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Hibakusha: Daughter of A-bomb survivor learns strict mom cared for her future

Nagasaki-born Yoko Nakano, 68, is among the youngest generation of atomic bomb survivors as she was exposed to A-bomb radiation when she was still in her mother's womb. Nakano says her mother, Chieko Yamanaka, was very strict in raising her, but now that 15 years have passed since her death, she understands why Chieko was so strict toward her longed-for child.

    On Aug. 9, 1945, Nakano's mother was at home about 3 kilometers away from the atomic bombing hypocenter. Her father, Yoshiharu, survived the bombing while working at a factory in Nagasaki, and took part in rescue work. Chieko went out in the city looking for Yoshiharu, and the couple reunited a day after the bombing. Chieko gave birth to Nakano six months later while supporting Yoshiharu as he was suffering from radiation aftereffects.

    "I must have been desperate to be born," Nakano said, jokingly. She lost her mother in 2000 at the age of 77, and her father just passed away on Jan. 9 this year at the age of 99.

    According to Yoshiharu, who spoke of his experiences in the Nagasaki atomic bombing only once in his entire life, he saw his factory co-workers who were killed in the blast lying over one another on the factory's stairs.

    The couple subsequently evacuated to the city of Isahaya, Nagasaki Prefecture. With a growing pregnant belly, Chieko took care of Yoshiharu by making herb tea with an Asian lizard tail and persimmon leaves. After Yoshiharu recovered, the couple went back to Nagasaki city, and Nakano was born there shortly after.

    Growing up, Nakano remembers Chieko being very strict. Nakano was never allowed to go out unless she got permission from her mother, and she would get a slap in the face if she didn't come home with a perfect test score.

    Chieko meddled with everything Nakano did. When she was an elementary school student, Nakano's mother tagged along on a school trip and she was teased about that by her friends.

    Nakano never understood why Chieko was so strict, but she believes that she has come to learn the reasons after taking care of her mother in her later life.

    Nakano was picked as a survey subject by the United States' Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) when she was studying in a so-called "A-bomb class" in which 20 students who had been exposed to atomic radiation and another 20 students who had not studied together. She thinks the fact that she was an A-bomb survivor may have made Chieko act strict.

    "My mother probably didn't want me to be seen as being 'less' than other children just because I was exposed to radiation," Nakano says.

    Her mother made young Nakano take piano lessons before she entered elementary school and attend a private Christian junior high school.

    Nakano's father, on the other hand, was sympathetic. When she refused to eat chicken served at a dinner one time, Nakano's mother took away her plate, saying that dinner was finished. Her father, then secretly made her rice balls so that she would not be hungry.

    Between a very strict mother and a caring father, Nakano naturally liked her father better. Her younger brother, however, had a different impression. When their father died earlier this year, Nakano's brother said to her, "Of the three of us siblings, you were mom's favorite."

    There are some things Nakano can think of as moments of special consideration that her mother did for her as she was exposed to radiation while in her mother's womb. Chieko made Nakano take piano lessons from a very young age -- she may have thought that her daughter would be able to make a living teaching piano even if she developed A-bomb aftereffects. She may also have thought about the ABCC's survey before making her daughter enter the Christian junior high school, as the survey ended after Nakano entered the school, which followed the system of a school established by an American missionary in Japan.

    Chieko developed dementia later in life without ever talking about that or speaking of her A-bomb experiences. Nakano had been teaching piano over 20 years, but quit to take care of her mother. She went back and forth between her home in Fukuoka Prefecture and Nagasaki where her parents' home was located.

    While Nakano's mother no longer remembered people's faces and names, she never forgot her daughter's name. She would tell visitors that Nakano was her daughter and look into a mirror with Nakano and would say, "We look alike."

    Learning a different side of her mother, Nakano believes she finally saw Chieko's love for her daughter.

    "I think she was trying to be strict, to act like a strong mother," Nakano says.

    Chieko used to tell Nakano that "ignorance is a crime." Though Nakano never learned the meaning behind those words, she understands that her mother was telling her "not to repeat the same mistakes, to learn other people's feelings and let them know what you're thinking." Nakano believes that conflicts can end when different countries, people and religions learn about and respect each other. (By Tetsuya Hirakawa, News Department, Kyushu Head Office)

    (This is part one of the six-part series)

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