JAPANESE

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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

So tell me... about Hiroshima
You're a Monster!" The Words Uttered by My Brothers Shocked Me
Taeko Teramae  (female, 81 years old)
Asaminami Ward, Hiroshima City
By Yohei Goto (male)

photo "I was injured only from the neck up," said Ms. Teramae at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Naka Ward, Hiroshima City.

photo Around the time she was a student at Shintoku Girls' High School, "With such an ugly disfigured face, I kept wishing for death to come." (Photo courtesy of Taeko Teramae)

"Haven't you noticed this?" said Ms. Taeko Teramae (81) in Asaminami Ward, Hiroshima as she pointed to her artificial left eye in answer to my question: "Were you injured in the atomic bombing?" Despite being alive, her face was forever changed and she has suffered from various cancers and cataracts since. "Even though it was a long time ago, at unexpected moments I still clearly recall the events of the day of the atomic bombing. I can never forget." With that Ms. Teramae, who was a 15-year-old girl when she was exposed to the A-bomb, started speaking.

On February 8, 1982 she was reminded again of what she had gone through on the day of the atomic bombing. She was watching a TV news report about a fire that had broken out at the "Hotel New Japan" in Nagata-cho, Tokyo. She saw people jumping out of windows to escape the flames, and thought, "They are in the same situation that I was in." At the recollection, her chest tightened.

The Hiroshima Central Telephone Bureau was located near a place now called Fukuro-machi, in Naka Ward, Hiroshima. In 1945, she was in her third year at Shintoku Girls' High School and was assigned to telephone exchange duties because of the student mobilization order.

She recalls that on the morning of August 6, 1945, she was standing in line in a hallway on the second floor of the Telephone Bureau when it happened. A strong light burst through the windows, followed by the roaring of an explosion, accompanied by the sound of collapsing buildings. For a moment, she was plunged into total darkness. She could see nothing. After a while, the brightness of flames illuminated her surroundings. She saw the bodies of many people who had fallen down. She couldn't use the stairway to escape the fire because it too was covered by piles of bodies. "Jumping out of the window was the only way to survive," she realized. Determined, she made up her mind. Literally, she jumped out of the second-story window to escape from the fire.

When she got outside the building, she came across some of her classmates. "You're terribly injured," she was told, but she was unaware of her injuries. Ms. Chiyoko Wakita (then 22), her homeroom teacher, being uninjured took her to the first-aid station at Hijiyama. From there she was sent to Kanawajima Island, where the severely injured were being accepted. Later, she heard that Ms. Wakita, who had returned to the vicinity of the hypocenter to accompany the remaining students, had passed away on the 30th.

On the 13th, her father came to take her home. Though her actual house was located in Senda-machi (present-day Naka Ward), they went back to the house in Itsukaichi (present-day Saeki Ward) where her family had evacuated in April. She was told that her younger sister (two years her junior) had passed away after being exposed to the atomic bomb while assisting with the demolition of buildings near the hypocenter.

Her parents and two younger brothers were safe. She was shocked when her brothers said, "You're a monster!" Bedridden due to a high fever and nausea, she begged her father and mother to "Please give me a mirror!", but they wouldn't give her one. Two months later, on a day when her parents had gone out, she saw her face in a mirror for the first time since the atomic bombing. The mirror reflected a stranger with a burned-out face and no left eye. At that moment she wished she had died together with her classmates. She has had that thought countless times ever since.

* * *

After graduating from high school she wanted to go to college to become a teacher. She had to take an entrance examination that lasted for three days, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't go to the examination room on the final day. She said, "When I imagined that students would stare at my face every day while I taught in school, however hard I tried, I couldn't go through with it."

Over time, she shut herself in at home, where she continued to learn Western and Japanese dressmaking until she was thirty years old. Twice she underwent plastic surgery, which gradually helped made her facial scars less conspicuous. Even so, she was continuously told, "Atomic bomb survivors who stayed close to the hypocenter will have babies with birth defects, or eventually they themselves will die of leukemia."

* * *

She thought that she would never be able to get married. But when she was 33 years old, she was introduced to Mr. Hiroyuki Teramae, whose wife had died of an atomic bomb-related disease, and they got married. His late wife was an atomic bomb survivor of the same age as Taeko. They had a son who was one year old when she passed away. Taeko was told that her husband's first wife had passed away saying, "I don't want to die, leaving my son behind!" When Taeko heard that, she remembers vowing to herself: "I want to do all I can to support him."

Taeko also had a son with Hiroyuki. The first of the two sons is now in his early fifties while the other is in his late forties. Both of them are single. Hiroyuki passed away 15 years ago. Today, she still lives with his two sons, the three of them together. She said, "I suppose that the reason my sons stayed single is because they worry about being the second generation of atomic bomb survivors. As parents who were also atomic bomb survivors, I also feel that we may have cost them their chance of marriage."

In 1988, she was hospitalized with cancer of the uterus, then breast cancer and thyroid cancer and more after that. She said, "I have cancers everywhere in my body." She also underwent a cataract operation. "Even so, I'm still alive now and I often think of the meaning of being alive." Now she goes to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park as a storyteller to convey the experience of being an atomic bomb survivor to students visiting Hiroshima on school trips. "It's tough on my body, but as long as I am alive, I want to convey to the future generation the terrifying consequences of an atomic bomb."

* 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), June 13, 2012.