When the A-bombs fell: Passing on experiences to children, grandchildren

Looking at a questionnaire distributed to atomic bomb survivors, Michiko Yashiro thought this would be her last chance to hear about her mother's experiences. The opinion poll was sent to her mother, 88-year-old Harue Oda, this spring.

When Yashiro was a primary school student, she noticed speckles all over her mother's arms and neck. She asked her mother what had happened, not knowing they were marks from a rash caused by exposure to radiation. Oda did not respond but just stared at the speckles. Even though she was a child, Yashiro quickly realised that the subject was off-limits.

However, Yashiro asked her mother if she was willing to answer the questionnaire, as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing. Now 67, Yashiro lives in Nishi Ward, Kumamoto.

"I choke up and can't speak when I think about the bombing," Oda said and then went silent for a while. She eventually began to talk, however, hoping that her experiences would remain in people's minds, even if only a little.

Oda was exposed to radiation on Aug. 9, 1945, at her workplace, which was about 2.5 kilometers from the hypocenter in Nagasaki. She was not seriously injured but about 10 days later, she got a rash and bled from her gums. After that, she was bedridden for six months.

"I sometimes dreamed of being covered in light, making me wish to go to heaven immediately," Oda recalled.

Oda poured out her experiences for about two hours at the dining table and Yashiro copied them down on paper. Everything Oda said was completely new to her daughter.

"It's your turn now to carry this story on," Oda said to Yashiro.

Yashiro is determined to tell others about her "mother's emotional scars, which still haven't healed."

Manga tells story

The online manga "Genbaku ni Atta Shojo no Hanashi" (A story of a girl who survived an atomic bomb) has been viewed almost 500,000 times.

It was created by a woman in her 30s in Hiroshima Prefecture under the pseudonym Sasurai no Kanabun, and is based on the experiences of the author's grandmother, 87-year-old Toyoko Kodama. Kodama was 17 at the time of the bombing.

Kodama went to a girls school and worked as a driver for Hiroshima Electric Railway Co. The manga's author was in the later years of primary school when she heard her grandmother's story about the A-bombing for the first time.

On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Kodama was driving a streetcar in Hiroshima. She saw an extremely bright flash and opened the door to check if her train had broken down. The next thing she knew, a blast wave swept her away.

"My childhood friend, who got on the train to say goodbye to me because she was going to get married, died," Kodama said. "Many people died at my school. We carried them to a makeshift crematory, but it was just a hole we dug."

The woman wrote things down every time her grandmother told her about the bombing. After joining a middle school art club, she was asked to draw what her grandmother had seen.

Four years ago, the author again heard about some of her grandmother's experiences but at that time her recollections were fuzzy. She found out that her grandmother had not told her own daughter about her experiences, saying instead, "Don't tell people that your mother is an A-bomb survivor because it will affect your marriage."

The author realised she was the only person who had heard so much detail.

Working from the notes she kept, the author completed a 79-page manga in August 2013.

Aging survivors

The average age of the people holding an Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificate was 80.13 as of the end of March.

To preserve their memories, the Hiroshima prefectural government is training people who can continue retelling survivors' stories. The Nagasaki prefectural government is recruiting "family witnesses," descendants of the victims who tell their parents' or grandparents' stories. Twelve people are currently working under the government's programme.

The manga author has begun drawing her next work, believing it is important to hear her grandmother's experiences while her memory is still clear. She is also calling for her readers to hear as many stories as possible from A-bomb survivors near them.