By RYOKO NAKAMURA, Rafu Japanese Staff Writer
“My uncle was standing in the backyard bare-chested when the atomic bomb was dropped. His hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes burst off instantly from the high temperature. His face was shredded like a mask, and slipped-off skin was hanging from his fingertips….”
When Kikuko Otake, a Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor, shared her personal experience of Aug 6, 1945, the room filled with 120 participants of all ages fell suddenly and utterly silent.
“The river was packed with people who were grotesquely burned and gruesomely injured. The victims held their arms out in front of themselves to prevent skin from falling off. They all looked like zombies….”
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In recognition, the Japanese American National Museum and the Orange Coast Optimist Club hosted a forum and art exhibition at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum in Little Tokyo on March 21. It was also held at Chapman College on March 19.
The event, “Shadows for Peace, for the Sake of the Children: The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Experience,” was not intended to question the politics or motives that lead to the bombings of those two Japanese cities, but to remember more than 250,000 victims, honor the survivors, raise awareness about the devastation of nuclear weapons, and inspire peace in the world. As the program’s opening statement says, “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Doug Erber, president of the Japan America Society of Southern California, emceed the forum. He explained the meaning of “Shadows for Peace,” referring to those who were incinerated; only their shadows remained embedded into cement around the hypocenter.
The forum started with a video screening of an interview with Dr. James Yamazaki, who led a U.S. medical team to study the radiation-affected children in Nagasaki in 1949, followed by testimonies from four hibakusha: Hideo Sakata, Yoshino Yamada, Wataru Namba, and Kaz Suyeishi.
Suyeishi, president of the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-bomb Survivors, said in the video, “B-29 was a beautiful silver airplane. I gave it a nickname, Angel. I said, ‘Ohayou, Tenshi-san (Good morning, Angel)….’
“That day, the sky was a beautiful blue sky. When the airplane left … I saw a white spot. I asked my friend, ‘What is that?’ I pointed to east side. Then all of a sudden, no sound, but I saw a very bright orange color.”
After regaining consciousness, a horrifying yet dead-silent scene came into focus. There were many severely burned and injured people, but nobody was saying anything. The only sound she heard was weak, distant crying from schoolchildren calling for help, “Mommy, mommy.”
All the hibakusha said that they never had hatred against American people. Otake recalled that when a student asked her after her speech at a school if she ever hated Americans. “My answer was, ‘I hated the war, not the people.’”
For most of the exhibition visitors and attendees at the forum, it was the first time they had learned this history from the hibakusha’s point of view.
Nancy Takayama, one of the audience members, came to the forum hoping to hear hibakusha’s personal experiences. “I guess you grow up knowing that there were bombs, but you don’t usually hear any of the stories or actual incidents. You don’t hear about what happened afterwards.”
“What I have found quite amazing was that it was such a devastating event, but everybody who spoke said they had moved on. I learned about the importance of letting go of anger. That was really beautiful to hear,” Takayama said.
After the video screening, three speakers — Dr. Akiko Mikamo, a psychologist and president of San Diego Wish, an organization promoting peace and humanity; Tomoko Maekawa, a professor at Nagasaki University and president of the Never Again Nagasaki Campaign; and Dr. David Krieger, founder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation — gave speeches about their peace activities.
Mikamo, born and raised in Hiroshima, recounted her father’s experience as an A-bomb survivor. “When I have talked about my parents’ stories, I have been verbally attacked because this is a very heavy topic….”
“What helps is to have empathy. You could have completely different opinions or opposite opinions, but put your own thoughts aside and just listen and try to understand where the person is coming from. If everybody, especially younger generations, starts practicing this, it will go a long way,” Mikamo said.
Chrystal Vega, a senior member of Holiness Youth Choir, said that she had learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki in American history class but had never heard a hibakusha’s testimony before. “I was tearing up just hearing what happened to them. I want to visit the websites that speakers shared with us today to find some programs that our choir can do.”
Selila Phipps, a nine-year-old choir member and one of the youngest people to attend the event said, “I learned a lot today. I really felt bad for the people that talked to us.” She said she would like to think about what she can do to help the issue.
After the forum, Richard Fukuhara, a co-producer of the event, sat down with The Rafu and recalled when he first went to Hiroshima in 1973. “I was very touched by my experience, and that was always in my mind.”
The term “for the sake of the children,” kodomo no tame ni, was an expression that was often shared among Japanese and Japanese Americans after returning from internment camps and rebuilding their lives as they struggled against discrimination. Fukuhara, born in the Minidoka camp in Idaho, clearly remembers his parents’ generation’s hard work.
“So I wanted to take part in producing ‘Shadows for Peace’ because politicians today do not talk about children,” he said. “They talk about policy. If they were truly acting for the sake of the children, they wouldn’t do most of the things they do.”
Fukuhara was pleased to see some younger people in the audience. “The mission statement is always to educate and engage, so my next step is to take this event to more colleges.”
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo