Nagasaki hibakusha recalls struggle to dodge discrimination

by

Kyodo

Seventy years may have passed, but Nagasaki A-bomb survivor Katsuko Kanamori still suffers from the mental trauma caused by concealing her radiation exposure to avoid discrimination.

Kanamori, 71, remembers being unable to hold back tears 30 years ago when she finally told her son, then in high school, that she had been irradiated by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.

She was emotional because she had long wondered whether telling him about it would distress him, she recalled.

For years after the two atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prejudice against the survivors was rampant because people believed radiation-caused maladies were contagious. Survivors encountered such discrimination when seeking marriage, employment and giving birth.

Eventually Kanamori moved to the city of Gifu, far from Nagasaki. But it was not until her son was about to visit Nagasaki on a school excursion that she revealed her secret.

“Never mind about such a thing,” the son simply said.

Kanamori was 1 year old when the bomb hit Nagasaki. She escaped injury as she was being held in her mother’s arms, in a bamboo grove 3.3 km from the hypocenter of the blast. But her elder brother suffered burns and the family’s home was flattened.

Kanamori spent her first years of childhood in the devastated city, where only charred buildings and a pole remained where the gate of a Shinto shrine used to stand. Yet for the young Kanamori, that was not her worst experience.

It was only after her family moved to Gifu that she painfully realized the impact of being an A-bomb survivor. People looked frozen when they found out about her birthplace and asked whether she had been exposed to radiation, Kanamori said.

She decided not to reveal her past and turned down marriage offers. She felt severe stress whenever she had long chats with friends, because she felt compelled to lie about her past.

Through a mutual friend, Kanamori met her husband, Kazuhiko, who is physically impaired and has problems walking. “We are both handicapped and so we have kept helping each other,” Kanamori said.

Kazuhiko, 78, supports his family as a sewing worker, while Kanamori provides him with physical support.

At age 51, she visited a hospital for persistent cold sweats and was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. She survived after undergoing five years of cancer treatment.

Feeling that she was living on borrowed time, Kanamori pondered what she should do about her fears as an A-bomb survivor.

“I decided that I could not continue to totally suppress the atomic bomb (experience) and would undoubtedly regret it if I retreated into my (old) self again,” she recalled.

So Kanamori joined a group of fellow hibakusha a decade ago and began talking about her experience.

However, even today, tears well up whenever she remembers those difficult times decades ago, when she had to hide her background. She has difficulty sleeping even now.

“Suffering of this kind shouldn’t happen to anyone again,” she said.