Atomic-bomb survivors seek new ways to keep their memories alive

Around the world, non-proliferation efforts are faltering


For seventeen year-old Takeoka Chisako, August 6th, 1945 was supposed to be a day off. She had planned to meet two girlfriends at 8:15 that morning, at a train station on the west side of Hiroshima. She was running late, and as she stepped outside her house she lifted a pocket mirror to her face. Then she saw a flash and heard a bang. When she regained consciousness she found herself lying in a potato field 30 metres away, a mushroom cloud rising in the sky. People with charred skin dangling from their arms came rushing over a nearby hillside. They cried for help, but were too feeble to speak their names and too weak to drink the water Ms Takeoka brought them. “Then one by one, they died,” says Higashino Mariko, Ms Takeoka’s daughter.

Ms Higashino tells this tale with the precision of an eyewitness. Yet she was born eight years after American forces flattened Hiroshima with Little Boy, the first atomic bomb used in combat. For decades survivors such as Ms Takeoka, known in Japan as hibakusha, or bomb-affected people, have told their stories publicly. Now their ranks are “declining drastically”, says Takigawa Takuo, director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. So the city government in Hiroshima has recruited scores of volunteers like Ms Higashino to become denshosha, or “legacy successors” who take on the job of recounting their experiences. (Ms Higashino is unusual in that she inherited her own mother’s story; most take on a stranger’s.) Nagasaki, which was bombed on August 9th, has created a similar group.


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