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Nagasaki Survivors: Stories of Endurance and Courage

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Between 1966 and 1995, as I interviewed atomic survivors, I frequently traveled from Hiroshima to Nagasaki by train. As I took the train south to Nagasaki, I had to change from the fast express train to the slower, regional train in northern Kyushu. The train wound slowly past small fishing villages, sometimes right next to the beaches. Fishing nets were piled on the sea walls. Narrow streams coming out of the mountains emptied into the ocean. Blue and brown fishing boats on mud flats leaned to one side when the tide was out. Many rice fields were planted right up to the train tracks. Fewer signs in English appeared further south as fewer foreigners visited. As the train entered Nagasaki City, it traveled through the Urakami valley before reaching the downtown station. The Urakami railroad station sign uses the image of a stained glass church window, an unusual image in Japan.

Each time I visit Nagasaki, seeing this landscape is an evocative introduction to the city. For various reasons, this “second city” that that was the site of an atomic explosion in 1945 has generally been overlooked or even ignored. Yet the experiences of its atomic survivors (hibakusha, meaning “bomb-affected person/people”) are just as painful and powerful as those of Hiroshima. In addition, how hibakusha lived their lives after the initial months also shows how they dealt with their long-term physical and emotional suffering. By their actions, and the telling of their actions and their stories, a peace movement grew in the city, replacing the silence of the first thirty years. It is impossible to tell all the stories of Nagasaki’s almost 300,000 hibakusha. Yet learning a few biographical accounts is revealing and important.

Other issues related to the Nagasaki explosion—such as reasons for bombing Nagasaki, how the atomic explosion can be understood in the wider context of World War II, and comparison of the blast with the one in Hiroshima—all these issues can be examined elsewhere in widely available sources. What is more difficult to find are personal experiences such as the ones given here.

For the survivors, short-term physical effects of radiation are well known. Long-term effects were mainly various forms of cancer, still appearing in hibakusha sixty years later. Long-lasting psychological damage came in the form of low energy; massive discrimination against hibakusha, mainly because of their ugly scars; inaccurate fears of contamination; and fear of conceiving damaged children. Significant effects were well documented in Robert Lifton’s groundbreaking study, Death in Life (1968). This research initiated our understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. No understanding of hibakusha is complete without examining this aspect of their lives.

Suggested Research Questions on Nagasaki Hibakusha

1. What were common elements among hibakusha profiled here?

2. What were some unique elements of each hibakusha story?

3. Which hibakusha story is most powerful for you and why?

4. How did the pope’s visit change how hibakusha think and act?

5. Do you believe that Nagasaki stories are important to understand? Why or why not?

6. What were two main differences between the Hiroshima bomb and the Nagasaki bomb?

7. Do you agree that Nihon Hidankyo should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? Give reasons for your answer.

8. What to you are some surprising pieces of information in this essay?

9. What more would you like to learn about the survivors in Nagasaki?

10. Find some of the sources listed in the bibliography. The Jenkins collection of Yamahata’s photographs gives a vivid record of the effects of the Nagasaki bomb. The Lifton psychological study of survivors gives more information about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Akizuki, Tatsuichiro. Nagasaki 1945. Translated by Keiichi Nagata. New York: Quartet Books, 1981.

American Friends Service Committee. “Quaker Organization Nominates Hiroshima [sic] Survivors for Nobel Peace Prize, Nihon Hidankyo Represents Hiroshima [sic] Survivors of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Blasts,” http://www.commondreams.org/news2005/0127-02.htm, accessed 1-27-05.

Committee for the Compilation of Materials Caused by the Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings. Translated by Ishikawa and David Swain. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1981.

Fukuda, Eiko. 1986. Interview with the author.

Glynn, Paul. A Song for Nagasaki. Hunter’s Hill, Australia: The Catholic Book Club, rev. ed., 1989. Hamada, Sr. Yoko. 1986. Interview with the author.

Jenkins, Rupert, ed. The Photographs of Yosuke Yamahata August 10, 1945. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1995.

Lifton, Robert. Death in Life, Survivors of Hiroshima. New York: Random House, 1967.

Nagai, Takashi. The Bells of Nagasaki. Translated by William Johnston. New York: Kodansha, 1984.

Nagasaki Speaks, A Record of the Atomic Bombing. Translated by Brian Burke Gaffney. Nagasaki: Nagasaki International Culture Hall, 1993.

Pope John Paul II. “Appeal for Peace.” The Meaning of Survival, Hiroshima’s 36 Year Commitment to Peace. Hiroshima, Japan: Chugoku Shimbun, 1983.

Public Information Section, Nagasaki City Hall, ed. ‘89 Municipal Centennial Nagasaki 100. Translated by Brian Burke-Gaffney. Nagasaki: Nagasaki City, 1989.

Taniguchi, Sumiteru. “Eternal Scars.” Testimonies of the Atomic Bomb Survivors, A Record of the Devastation of Nagasaki. Edited by Teruaki Ohbo and Terumasa Matsunaga. Nagasaki, Japan: City of Nagasaki, 1985.

———. 1986. Interview with the author.

Wada, Koichi. 1986. Interview with the author.

To receive more recent sources on Nagasaki, contact the director of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, Nagasaki, Japan. In addition, the Peace Resource Center at Wilmington College has the largest lending library of materials on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the United States. (Pyle Center, Box 1183, Wilmington, Ohio 45177, Phone: (937) 382-6661, ext. 371, E-mail: prc@wilmington.edu.)

 

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