A-bomb survivor shares experiences with Fukushima victims

August 06, 2012


HIROSHIMA--Keiko Kawamoto was just 4 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima during the closing days of World War II.

On Aug. 6, 67 years after that fateful morning, 71-year-old Kawamoto rose early to pray at the family gravesite near her home in Hiroshima's Naka Ward. Her grandmother, father and uncle all died as a result of the atomic bombing.

Before 2011, Kawamoto had not spoken about her hibakusha experience, even to her only daughter. But the March 11 accident last year at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant made her realize the importance of passing on her experiences to younger generations.

Kawamoto then decided to attend a training session sponsored by the Hiroshima municipal government to help hibakusha tell their stories.

"I did not want to recall the experiences because they were too painful," Kawamoto said. "Even now, I cannot stop crying once I talk about the experience. But, I feel the hibakusha have to speak up."

One day in April 2011, Kawamoto was at home watching a TV program with an acquaintance in her 20s. A report was shown about life at an evacuation center that had been set up after the Fukushima nuclear accident.

"Did they also distribute box lunches and create evacuation centers in Hiroshima?" the younger woman asked Kawamoto.

Although the younger woman was born in Hiroshima, she did not realize that after the atomic bomb was dropped, the devastation was so enormous that there was no way that box lunches could have been distributed to victims. Kawamoto was shocked when she realized that memories of what atomic bomb victims went through were fading.

She also remembers the discrimination that hibakusha had to endure because of rumors that women would not be able to give birth to healthy babies, and that radiation damage was contagious.

Kawamoto became concerned about the possibility that a similar form of discrimination might spread in Fukushima.

She was at her family home when the atomic bomb was dropped. The instant after the flash from the bomb, she was buried under the collapsed house. She was later pulled to safety by soldiers.

However, her grandmother, who had been carrying the child on her back when the home collapsed, died the next morning.

Kawamoto's uncle was in a different part of Hiroshima when the bomb hit. He tried to get to the location where his family had been evacuated. However, the uncle was separated from the general populace and relocated in the mountains because he was suffering from unrelenting diarrhea and was coughing up blood.

Kawamoto's mother forbid her from visiting her uncle, fearing the child might catch his illness. He died about three months after the atomic bombing.

"Thinking about it now, there was no possibility of his illness being contagious," Kawamoto said. "The prejudices held at the time were incredible."

Kawamoto married at 24 and gave birth to her only daughter two years later. The first thing her husband asked when their baby was born was, "Does she have all of her arms and legs?"

Throughout her life, Kawamoto has overcome concerns about the effects of radiation as well as the discrimination and prejudices held by others. She hopes that she can help the people of Fukushima by continuing to talk about her experiences.

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Keiko Kawamoto prays at her family's gravesite in Hiroshima on Aug. 6. (Kenta Sujino)

Keiko Kawamoto prays at her family's gravesite in Hiroshima on Aug. 6. (Kenta Sujino)

  • Keiko Kawamoto prays at her family's gravesite in Hiroshima on Aug. 6. (Kenta Sujino)

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