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From Asahi Shimbun

Japanese version

Notes from Nagasaki
What I Couldn't Tell My Daughter
Shizuko Mitamura(female, born 1941)
Reported by Shohei Okada (male, born 1981)

photo Shizuko Mitamura

photo Performed kamishibai, the story about a girl in a long-sleeved kimono, drawn by an A-bomb victim, Mr. Hiroshi Matsuzoe

photo Performed Kamishibai about the life of Ms. Kio Tanaka

photo Guiding students on a school trip

Ms. Shizuko Mitamura, aged 72, who had been exposed to radiation five kilometers [3.1 miles] from the hypocenter at the age of three, in April joined the message-conveyance team of the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace to work as an A-bomb witness. She said, "It's time for me to speak out, especially for the sake of my daughter." She feels this job is a mission she must fulfill.

"This is the last time I saw her," Ms. Mitamura said, showing me a photo of her oldest daughter Miwa in a cosmos field. I was touched by her happy smile all the more because I was told that she died the following year, in June 2010, at the age of 39.

Ms. Mitamura, having struggled with cancer for a long time herself, still feels anxious about the possibility of its recurrence. She has always been concerned about the effects of radiation that can be neither seen nor smelled, but are very harmful. It still remains uncertain whether second-generation survivors could be affected by it. She assumes, however, that it might have ruined Miwa's health. This feeling of hers compelled her to start speaking out. What's more, the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011 made her realize the necessity of speaking out even more urgently.

"I can't talk about what it was like to be in a burned-out city full of charred bodies all around, because I didn't see anything like that. But I can say something when it comes to living in constant fear of radiation all this time."

Ms. Mitamura was born in December 1941, the year the Pacific War broke out. When the A-bomb was dropped, she was at home in Fukuda (present-day Fukuda-honmachi, Nagasaki City), about five kilometers [3.1 miles] southwest of the hypocenter, just beyond Mt. Inasa from Nagasaki. Though she was only three years old, she still has this scene in her mind.

She was eating a meal with her two elder sisters and one elder brother on the veranda of her house. She remarked, "The four of us were eating rice that day. We were so happy, having a very good time." The reason why she vividly recollects this scene is that they usually had to eat sweet potatoes instead of rice because of a food shortage.

A flash of white light enveloped everything. Something like white ash or dust fell on her bowl of rice, but she continued her meal. One of her sisters, on shouting, "Let's not dilly-dally," carried her on the back and fled home. She clearly remembers this far and no further.

According to her sisters, they saw people climbing down Mt. Inasa with their hair standing on end. Later as a grown-up, she heard them say, "It was like hell."

Ms. Mitamura knew at the age of 39 that she had bowel cancer. At that time, cancer was a death sentence, so when she was allowed to come home for a short time before undergoing surgery, she said to herself, "This homecoming will be my last." However, thanks to the surgery she was able to narrowly escape death.

It was at that time that her mother spoke to her about her A-bomb experience for the first time. At the same time, Ms. Mitamura obtained an A-bomb Survivor Health Book. Until then, her mother had not spoken out for fear that it might give rise to prejudice and discrimination against her children.

At the age of 59, Ms. Mitamura also contracted endometrial cancer, and had to have a hysterectomy.

People related to her also succumbed to diseases one after another. Her second oldest sister contracted bowel cancer twice. Her third oldest sister died of rectal cancer, aged 39. Their daughters died of cancer and brain tumors in their 30s and 40s respectively. Those who contracted cancer or passed away are the ones who were at home that day with Ms. Mitamura, as well as their daughters.

As it turned out, Ms. Mitamura lost her oldest daughter Miwa to cancer. She remarked, "Radiation might have affected her health after all."

Just as her mother had refrained from telling her children about her A-bomb experience, she herself didn't talk much to Miwa about her experience. All she had told Miwa was, "I ate rice on which something like white ash fell."

Miwa, who was living with her husband in Aichi Prefecture, went to the hospital in January 2010 because she wasn't feeling well. Whenever Ms. Mitamura called her, worrying about her health, she answered, "I'm all right." "She didn't want to make me worry about her, I guess." It had never occurred to her that the illness would lead Miwa to her death.

In March of that year, her condition suddenly became much worse. When Ms. Mitamura rushed to her, she was too ill to utter a word. She looked totally different, her hair having fallen out due to her anti-cancer drugs. Three months later she passed away. Ms. Mitamura was filled with remorse for not having visited her much earlier.

Miwa's close friend told her after the funeral that Miwa once said, "I, too, might have the A-bomb disease." She knew for the first time that her daughter had been worried about the effects of the A-bomb, too. Regretfully, she adds, "I had so many things to tell her."

One of the things she wishes she could have told her was her experience with the "Voyage of Witnesses" that Peace Boat organized to give A-bomb survivors opportunities to go around the world and convey their messages. She participated in the program's first voyage from September 2008 to January 2009.

In Greece, she talked about her A-bomb experience and also held picture-story shows, or kamishibai, where she introduced stories of A-bomb experiences by showing picture cards one after another while narrating each card. One student there asked her, "Now that you have had all this suffering, do you have a grudge against America, who dropped the A-bomb?" She answered, "Nothing good comes out of hatred. Let's make every effort to prevent wars."

In Vietnam, she had an opportunity to talk with victims of a defoliant used during the Vietnam War. Her heart ached when she learned that lots of children had been affected by this chemical. She keenly felt that not only Nagasaki but also many other parts of the world have a great number of war victims who still suffered greatly. The A-bomb should be denounced, of course, but it is war that should be condemned in the first place. She was just about to tell her daughter these things when she lost her.

Ms. Mitamura is now leading a busy life working for peace, as a "peace guide" and also as a performer of kamishibai. These activities of hers date back to 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, when the cooperative, COOP Nagasaki (present-day Lala Coop), where she was helping the administration as a volunteer, planned to present a drama on the theme of the war, inviting a theatrical company.

She and her friends, thinking that they, too, should learn about what had happened during the war, visited Chiran-cho, (present-day Minami Kyushu), Kagoshima Prefecture, from where special attack corps used to fly to assault enemy warships during the war. At Chiran Peace Museum, she read the deceased pilots' wills on exhibit, and saw their smiling photographs. When she visited the Triangular Army House, where those young pilots had stayed before setting out on a raid, she wondered, "How were they feeling when they stayed here? I can't believe how they were able to have such broad smiles before flying out." Her heart went out to them. Deciding this kind of thing should never happen again and wanting to do whatever she could, she formed a club in the cooperative called Lala Friend and started volunteer activities such as guiding visitors in front of the Peace Statue.

In 2007, she and her fellow "peace guide" friends formed Kamishibai Circle to deal with victims' A-bomb experiences. She remarked, "We thought it easier to convey our message by showing pictures." The first story she worked on was about a girl in a long-sleeved kimono in a picture drawn by an A-bomb victim, Mr. Hiroshi Matsuzoe. He willingly consented to their plea to feature the girl in their kamishibai. He even let them use his drawing of the girl. She said, "I learned a lot from him. He told us much about the A-bomb." Eventually Mr. Matsuzoe also became a member of the circle, where he started to draw pictures for which Ms. Mitamura wrote the narrative.

In April 2014, however, Mr. Matsuzoe passed away at the age of 83. Ms. Mitamura said, "His death was quite unexpected. We are really sorry to lose him." When he came down with an illness, he gave her a message, saying, "I am happy I met you and that you made a kamishibai on the girl in the long-sleeved kimono. I hope you will continue performing this story." She intends to do so.

