JAPANESE

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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

So tell me... about Hiroshima
My Brothers are in Heaven
Michiko Okano (female, 78 years old)
Machida City, Tokyo
By Yasufumi Kado (male)

photo Michiko made a report on the A-bombing together with her oldest son when he was a fourth grader in elementary school. "It is our family treasure," she said. (Tamagawagakuen 7-chome, Machida City, Tokyo)

photo Michiko Tamehiro (her maiden name) when she was a girls school student right after the war ended. (Photo courtesy of Michiko Okano)

"I don't know where to start. I've never talked about this to anyone before." On an afternoon in July, 78-year-old Michiko Okano (maiden name, Tamehiro) looked at a loss for words in a caf? in front of Tamagawagakuen Station.

I asked her to tell me what happened to her when the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima. Soon after she said "All right," all the words started coming out of her mouth just like running water. "I deserted my younger brothers. This has been troubling me for 50 years."

* * *

On August 8, 1945, Michiko was a second-year student at Hiroshima Prefectural Daiichi Girls' Senior High School. She was mobilized and was working in a printing factory in Minami-kanon-machi (present-day Nishi Ward, Hiroshima).

"Binding our black hair. . ." When everyone sang the first bit of the Women' Volunteers Corps' song out in the grounds for the morning meeting, she felt a fierce strong light and heat on the left side of her body.

They were two kilometers [1.2 miles] away from the hypocenter. She came to her senses, and found girls rising to their feet in a staggering manner. She got burns on her face and neck. Her teacher held her in his arms and treated her.

It started raining. Someone picked up a lotus leaf from a pond nearby and held it over her like an umbrella. She found countless numbers of black spots on her clothes.

They were told to go to Koi (present-day Nishi Ward), the evacuation site prepared for the printing factory workers. She and other girls spent a sleepless night on top of the hill. The city was burning. One of her classmates murmured, "I shouldn't think that I've been lucky about it." She knew what her classmate thought because she felt the same way. She had felt happy when she heard the air raid alarm in the classroom, because she thought all of them could go home earlier.

The day after, she and her friend headed for their homes in Shinsenba-cho (present-day Naka Ward). When she came to the Sumiyoshi Bridge (in present-day Naka Ward), she found about 10 injured people sitting with their arms holding their legs and their head down. There was a child among them too, whose face was swollen like a balloon. The child smiled at Michiko with his slender eyes that were even narrower on his swollen face. Suddenly, Michiko lost her breath. "Ken-chan!" She realized that he was her three-year-old younger brother Kenji, a fifth grader at Nakajima National Elementary School.

She didn't know why, but she got so scared of her horrible-looking brother that she could not get close to him. "Sorry, I'll get someone to come here from home." She spoke to herself and left the place.

She reached the prefectural Daiichi Junior High School (present-day Hiroshima Kokutaiji High School) near her house. She found a boy in a water tank in the schoolyard. He was in the water with his face down, but she easily knew it was her other younger brother, Shigeo. He should have been at home on the morning of August 6th. Shigeo was a second-year student at Nakajima National Elementary School.

She still doesn't know why, but she couldn't get his body up to see whether or not it was really her brother.

The place around her house was still too hot to approach. She went to a martial arts hall at the prefectural Girls High School in Yagi (present-day Asaminami Ward).

Later, Michiko could get together again with her two elder sisters and elder brother who was a college student in Tokyo. Michiko, her sisters and brother started their life in a room on a farm house that they rented from a kind family. Michiko's mother, who had raised six children all by herself, had died in February that year.

Even after he graduated from university, her elder brother kept looking for Kenji and Shigeo. Michiko has still not told him that she had seen both brothers on that day.

* * *

After the war, Michiko started going to a Catholic church where she got christened by a German Father. Father Hubert Cieslik (1914-1998) was also survivor of the A-bomb in Hiroshima. Knowing that she wanted to become a teacher for the sake of her two brothers, he put in great efforts and helped her go to university.

After graduating from the university she became a teacher in a private school in Hiroshima. Although her dreams came true, she felt pained being in Hiroshima. She again talked about her pains to Father Cieslik, who was in Tokyo, and in 1956 moved to Tokyo to teach.

In 1961, she got married to a man introduced by another priest. She told her husband that she was once declined marriage because of the A-bomb. Her husband told her, "You are now healthy like others, so I don't mind." After marriage she gave birth to four children, and devoted herself to caring for them.

When her children asked her about the atomic bomb, she talked about it. She also took them to Hiroshima. But she never talked about her brothers.

* * *

After she turned sixty years old, she started going to "100 Bible Weeks." This gathering meets to read through the Old Testament and New Testament, taking three and a half years. As time went on, her guilt started growing larger in her mind. She wanted to find words in the Bible's books that would heal her.

Although she was reading through, she could not find a single word that let her overcome her guilt. She was about to give up, when she came to the end of the New Testament, and was attracted to a paragraph in the First Letter of John (1 John 5:17): "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death."

"An unrighteousness that is not a sin" could mean that maybe what she did to her brothers was not a sin. When she began to think that way, the Belgian father said to her. "Please don't accuse yourself so much. Your brothers are already drinking the water of life in heaven." She felt relieved. She also began thinking that she should get on with her life.

* * *

"I'm thinking of talking about my experience of the atomic bomb in public," she told me about her present dream. On August 6th this year she is attending the memorial ceremony in Hiroshima as a representative of a local group of victims. She is planning to study to become an Atomic Bomb witness. I asked why, and she tilted her head in thought and said, "Maybe as a requiem to my brothers."

We talked about four hours and finally I asked a question that I most wanted to be answered: "What made you tell me something that you had never talked about to anyone before? I am just a stranger to you." She answered, "Because you are serious about what I say. That experience about my brothers is the starting point of my life now. If I put it aside, I have nothing to talk about."

* Originally published in Japanese in the series "聞きたかったこと [So tell me… about Hiroshima],"The Asahi Shimbun(Hiroshima morning edition), August 2, 2010.