JAPANESE

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From Asahi Shimbun

'The letters from the Hibakusha'
(2) Letter from Kimiko Yamamoto

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Mrs Yamamoto was with her mother and brothers in a refugee house 2.3km from hypocenter when the Hiroshima bomb exploded. She was 5 years old. The sky was lit up, the roof of the house was blown off, and she escaped to a bamboo grove with her family. A few days later she walked to a nearby shrine where she saw the horrendous condition of some of the survivors. The smell was awful, and she ran way terrified. Sixty years later, Mrs Yamamoto remembered that smell when she visited Hiroshima. Her sister-in-law, Akiko Kawamoto, was born in Los Angeles in 1926. When she and her family returned to Japan in 1932 they brought back an American Baldwin piano with them. Akiko loved playing on the piano until she died on August 7, 1945. The piano was badly damaged in the blast, but it was restored after the war and became a symbol of hope for the future. Glass shards remain embedded in the woodwork. Mrs Yamamoto now lives in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. This letter is to her granddaughter, Miss Rei Yamamoto.

My dear granddaughter,

On August 3, 2005, the Hibaku Piano Concert was held at the Aster Plaza Hall in Hiroshima. The piano used for the concert was one that was much loved by your grandfather's elder sister, Akiko Kawamoto. She was a doin-gakuto who was killed by the atomic bomb. After the war, the piano was repaired by virtue of the goodwill of many people as part of the Hiroshima Hope Project. At the concert you, as a member of the victim's family, played "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on that piano. You were in your fourth year at elementary school at that time. When you were questioned by the compere, you said "I played the piano with the whole of my heart so that my great aunt Akiko, who became a star, could hear it." The following day we attended the first Bon Memorial service for your great-grandmother, Akiko's mother Shizuko Kawamoto. She died in March 2005 at the age of 103, even though she had been exposed to the radiation at her home in Mitaki Hon-machi in Hiroshima. We visited her grave and that of her family. When you read "Akiko Kawamoto, hibakushi (died due to radiation), August 7, 1945" inscribed on your great-aunt's tombstone, you seemed to become interested in other peoples' graves. As we walked along the path in the graveyard, you looked shocked to see so many tombstones with the inscription hibakushi or the date August 6, 1945. The graveyards of Hiroshima are inseparable from the atomic bomb.

doin-gakuto: pupils and students who worked in factories by the order of Ministry of Education to make up for the shortage of labor in the munitions and food industries between 1938 and the end of the war.

Last fall, I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum where I met some elementary school pupils who had come from Osaka to do peace studies. When they learned that I was a Hibakusha, one of the boys asked me lots of questions. One of them was "Which is more scary, an atomic bomb or an earthquake?" I think that he asked this question because the Kobe Earthquake that happened ten or more years ago had been much talked about in Osaka. I think that atomic bombs and earthquakes are both frightening, but in different ways. The obvious difference is that an earthquake is a natural disaster, but the atomic bomb was the result of an evil action by human beings in a war. It was a man-made disaster. We can prevent a war. I would like you, the younger generation who are responsible for the future of Japan, to have a clear understanding of the threat of nuclear weapons and the stupidity of using them, and to think carefully about this and to act on it.

I was five years and six months old when the atomic bomb fell. I remember it happening, and I also have memories of things that happened when I was four years old. Because of this I have assumed that you, Rei, and my other grandchildren will also have memories of things that you experienced at kindergarten and from that time onwards. I have kept this in mind whenever I have seen you. It was May 1945, and I remember the beauty and fragrance of the large white roses hanging from the high stone wall of the Hada-Bess? restaurant in Hiroshima. On August 6, all those flowers were burned and I never saw them again. However, about ten years later I happened to come across a white rose. I was moved because it had the same flowers and the same fragrance as the one in my memory.

When I visited Hiroshima in the summer of 2005, a picture came back to my mind. It was the scene of the people who were burned and lying on the precinct of Waseda Shrine at Ushita-machi. They were covered with maggots. And then I remembered the putrid smell of people who were rotting whilst they were still alive. I had remembered that scene before, but this was the first time that the smell had come back to me. Since that time I have tried not to remember anything related to the atomic bomb. When I remember it, all that happens is that I get hurt and nothing good comes of it.

You, Rei, are now fifteen years old and in the third year of junior highschool. Your life is just beginning. As your grandmother, I sincerely hope that it will be filled with memories that are only sweet and fragrant.