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Hibakusha: 'Come see Hiroshima, Nagasaki with your own eyes,' urges A-bomb survivor

Koko Kondo (Mainichi)

MIKI, Hiroshima -- Seventy-one years after the U.S. used a nuclear bomb in warfare for the first time, the world is waiting to see if U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima. In late April, as talk spread of the possibility of such a visit, local resident Koko Kondo, 71, received an email seeming to confirm he would come. "Obama is visiting Hiroshima in May!!!!!" it read.

The sender of the email was an American man who had visited Hiroshima around 20 years ago and listened to a speech by Kondo. Since then, Kondo has been in contact with the man, who became a university instructor, through email and by phone. The email made her feel that the stories of the atomic bombing survivors had "worked their way up from the grassroots level."

Kondo's father, who died in 1986, was a pastor at a Hiroshima church and attended to the wounded in the aftermath of the A-bomb. After the war, he spoke about the tragedy of atomic bombing in America. Kondo, who helped her father in those activities, began speaking out about the atomic-bombing herself in the 1970s, in both Japan and overseas. With the experience of having studied abroad at an American university under her belt, she speaks in English to foreign audiences.

Having been only 8 months old when the Hiroshima bomb fell, Kondo does not remember it. However, her friends in their 10s and 20s who played with her at the church had bad burns on their faces and hands. Through the books on her father's bookshelf and the conversations of adults, she learned that the burns were caused by the bomb, and was filled with resentment.

"When I grow up, I'm going to beat up the people who dropped the bomb to avenge my friends," she thought.

When she was 10, Kondo was in America during the recording of a television program about her father. An American man there caught her attention. She asked her mother who he was, and, after hesitating for a moment, her mother replied, "That's Robert Lewis. He was the co-pilot of the 'Enola Gay,' which dropped the bomb." Kondo opened her eyes wide and glared at the man. However, Lewis's behavior was not what she expected. He revealed that in the flight log after the bombing, he had written, "My God, what have we done?" and his eyes filled with tears. Kondo's preconception that she and her acquaintances were victims while the people who dropped the bomb were bad fell apart.

"Why did I hate someone I had never met before? This man was troubled as well. What's bad here is not the people who dropped the bomb, but war itself," Kondo thought. When she approached Lewis and squeezed his large hand, he kindly squeezed back. She learned the importance of seeing and feeling things for herself.

Sometimes, when A-bomb survivors speak in America, people, especially U.S. veterans, protest, "It was you who started the war." However, everyone quietly listens to Kondo's story of her meeting with Lewis.

"People cannot understand each other if they hate. Looking back on the war, Japan has many things it must apologize for as well. I think that apologies are not something you ask for," says Kondo.

During the G-7 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Hiroshima this April, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and others visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. While not all of the G-7 countries have agreed to a nuclear-free world, and there are complex international problems at play, Kondo says, "When people stand in front of the A-bomb memorial, I am sure they will feel something."

Kondo always ends her speeches by saying, "Please come and see Hiroshima and Nagasaki once with your own eyes." (By Yusuke Tanabe, Hanshin Bureau)

(This is part 1 of a series)

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