito returned to the city from temporary evacuation 10 days after the Aug. 9, 1945, blast. Fortunately, he has had no health problems due to exposure to radiation, he said.

After leaving Nagasaki Broadcasting in 1970 at age 33, Ito started visiting 1,840 hibakusha nationwide, mainly in the 1970s, and recorded their accounts on tape. He edited and copied some of them onto nine CDs last year.

The contents of those CDs, comprising 284 hibakusha accounts in all, are available on Ito’s Japanese Web site.

The victims describe life in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the days before the atomic bombings, the horrors they witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and their hopes for a world without nuclear weapons. In all, there are eight hours and 40 minutes of voice recordings posted on the Web site.

The English version so far offers the contents of the first three CDs — the testimonies of people who were in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing. Translations of the remaining programs — accounts by Nagasaki hibakusha and the hopes of hibakusha in both cities — will be put up on the Web site by next spring, Ito said.

“If more (Americans) come to think that nuclear weapons should be eliminated, then (the site) will be a big success,” said Ito, adding it is not surprising that some Americans think the atomic bombings were justified as a means to end World War II.

The project, Ito’s lifework, is ongoing. Staying at a Hiroshima hotel, he is visiting some of the hibakusha again to record their stories on video. Last year he began a three-year project to videotape about 500 hibakusha nationwide. He hopes to put some of the new footage on the Internet by 2011.

“The atomic bombings are a major event in human history. The question that Hiroshima and Nagasaki have posed (to human beings) is too great, and I cannot run away from it,” Ito said. Recording hibakusha’s voices, he said, is his way of answering the question.