Also in April, Ms. Mitamura, who also works as a reading volunteer, gave a reading in a meeting held at the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. "I made a desperate dash for home, worrying about my four-month-old second son, who was left sleeping there." It was a passage from the kamishibai "Living in Sorrow and Silence" that she had made with her friends in the group. It was about the life of Ms. Kio Tanaka, who passed away in 2006. Ms. Tanaka appears in a photograph taken soon after the A-bomb was dropped, titled "Mother and Her Child Waiting for Their Turn to be Treated." Ms. Tanaka lost her second son, featured in the photograph, as well as her eldest. It's said that during her lifetime she hadn't wanted to talk about her experience.

People whom Ms. Mitamura has portrayed in her kamishibai activities include Ms. Sachiko Kurokawa, who miraculously survived the A-bomb disaster despite being very close to the hypocenter, and Ms. Chieko Ryu, who is shown in a photograph as a girl standing paralyzed by the charred bodies around her. Some of them had never spoken out in public, like Ms. Tanaka. Ms. Mitamura, however, has made efforts to listen to them and their families in order to create various pieces of kamishibai. "Everyone is struggling deep down, living with problems they can't speak about out loud."

In thinking of peace, Ms. Mitamura regards consideration for others as most important. This is something she learned from her mother. In times of scarcity after the war, her mother, in poverty, shared things in short supply with others around her. She said, "Even if we didn't have things in abundance, it turned out to be a great plus for us, not a minus."

Ms. Mitamura also works as a volunteer for the Shiroyama Elementary School Peace Dispatch Council. As a guide, she conducts tours around the school buildings, heavily damaged by the A-bomb since the school was very close to the hypocenter, and also around the cherry trees called "Kayoko Sakura" on the school grounds. When she talked to the children of Shiroyama Elementary School, she introduced a formula for peace, each point beginning with a syllable in the Japanese alphabet: a, i, u, e, o:

A is for aisatsu [あいさつ], or "greeting," something you can give freely to others anytime;
I is for ijime nai [いじめない], or "no bullying";
U is for utsukushii [うつくしい], or a "beautiful" Shiroyama elementary school. A well-kept school leads to beautiful hearts and minds;
E is for egao [えがお], or "smiling faces"; and
O is for omoiyari[おもいやり], or "kindness to others"

According to her, thinking about peace begins with considering small things like this in one's everyday life. She hopes this will catch on to help make the world free of war.

Once when she was at a bus stop near the school, some schoolchildren came up and recognizing her, said, "Here's our a-i-u-e-o guide!" She was so happy to see that they had indeed listened to her talk.

"When I wake up in the middle of the night, I yearn to see my daughter." Four years have passed now since Miwa's death, but Ms. Mitamura's sorrow has not lessened. As a matter of fact, it has become more intense than when she lost her. "Her death made me realize this," she said. Now she can identify with her mother, who lost Ms. Mitamura's sister, and also with Ms. Tsue Hayashi, who planted cherry trees in memory of her daughter Kayoko, who was killed by the A-bomb. She feels from the bottom of her heart that living life to the fullest is what we should aim for throughout our lives.

One day in talking about her personal A-bomb experience to students who had come to Nagasaki on a school trip, she said, "There were so many people who wanted to live on, but couldn't because of the A-bomb. I want you to stay alive, no matter what happens in your life. The sun will rise someday." After a while she received a letter from a female teacher who had brought the students to Nagasaki. She wrote that she had even thought of committing suicide, being distressed by a family problem. Just before she tried to kill herself, however, Ms. Mitamura's face came into her mind. This helped her to ward off death. Ms. Mitamura's message had certainly sunk into her heart.

Ms. Mitamura is cheerful and always smiling. In the interview, however, she told me about the painful experience of her daughter's death. I, too, would like to keep in mind her motto, "Cherish life and live to the fullest."

* Originally published in Japanese in 2014 in the series "ナガサキノート [Notes from Nagasaki]," The Asahi Shimbun (Nagasaki morning edition), June 2014.