NEW YORK – As aging hibakusha find it increasingly difficult to travel abroad to speak about the horrors of the nuclear attacks nearly 70 years ago, their children are stepping up efforts to follow in their footsteps.
Toyoko Tasaki, 46, and Yukino Hirayama, 57, both living in Tokyo, were among members of a delegation offering testimonies about the August 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Japan to coincide with a U.N. conference that started April 27 to review and strengthen nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation efforts.
The two, both fluent English speakers, had been living a life largely unrelated to their identity as “children of atomic bomb survivors” until Tasaki lost her mother and Hirayama lost her father — both of whom were in Hiroshima the day the atomic bomb was dropped in the final phase of World War II.
Tasaki’s mother Aiko, who was exposed to radiation about 1 km away from the hypocenter at the age of 10, told her daughter very little about her frightening experiences, possibly because she feared her background might adversely affect her daughter’s life.
“There has been discrimination against atomic bomb survivors that has forced them to hide their identity, or has made it difficult for them to get married. I think my mother was afraid of that kind of thing and didn’t talk about her experiences to me,” Tasaki said.
Still, Tasaki had a chance to hear fragments of her mother’s memories in daily life.
“Suddenly, she would say when peeling a peach that she hates to do this because it reminds her of people’s skin peeling off (after the bombing). She also told me when I was at the kitchen counter helping her that she saw black-burned bodies floating in the river,” she said.
But what mostly moved Tasaki were the words her mother spoke before dying from liver cancer in October 2010 while in the midst of a lawsuit seeking state certification that her illness was caused by radiation from the bomb.
“Days before passing away . . . my mother told me that she still had much to do, but that she might have to give in this time to the disease caused by the atomic bomb. She also told me to look after things. Those words have made me take action,” Tasaki said.
Tasaki subsequently took over as the plaintiff and her mother was recognized as an A-bomb disease sufferer in 2014.
While working to arrange exchanges among the offspring of A-bomb survivors residing in Tokyo, Tasaki was offered the chance to go to New York as part of the delegation led by the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, also known as Nihon Hidankyo.
As for Hirayama, her father passed away in May 2011 without telling her anything of what he endured in Hiroshima.
But to her surprise, she later found among her father’s belongings a cassette tape recording his 30-minute testimony given to nurses at a hospital where he was staying in August 2010.
The voice in the tape began as follows, “Until today, I have never told anyone about my experience as a Hiroshima hibakusha . . . This is in fact the confession of a lifetime.”
Hirayama’s father, Shinichi, a 21-year-old cadet officer at the time, was not in Hiroshima the moment the bomb detonated at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, but he ended up roaming the city until a train came from the west of Hiroshima after dark to rescue survivors.
In the tape, he said people with serious burns suffered excruciating pain as the train, consisting of a steam locomotive and two cars, started moving, leading many to lean out of the car and fall outside.
“There were people who fell onto the tracks and were run over by the wheels of the train they were just on. Several times, I heard the banging sound of the train running over people,” her father recalled.
Hirayama has produced a transcript of the tape to keep her father’s story alive and took it to New York in hopes of speaking on his behalf.
During their stay in New York, Tasaki and Hirayama joined other survivors to testify about their parents’ memories at local schools and the lobby of the U.N. Headquarters, where a photo exhibition on the atomic bombings has been held.
As Hirayama talked about her father, using some of the photos at the exhibition, tears ran down the face of Nancy Carson, who visited the United Nations with her husband on Tuesday.
“I have learned it (the atomic bombings) before and seen pictures before, but if it comes to my face again, oh, it was horrible,” Carson, a former elementary school teacher from Canada who is in her mid-60s, said.
Terumi Tanaka, secretary-general of Hidankyo, acknowledged that the offspring of atomic bomb survivors may not be able to send out as powerful a message as their parents. But he added that they can recount their feelings at hearing their parents’ experiences and that such accounts have “great reality.”
“Atomic bomb survivors will rapidly decrease. But we must continue campaigning toward the abolition of nuclear weapons, and we expect the second generation to take on the task,” Tanaka, who himself is a survivor, said.
Tasaki appears to be resolved to continue to fulfill her role as a “second generation” hibakusha. “I am glad that I came to New York because I think my mother was expecting me to do this kind of thing. I want to come again five years later when the next Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference will be held,” she said.
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