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Survivor continues wife's legacy on 72nd anniversary of Hiroshima bombing

Atomic bomb survivor Yukio Motoyasu speaks about his wife who continued to tell the stories of fellow survivors at a gathering on Aug. 6, 2017. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- On the anniversary of the first nuclear weapon ever used falling on this city, one survivor told his story of that day 72 years ago, and that of his late wife, for the first time, in hopes of continuing her legacy by conveying the suffering of fellow survivors and working toward a peaceful future free of nuclear weapons.

"If I don't summarize it more simply, my wife will be angry," said 86-year-old Yukio Motoyasu while speaking in front of roughly 30 university students in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on Aug. 6, the 72nd anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.

When they were 14 years old, Motoyasu and his late wife experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Bearing a keloid scar on her face from the heat of the atomic blast, Motoyasu's wife Yoshiko had continued to tell her story up until her death two years ago. In her memory, Motoyasu decided to start speaking about his own experiences on the anniversary of the bomb.

Yoshiko had been very athletic in her childhood, and it has earned her the nickname of "light-footed Yoshiko-chan." She was admired by all the boys at school, and Yukio remembers often watching her as she ran around the school grounds.

While working on demolishing buildings to avoid the spread of fires, a 14-year-old Yoshiko was enveloped in the flash from the atomic bomb. Yukio was also sent flying by the shock wave from the blast in a tin factory. Seven years later at church, a now-adult Motoyasu was stopped by the call of a familiar voice. It was Yoshiko's. When she took off the wide-brimmed hat and handkerchief around her neck, there were swelled scars from the heat.

The late Yoshiko Motoyasu (Photo courtesy of Yukio Motoyasu)

"You really suffered (from the blast)," Motoyasu said without thinking. But Yoshiko didn't get angry and instead smiled and said, "Yes." She had lost all of her family to the attack, and not wanting to go out in front of other people with her injuries, she had gotten a job as a telephone operator to support herself. "With this face, no one will ever marry me," she had lamented. "Then let's get married," Motoyasu had replied.

Yoshiko had been left without eyebrows, her mouth turned up slightly and some of her fingers had been stuck together from the heat of the blast. After her marriage, she underwent seven surgeries to try to perhaps return to her former self, but always said that she was happy.

However, she didn't want anyone to have to carry the memories she did, so Yoshiko began talking about her experience as an A-bomb survivor, or hibakusha, in her 30s. In order to convey her way of life, she would not hide her face when she spoke, and continued telling her story until her condition worsened and she began nursing care in her 70s. She died in 2015, and her husband was at first overwhelmed by his loss. When he remembered her continuing to tell her story with the scars on her face as proof, however, Motoyasu was compelled to do something. "From now on, I will continue to tell her story," he decided.

At the gathering on Aug. 6, Motoyasu shared Yoshiko's diary. Reacting to scenes from the Vietnam War, Yoshiko had written, "There are people who are suffering the same pain as me and it makes me so angry. At home and at work, we should all think and act toward peace."

When the students asked Motoyasu what should be done to continue conveying experiences like his and Yoshiko's, he replied, "Learn about peace." In his hand, he held a picture of a smiling Yoshiko. "I'm glad I spoke today," he said.

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