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Hiroshima A-bomb survivor shares painful experiences to realize peace

Masaki Hironaka talks about his experience of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at Tomonotsu Museum in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Aug. 20, 2017. Behind him are illustrations he drew of various scenes from that time. (Mainichi)

FUKUYAMA, Hiroshima -- At a lecture he gave here at Tomonotsu Museum in August, Masaki Hironaka recalled how 72 years ago, when he was just 5 years old, he failed to pull out the countless shards of glass that had gotten stuck in his father's badly burned back from the blast of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the United States.

"Masaki, please pull them out," his father had admonished, and though Hironaka tried to do so with his bare hands, and also with a pair of pliers, he couldn't.

Hironaka, who was the chairman of Fukuyama city's A-bomb victims' association until it disbanded in 2015, told the audience, "There's talk that war may break out at any time. But in war, all sides face wretched circumstances. We absolutely must rid the world of war."

Hironaka took up drawing in his retirement, portraying scenes from bombed out Hiroshima and his life in his parents' hometown of Fukuyama, to which the family evacuated after the bombing. He has shown the illustrations to students at elementary and junior high school when sharing his stories of the bombing and its aftermath.

When the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Hironaka was playing in a creek near his home in present-day Nishi Ward of the city of Hiroshima, some 3.5 kilometers from the hypocenter.

At the same time, his father Hajime, then 37 years old, was on a train on his way to work. Hironaka choked up as he recalled looking for his father after the blast, walking past people who were escaping the burned out city center. He peered into their faces and called out for his father to no avail.

It was when Hironaka returned home that he was finally reunited with his father, who had somehow found his way home. Hironaka remembers the raw skin on his father's back, the shards of glass he was unable to pull out of it, and how eventually his father began to moan from the pain. Despite his mother calling for him to come to his father's bedside, he was too scared to go and was not present when his father passed away. How he cried and cried. "If I'd been by my father's side, maybe he would've said something to me," Hironaka said. "Seventy-two years later, it still makes me cry. The scene is etched into my memory and I can't forget it."

Following the dissolution of the Fukuyama victims' organization, Hironaka has poured his efforts into giving lectures about his experiences primarily in the cities of Hiroshima and Fukuyama as part of a group whose objective is to continue passing down stories about the bombing.

"I am of the youngest generation that can pass down first-hand experiences of the atomic bombing. If I share my stories with junior and senior high school students in Japan and abroad, and if they continue holding dialogue with each other, I think we can make progress toward realizing a better world -- one without war or nuclear power," he said in ending his lecture. Thus, he expressed hope for the Hiroshima Municipal Government's program to cultivate younger generations to continue telling the stories of those who experienced the atomic bombing, and for high school peace ambassadors, who are selected every year from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to spread the message of peace.

"Despite Hironaka's quiet tone of voice, I got a visceral sense for the experiences that have been seared into his memory," said Meriko Tsuguchi, 66, an audience member from the Hiroshima prefectural city of Onomichi.

The lecture was held at Tomonotsu Museum in conjunction with an exhibit of a painting of the atomic bomb created by A-bomb survivors and high school students, as well as other related art objects and computer graphics pieces.

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