Survivors’ memories published in English


Michiko Nakano set out with the ambition of publishing a collection of stories of her peers’ experiences of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in English, hoping to educate more of the world’s people about the historic facts of the attack, which occurred exactly 55 years ago today.

Michiko Nakano

“Compared with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the bombing of Nagasaki has been much more understated, therefore much less known,” said Nakano, 71.

In the recently published “Nagasaki Under the Atomic Bomb: Experiences of Young College Girls,” Nakano’s classmates describe what they were doing before the bomb hit and what they saw upon recovering consciousness from the blast. They tell of the complete devastation of the city, those killed or terribly injured, and what happened to the many people who escaped instant death.

“Some of them wrote about things they had kept silent about for more than 50 years,” she said. “They said it was too hard to put them into words. Some of them just wanted to forget the horrible memories and move on with life.”

But they overcame their pain and described their terrible experiences to publish the book. Nakano said they feared if they did not, the impact of the incident might fade with time.

At the time of bombing, Nakano lived in Nagasaki’s neighboring city of Isahaya. She escaped the devastation of the bomb by chance.

That day, the 16-year-old was scheduled to leave her home at around 9 a.m. to move into her dormitory at the Nagasaki Prefectural Women’s College. The school’s entrance ceremony was the next day, when Nakano was to begin college, postponed since April due to the war.

Her mother, however, awoke uncharacteristically late that morning, forcing Nakano to delay her departure to later in the day. The world’s second and last nuclear bomb attack hit the city of Nagasaki at around 11 a.m. without her.

Having spent more than 10 years after the war in Nagasaki, Nakano was constantly aware of the serious consequences of the attack, which claimed over 73,000 lives and had damaging physical effects on nearly 74,000 more before the end of 1945.

Nakano said her teenage experience of the war led to a strong belief that promoting peace on a personal level was necessary to achieve world peace, a belief that remained even after her move to Tokyo in the mid-1950s.

Such faith led her to discover one day in 1979 through a newspaper article the establishment of the Tokyo chapter of The Friendship Force, a U.S.-based international citizens’ exchange program initiated by American missionary Wayne Smith and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife in 1977.

Inviting foreign guests to her home as well as visiting different countries through the program, Nakano, throughout the last 20 years, has been an active member of the group, once serving as the director of the Tokyo chapter.

“The program has made me very active, and I gained many friends in different parts of the world,” she said.

And it was while she was attending the 1995 convention of The Friendship Force at its headquarters in Atlanta that Nakano was prompted to consider compiling the Nagasaki story in English.

It was the same year that the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., was the focus of a drawn-out controversy over its plan to hold an exhibition describing the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the end, the National Air and Space Museum exhibited only the restored B-29 bomber Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, showing none of the damage it caused, due to strong opposition from Congress as well as World War II veterans’ groups.

“I was shocked that many people who attended the convention told me they didn’t know about Nagasaki being attacked, and that some said the attack contributed to ending the war,” said Nakano.

She was by chance given the opportunity to talk about the Nagasaki experience to fellow members of the international group, which currently has branches in 58 countries.

“Simply blaming others for the incident won’t solve anything. Everyone who resorts to arms to solve conflicts is responsible (for the consequences),” Nakano said. “The important thing now is for people to recognize what happened as a fact.”

Nakano said she felt an obligation to keep records of the incident as someone who lived in Nagasaki in the wake of the bombing and saw firsthand its devastating effects.

Returning from the convention, Nakano asked her Nagasaki college classmates who survived the attack, to share their experiences.

Some said they happened to be inside shelters or buildings when they saw the flash of light. They recovered consciousness only to realize that they were the only ones at the scene who could move.

The town was in complete ruins and burned dead bodies were everywhere.

As they walked through the area trying to find their way home, the girls saw people who were still alive but suffering from severe burns crying, “Water, water, please.” They said the memories of such people and having no other choice but to leave them has left them with deep sorrow and pain, she said.

“They said it’s a picture that they can never forget and always remember when summer comes,” Nakano said.

They also described how family members and friends who escaped instant death, suffered and died from radiation sickness over time.

In an effort to give a better and more objective view of the incident, Nakano carefully arranged the stories in chronological order, adding facts about the atomic bomb itself.

Nakano, who has worked as a technical translator, put the stories into English with the assistance of friends.

In the process of compiling the stories, Nakano also put together the Japanese version of the book, which was published in late 1998.

“It is another concern for me that more and more young Japanese are unaware of the incident. I want them to know about what happened, too.”

Since the two books have been published, Nakano has received responses from readers both in Japan and from overseas. Many readers said they were shocked to learn of the incident, while some said it was important for Japanese to share their unique war experiences with the world, Nakano said.

Nakano plans to take the English version of her book to this year’s Friendship Force’s international convention, scheduled for November in the city of Madison, Wisconsin.

“It’s important for many people to learn what happened and think how each individual can contribute to avoiding another similar incident from happening. How else can we atone for the victims?”