August 14, 2012

Hiroshima Survivors Speak: "Never Again!" at Otago University

I've been avoiding writing this... but I should probably let you know that my semester at Kansai University has come to an end, and just over a week ago I went home to New Zealand. More on that in a later post, but because the past week signaled the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this post will talk about a special public lecture held at my university, where Hiroshima survivors Shigeko Niimoto Sasamori and Michimasa Hirata shared their experiences of August 6, 1945.
Children's Peace Monument at Hiroshima Peace Park
The medium-sized classroom chosen as the venue wasn't enough to hold the public, as about 200 people piled in to hear the talk. Not many public lectures at Otago could draw a crowd like this, but Hiroshima is a part of history that equally horrifies and fascinates - and the fact that hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivors, are dwindling in number with each year that passes meant that this probably was, for most, one of the last chances to hear from a hibakusha firsthand.

Shigeko, a small woman with a strong voice, began, telling us 'because I am here, this is my mission.' She was a junior high school student, mobilised for labour on that sunny Hiroshima morning, when suddenly she saw a plane in the sky, which then dropped a 'white thing'. She was knocked out by the powerful forces of the blast, and spoke of spending five days at a school auditorium, before being taken home to recover. It was only mentioned later that she had actually suffered third degree burns to a quarter of her body. Rather than dwell on her suffering, Shigeko's message was simply one of peace - she was able to forgive the Americans (she eventually went to America for plastic surgery on her burns, and even lives in California now), and just wanted to make sure there would be 'no more Hiroshima, no more Nagasaki, and no more hibakusha' ever again.

Michimasa wore a neat grey blazer jacket, but underneath was a black t shirt with bright red writing - 'No more Hiroshimas', with a picture of a crossed out mushroom cloud. He was at home with his family when the bomb was dropped. Michimasa lives in Tokyo now, and urged the audience to think about the consequences of nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
Genbaku Dome, Hiroshima
Listening to Shigeko and Michimasa speak was a moving, thought-provoking experience. As Shigeko said, sharing their stories of that day in the hopes that it will one day put an end to the nuclear threat for good is their 'mission' - a mission forced upon them by a tragic event in history. What will happen when there are no hibakusha with that same sense of mission left? In an age of complacency regarding nuclear weapons and power, people like Shigeko and Michimasa really are living treasures. If only more people would listen.


  1. I'm saddened to hear that your stay in Japan has come to an end, I was enjoying your posts and learning a lot from your expedition. You had quite the adventure there, any plans on heading back?

    1. Thanks Dave! I always really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my posts. =) I have a few more to come, but it feels so strange updating from home!
      Will definitely head back sometime in the next couple of years, whether for a holiday or work I'm not sure yet. Have to graduate first. =)