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Sumiko Yamada, 77, was one of many children orphaned by the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima 75 years ago.

She was 2 when the bomb hit the city and killed many people, including her parents. As a social worker at a hospital, Yamada extended support to hibakusha atomic bomb survivors and others for many years.

“Hibakusha are suffering from pain throughout their lives. I want to help create a common recognition among people across the world that there should be no more hibakusha,” says Yamada, currently deputy head of the Hiroshima Prefecture Federation of Atomic bomb Survivors.

Yamada was exposed to radiation from the bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, in the closing days of World War II. At the time, she and her sister, who is 18 years older than her, were at their grandparents’ house 2.3 kilometers from the epicenter of the blast, although she does not remember the experience.

Her sister told her that flying glass shards from broken windows pierced her body. She was also exposed to radioactive black rain in the aftermath of the bombing. She could not find the remains of her father, who was near ground zero. Her mother died from burns over her entire body.

Yamada lived with relatives after her sister was hospitalized due to tuberculosis. At school, she was bullied by classmates for having no parents and felt isolated even at home.

A turning point came when Yamada was an elementary school fourth-grader. She met author Yuko Yamaguchi, who led the “spiritual adoption” movement in which letters and money were sent to atomic bomb orphans. Later, a woman in Tokyo became her “spiritual parent.”

“It was a big support for me because nobody had cheered me up,” recalls Yamada.

When she was a third-grade junior high school student, Yamada moved in with her married sister at her home in the neighboring prefecture of Okayama.

Yamada attended a university in Aichi Prefecture with financial help from her brother-in-law and a scholarship, where she studied issues regarding poverty and discrimination.

People burn joss sticks in front of a cenotaph for the atomic bombing victims before the start of a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the U.S. bombing in Hiroshima on Thursday. | AP
People burn joss sticks in front of a cenotaph for the atomic bombing victims before the start of a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the U.S. bombing in Hiroshima on Thursday. | AP

Although she had thought she would never return to Hiroshima, she made up her mind to make use of what she learned and started working as a social worker at a hospital in the city.

One hibakusha she came across could get only day-labor jobs and was feeling abandoned.

With support from Yamada, he developed a positive attitude. He even accepted Yamada’s offer to tell students visiting Hiroshima on school trips about his experience of the atomic bombing, saying that he would be happy if young people understand the horror of the nuclear attack, according to Yamada. But he later died from alcoholism.

Meanwhile, another female hibakusha could not use a gas stove because doing so would make her recall the terror of the bombing. Her husband prepared meals for her, but the couple moved to a care facility after he started to suffer from dementia and could not cook.

“The suffering of hibakusha continues throughout their lives. That’s the horror of an atomic bomb. I want nobody to suffer like that,” Yamada said, pledging to call for peace as long as her life lasts.

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