On 6 August 1945, Allied forces dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. The detonation of these weapons killed thousands of people instantly and many more continued to suffer the effects of radiation poisoning. In this post, we share the testimonies of three women who were directly affected by the dropping of the atomic bombs, as interviewed by artist Lee Karen Stow.
Ms Emiko Okada is a survivor of the atomic bombing on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. She was eight years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Her elder sister, Mieko, and four other relatives were killed.
Ms Emiko Okada holding a map of Hiroshima, showing the burned out area in red. Photo taken by her grand-daughter Yuki Tominaga.
Translation: “For about a decade that followed, because of the Press Code (media censorship), hibakusha couldn’t talk about our suffering or sorrow. Many hibakusha died without being able to talk about their sufferings, sorrow, or hatred. They could not speak, so I speak. The number of people around the world born after the war is increasing. I want them to understand what happened under the mushroom clouds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is a good year to look back.”
Reiko Hada © Lee Karen Stow
Ms Reiko Hada was a 9-year-old schoolgirl when the atomic bomb was dropped on her hometown of Nagasaki at 11.02 on August 9, 1945. Earlier that morning, there was an air-raid warning, so Reiko stayed home. After the all-clear was sounded, she went to the nearby temple, where children in her neighbourhood studied in those days instead of going to school because of frequent air-raid warnings. After about 40 minutes of study at the temple, the teachers dismissed the class, so Reiko went home.
“I made it to the entrance of my house, and I think I even took a step inside. Then it happened all of a sudden. A blazing light shot across my eyes. The colours were yellow, khaki and orange, all mixed together. I didn’t even have time to wonder what it was… In no time, everything went completely white. It felt as if I had been left all alone. The next moment there was a loud roar. Then I blacked out.
After a while, I came to. Our teacher had taught us to go to an air-raid shelter in case of emergency, so I looked for my mother inside the house, and we went to the air-raid shelter in our neighbourhood.
“I didn’t have a single scratch. I had been saved by Mt. Konpira. But it was different for the people on the other side of the mountain; they suffered atrocious conditions. Many fled over Mt. Konpira to our community. People with their eyes popped out, their hair disheveled, almost all naked, badly burned with their skin hanging down…
My mother grabbed towels and sheets at home and, with other women in the community, led the fleeing people to the auditorium of a nearby commercial college where they could lie down. They asked for water. I was asked to give them water, so I found a chipped bowl and went to the nearby river and scooped water to let them drink. After drinking a sip of water, they died. People died one after another. It was summer. Because of the maggots and the terrible smell, the bodies had to be cremated immediately. They were piled up in the swimming pool at the college and cremated with scrap wood. It was impossible to know who those people were. They didn’t die like human beings.”
Never forgetting the horrific scenes she saw as a young girl, Reiko became an active campaigner against weapons of mass destruction, travelling the world as a hibakusha to tell her story. “I hope future generations will never have to go through a similar experience. There are 13,880* nuclear weapons on earth. And each of them is about 50 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We must never allow these to be used.”
* The number of nuclear warheads was revised in June 2020 to 13,410. https://www.recna.nagasaki-u.ac.jp/recna/topics/24827; Nagasaki University research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition.
Ms Tomoko Watanabe is the daughter of Ms Teruko Ueno, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. She is founder of ANT-Hiroshima (Asian Network of Trust) an NGO based in Hiroshima and dedicated to building peace in the world by promoting Hiroshima’s message of peace and reconciliation.
Ms Tomoko Watanabe holds an origami paper crane a symbol of peace and healing, Hiroshima © Lee Karen Stow
Translation: “People said no grass or trees would grow here for 75 years, but Hiroshima revived as a city with beautiful greenery and rivers. The hibakusha, though, have continued to suffer from the after effects of radiation. Behind me there are Chinese parasol trees that survived the atomic bombing. On the trunks of these trees, deep scars remain, but they have gone on living, covering their scars.”
Read about artist Lee Karen Stow's work in Hiroshima and Nagasaki here.