Hibakusha: The Story of Akira Nagasaka
A-bomb survivors' post-war experiences must be passed on to truly grasp tragedy's scale
By Kenji Tamaki, expert senior writer
The task of passing on the personal experiences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing victims to the future looks like it's going to get a whole new dimension as testimonials and research resources go digital. It may even be possible to recreate these experiences with realistic digital simulations. However, what has happened to the survivors in the many years since the bombs were dropped? What paths have they taken from then to now? While there are plenty of records for the history of activism or organizations in that time, materials that can attest to the lives, thoughts and feelings of the atomic bombing survivors tend to be overlooked, lost from sight. There is a great blank in the history since the bombings.
One reason for this is that the United States sealed all the descriptions, photos and films related to the bombings they collected during the occupation. Second, Japanese tended to be cold and biased toward A-bomb survivors. If these facts are not also passed on to posterity, then we will never get a grasp on the bombs' true destructive power.
I am reminded of Akira Nagasaka.
Along with reconstruction, the end of the war also brought many A-bomb survivors to Tokyo. Survivors who would speak out, however, were rare, as they faced discrimination from their fellow Japanese. Even so, an appeal was made to bomb survivors in Tokyo and mutual support activities were started. One of those to make that appeal was Nagasaka, himself a Nagasaki A-bomb survivor. Nagasaka survived when the city was destroyed. His family, who lived close to ground zero, did not.
After the war, he moved to Tokyo and became a teacher, but his willingness to talk about the horror of the bombing earned him the enmity of some of his co-workers. When he arrived at a new school in 1951 and wrote in his staff self-introduction that he hoped there would never again be a nuclear bombing, a more senior teacher told him he was being foolish and asked him to change it. Why? "Because it looks anti-American," his co-worker told him.
The Allied occupation ended in 1952, but the attitude Nagasaka had confronted at school did not really change until 1954, when a Japanese fishing boat was caught in a cloud of atomic dust from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test on the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific -- the so-called "Daigo Fukuryu Maru Incident." People finally understood the terror of nuclear war, and the anti-nuclear movement began to grow. Activism calling for relief for atomic bombing survivors also finally got up to full speed.
The "Genbaku Hisaisha no Kai" (nuclear victims' association) was founded in Tokyo in 1956, and a survey of survivors administered by the group remains. The survey showed that 56.4 percent of the survivors wanted to be left in peace by society, but only 5.5 percent were happy to see the growth of the anti-nuclear and relief for A-bomb survivor movements. These figures are testament to the isolation, despair and anxiety experienced by the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There was also a dark side to surviving the blasts, which is something else the survivors could speak a lot about.
On the day the bomb fell on Nagasaki, Nagasaka went down to the area around the epicenter. Wounded people begged him for water, and one woman, lying face down with terrible burns, asked him to take her to help. But Nagasaka left her there, saying nothing. Nagasaka said that at the time he could think of nothing but finding his family, but he regretted abandoning the woman for the rest of his life. Every time he recalled it, he talked in a tearful voice.
Nagasaka, long in poor shape and battling illness, passed away in 1994 at the age of 66. His wife gave out stainless steel water bottles to commemorate his passing, apparently to carry on that experience.
I received one of the bottles. After 16 years, it's worn out now. But I have quenched the thirst of many a person with it, and I'm sure that's what Nagasaka would have wanted.
Source: Mainichi Times: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/features/hibakusha/news/20100804p2a00m0na021000c.html