Aging hibakusha teaching young to pass on their stories

Memories of ordeal to live on via new generation of raconteurs


Sixty-seven years after the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the advanced age of the hibakusha is clouding efforts to ensure their experiences will be passed down to future generations.

At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, 33 hibakusha are involved in an educational program to recount their stories of the Aug. 6, 1945, nuclear attack to elementary and junior high school students who visit. At an average of 80.2 years old, however, the witnesses are increasingly complaining of ill health.

The Hiroshima Municipal Government is making alternative efforts, including by recording hibakusha testimony for screenings. But an official of the International Peace Promotion Department said the human factor is what will be missed the most.

“We want memories of the bombing to be told by real human beings so that they are handed down as poignant messages,” the official said.

In July, the city started a project to train people to tell the stories of the hibakusha and convey their wish for peace. A total of 137 applicants from inside and outside Hiroshima ranging in age from 19 to 78 are taking part in the course.

On July 27, the trainees attended a workshop in which they told the audience what their feelings were about hibakusha stories and how they were motivated to apply.

Tomiaki Nagahara, 65, was one participant. Born to atomic bomb victims, Nagahara, from Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, has worked as a volunteer guide at Peace Memorial Park since retiring from an electronics company.

“My father, a serviceman, was assigned to the disposal of the bodies of people killed in the bombing, but he never said a word to me about what he experienced before he passed away,” Nagahara said. “I’d like to take to heart the words of hibakusha who went through grueling experiences and communicate these to young people and people from abroad.”

Masahiro Takaoka, a 33-year-old from Hiroshima who is studying for the bar exam, is another storyteller candidate.

“Retelling the experiences of hibakusha on their behalf is a task that comes with heavy responsibility, but it is the duty of people born and raised in Hiroshima not to allow memories of the tragedy to fade,” Takaoka said emphatically.

One of the hibakusha witnesses at the museum, Koji Hosokawa, 84, was 17 when he experienced the bombing some 1.3 km from the epicenter. His younger sister died in the attack and his children later suffered from discrimination wherever the family moved to support his job.

Hosokawa has decided to leave his stories to the new storytellers and wish them the best.

“They don’t need to try to identify with me. I hope they will wholeheartedly recount what the ordinary people of Hiroshima experienced at that time,” he said.

The training course will take about three years and includes studying the damage to Hiroshima at the end of World War II.