NAGASAKI – Sakue Shimohira, an 80-year-old atomic bomb survivor in Nagasaki, is determined to continue serving as a storyteller for the sake of people who died without speaking of their agony.
Shimohira was born in the northeast China region of Manchuria. Her father, an employee of South Manchuria Railway Co., died when she was 3 and two years later Shimohira and her sister, who was two years younger, were adopted by a relative in the city of Nagasaki.
With her 1-year-old nephew on her back, Shomohira and her sister were in an air raid shelter when the atomic bomb detonated some 800 meters away on Aug. 9, 1945.
They had rushed to the underground shelter with other people after being awakened by an air raid siren that morning. Shimohira was about to leave the shelter after the alert was lifted several hours later, but her sister stopped her, pulling at her arm and reminding her that their brother told them to stay inside for a while after hearing that a new type of bomb was dropped on Hiroshima three days earlier after an air raid warning was lifted.
After returning to the darkness, there was a flash of light and a blast that knocked them onto the rocks.
When Shimohira regained consciousness, she saw bodies with inner organs and eyes popped out and corpses bloated with burns. Survivors were groaning with pain.
Shimohira lost her stepmother as well as her older sister and brother in the blast. Her severely burned brother yelled, “I don’t want to die,” before he passed away.
Shimohira, who was 10 at that time, and her younger sister survived and staved off hunger pains by eating food left over by U.S. soldiers and even weeds. Maggots ate her sister’s wounded stomach flesh.
While growing up, the sister was bullied as filthy and committed suicide at 16 by jumping in front of a train.
Shimohira graduated from high school and junior college with financial support from the schools. After marriage, she reluctantly accepted a request from a friend to speak about her experience before junior high school students visiting Nagasaki on a school trip.
Unwilling listeners at the start, the students became unable to hold back tears as her speech progressed.
Shimohira has since come to be widely known as a storyteller, delivering speeches on more than 10,000 occasions, and has served as the head of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Bereaved Families Association for 14 years from 1995.
Despite her advanced age, she said, “It’s my duty to keep speaking on behalf of people who died without an opportunity to say anything.”