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Hibakusha: Artist moved by school kids' response to atomic bomb experience

Susumu Nishiyama looks through New Year's cards he received from elementary school students at his home in Fukuoka, on Jan. 12, 2017. (Mainichi)

FUKUOKA -- At the start of 2017, 88-year-old atomic bomb survivor Susumu Nishiyama received a special delivery from a special group of people. It was a bundle of New Year's cards from 67 sixth-graders at nearby Nagazumi Elementary School -- located in Fukuoka's Minami Ward.

"Thank you for teaching us so much about war," stated one of the messages on one of the cards. Other cards included depictions of Chinese zodiac-style roosters -- which must have been particularly pleasing for Nishiyama, as he himself is a manga artist.

In August 2016, Nishiyama gave a talk to the sixth-graders at Nagazumi Elementary School about his personal experience of the Nagasaki atomic bomb, in the buildup to the children's school excursion to Nagasaki in October. The children, in return, sent him a stack of affectionate cards at New Year's and also performed a moving and thought-provoking play based on Nishiyama's bleak experience in 1945.

Nishiyama was 17 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. He was working at the city's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Shipyard, about 3.5 kilometers away from the bomb's epicenter, when the bomb was dropped on the city.

The following morning, Nishiyama received orders from a senior employee at the shipyard to head to the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki Armory's Ohashi plant -- near the epicenter -- together with five other coworkers, in an attempt to rescue any people in trouble.

But when Nishiyama arrived at the factory, there were corpses of boys and girls around his age, spread across the floor. It was a harrowing sight. During his talk at Nagazumi Elementary School in August, Nishiyama showed some paintings of the bleak scenes at the factory, that he had drawn himself.

During the sixth-graders' school excursion to Nagasaki in October 2016, the group walked to Sanno Shrine -- which is where Nishiyama visited on the day after the bomb was dropped. In November, the children put on a play -- based on what they had learned during their Nagasaki excursion, as well as Nishiyama's personal experiences.

In the play, the children are suddenly sent back to 1945 during a visit to Nagasaki. They go back to a point in time that is just before the atomic bomb was dropped on the city. They meet the young Nishiyama, who is told by a teacher that he "must sacrifice his life for the sake of the country." Despite being faced with bouts of hunger as well as bullying by the older children, he manages to press on with his physically demanding job.

Then the bomb drops. Nishiyama looks toward the burning city and says, "This is war. This is 71 years ago."

The sixth-grader who played the part of the young Nishiyama, 11-year-old Kotaro Abe, said in his card to Nishiyama, "I've been thinking about the emotions you must have felt after the atomic bomb." Another boy in Abe's class, 12-year-old Ryo Miyake, wrote, "It must have been hell every day for you and the other children. For children who live in war-torn countries at the moment, what must their daily lives be like?"

Before Nishiyama spoke to the children at the school, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and therefore, he went into the speech thinking that "this could be the last time."

Nevertheless, he managed to complete his operation, and he was able to attend the children's play in November. He burst into tears as the children in the play reminded him of the young lives lost in the bombing.

U.S. President Donald Trump, the current leader of the country that dropped the atomic bombs and also of a nuclear power, continues to spew out statements that go against the abolition of nuclear weapons as if he has forgotten about Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But Nishiyama remains resolute. He says, "If you talk from the heart, then your message will be heard," as he tightly holds on to the stack of New Year's cards from the school children. (By Takehiro Higuchi, Kyushu Head Office News Department)

(This is Part 4 of an ongoing series.)

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