National / History

Forty years on, Hiroshima hibakusha, 82, still telling her story — in English

JIJI

An 82-year-old hibakusha has been describing her wartime experiences in English for some 40 years to foreign visitors at Peace Memorial Park, near the hypocenter of the Hiroshima A-bomb.

But Keiko Ogura is also passionate about nurturing young people, because they will be the ones responsible for informing coming generations.

“Knowing is the first step in making peace,” she said in Japanese.

When the U.S. atomic bomb exploded on Aug. 6, 1945, Ogura, then 8, was on a street near her house 2.4 km away from ground zero.

She saw a flash and was knocked over by the subsequent blast. After a while, someone grabbed her ankle and said, “Please give me some water.”

“The person died right after I did that. I can’t get the face of the dead person out of my mind,” she said. “All hibakusha have traumatic memories that they can’t share with anyone.”

Ogura’s activity began in 1980, when she acted as an interpreter for Robert Jungk, a Jewish journalist who wrote about the two A-bombed cities and was a friend of her late husband.

In 1984, she established Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace to translate the stories of the hibakusha and guide foreign visitors at the park.

As leader of the volunteer group, she has also been sharing her experiences in English. Recently, she told her stories to European Council President Donald Tusk.

“Foreigners who don’t have a chance to think about nuclear issues or Hiroshima in their daily lives are surprised and tell me they ‘didn’t know anything,'” Ogura said. “Telling impactful stories helps convey the anguished cries of the hibakusha to listeners.”

Ogura has also participated as an instructor in an educational project to train young volunteers on how to give English explanations of the Atomic Bomb Dome and the cenotaphs in Peace Memorial Park.

“We survivors have to pass on feelings of those killed in the bombing in vain,” she told the high school and university students who participated in the project’s first workshop. “I don’t want you to be just sad, but think about how you can pass down the stories to the next generation and to the world,” she continued.

“I can only do so much by myself. It’s important to motivate people who listen to my stories to continue (my efforts),” Ogura said.

As for young people, she said, “I want them to become smart leaders who make the world a peaceful place, not only with knowledge but with passion.”