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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

So tell me... about Hiroshima
Nuclear Power and Humankind Cannot Coexist
Yasuko Yamaguchi (female, 80 years old)
Higashi Ward, Hiroshima
By Taro Nakasaki (male)

photo "To tell about the experience of the A-bomb is a duty of those who have survived," says Ms. Yasuko Yamaguchi, of Higashi Ward, Hiroshima.

photo Yasuko Yamaguchi (middle) poses for a photograph with her sisters and a friend on the roof of the building next door to her home. Her two sisters in the back row (right and center) and her friend (front, right) all perished from the A-bomb. (Photo courtesy of Yasuko Yamaguchi)

"I believe without any doubt that nuclear power and humankind cannot coexist." At the stockholders meeting of the Chugoku Electric Power Company held at the end of June, Ms. Yasuko Yamaguchi, who was exposed to the A-bomb at the age of twelve, made her appeal before the company executives present at the meeting. As had been expected, a proposal from some stockholders calling for the withdrawal of plans for the Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant was rejected by a large majority. What is the driving force behind her determination?

Ms. Yamaguchi was born in Harimaya-cho in what is now Naka Ward, Hiroshima City, the fourth daughter of a family that owned a long-established clock shop. In her family's three-story wooden house was a vast array of phonograph records, including classical music and albums from the Takarazuka Revue. Her father and older brother enjoyed photography as a hobby and so there was even a darkroom. "From the early years of my life, I was known as a bookworm. I loved to spend my time reading books and listening to records of children's songs," she recalls.

As the war situation grew worse, daily necessities became scarce and food was difficult to come by.

In the spring of 1945, Yasuko graduated from the Fukuro-machi National Elementary School and entered Hijiyama Girls' High School. She was a member of the "Sakura" (Cherry Blossom) class. "We had hardly any lessons at all. All we did was help with the demolition of buildings and houses and grow potatoes and pumpkins in the schoolyard."

On the morning of August 6th, Yasuko was not feeling well and so she begged to stay home from school. Her usually kind mother Nobuko scolded her harshly. "I was sulking and left the house without eating breakfast, leaving my two older sisters, my parents and my grandmother at home."

Yasuko arrived at school and waited on the first floor of the two-story wooden school building for the day's work to begin. She was in her seat chatting with her friends when a dazzling burst of light pierced the room through the windows toward the corridor.

"Another drill?" she wondered.

Yasuko immediately put on the air raid hood that was hanging beside her and climbed under the desk. When she removed her hands from her ears, they were filled with horrific screams and wailing.

* * *

Nothing remained of her home, which had been 600 meters [660 yards] from the hypocenter Days later, the remains of her parents, grandmother, and one sister were found in the burned-out ruins.

On the day after the A-bomb, Yasuko came across her eldest sister Hatsuko on the Miyuki Bridge connecting present-day Naka Ward and Minami Ward. She had been exposed to the A-bomb at the family home and was fortunate enough to have escaped. About ten days later, Hatsuko came down with a high fever and became unable to move. Yasuko took her to the hospital but she could not get much treatment there amid the moaning and stench of the seriously wounded.

Purple spots started appearing all over Hatsuko's body and she died on the night of August 24th. Other A-bomb victims were collapsing, one after another. Before long, a rumor went around that anyone who experienced the pika, the tremendous light of the A-bomb, would die within a few years.

"I too will be dead in two or three years," Yasuko thought. Relying on relatives and acquaintances, she managed to somehow stay alive and to start recording her experiences in notebooks. It took her five years to write about what she had seen and heard, including the stories her sister Hatsuko told her from her sickbed.

* * *

After the war, Ms. Yamuguchi worked for ten years as a teacher in a school for the blind. She was blessed with four children. However, she hardly ever spoke about her experiences, even with her family. "The memory was still too painful."

Even so, the A-bomb followed her throughout her life. It was there when she married her husband, whom she had met at church. It was there each time she learned she was pregnant and whenever her children got sick. "The experience of the A-bomb continually crossed my mind."

One day, Ms. Yamaguchi saw a photograph of the victims of the criticality accident that occurred in 1999 at the JCO uranium reprocessing facility in Tokai-mura, Ibaraki Prefecture. What she saw was just like the image of her sister who died of the A-bomb disease. Anyone who knows the horror of the injury brought by radiation can never hear the expression "the peaceful use of nuclear power" as anything more than an evasion. Her protests against nuclear energy began with these feelings.

Even now, it is difficult for Ms. Yamaguchi to speak of her A-bomb experience. Every time she talks about it, she remembers the moans and the stench right after the A-bomb. But she continues to tell her stories. "I really understand the feelings of the mothers in the Fukushima of today. They too feel the sense of responsibility for having survived. I want everyone to know in some way the horror of radiation."

* 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 3, 2013.