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Hibakusha: A-bomb survivor determined to speak out to make amends with father

SENDAI -- Her beloved grandfather groaned. Burned across his body, which had turned red from the heat of the atomic bomb, the thought occurred to Hisako Kimura while she took care of him: "Hurry up and die."

    Now 77, this is something that she still regrets.

    On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Kimura -- then 8 years old -- was 1.6 kilometers away from the blast's hypocenter, at the vacation home of her maternal grandfather. She doesn't remember the moments immediately following the blast, but when she came to, she had been rescued from the collapsed house and brought out to the yard. Even though it was daytime, the sky had become darkened from rising dust. Lying next to her was someone completely red -- the skin having peeled off.

    She thought the person strange, but an adult then told her it was her grandfather, who had been trimming a tree in the yard.

    Kimura's grandfather was a skilled Noh dancer who performed at Itsukushima Shrine, and Kimura was proud of him. He was taken back to his main home in Onomichi, and young Kimura did her best to help take care of him. From morning, she would use tweezers to pick away the countless maggots, one by one, that had appeared on his body. The house was full of his stench, and she hated caring for him. He passed away after a week.

    Kimura's father, meanwhile, who had managed an internal medicine clinic in Hiroshima, was on his way to visit a patient when the bomb fell. Three days later, he left four short messages with Kimura's mother, who was caring for him: that he wanted to eat ripe tomatoes, he wanted to see the blue sky, he regretted what had happened, and he was entrusting her with the children. He then died, and Kimura's mother cremated him in a field.

    Her grandfather had owned much land, and the family lost a great deal of wealth following the post-war agricultural land reforms. Kimura's mother then took her and her three siblings away from Onomichi and back to Hiroshima. Once wealthy enough to hire a driver, they now lived in a rainy and drafty house -- and their mother sold cosmetics to sustain the family budget.

    Kimura changed schools to attend a famous local elementary school, but she walked through the mountains to get there in order to save money on bus fare. In her own childlike way, she was understanding of her mother, who took out her stress from work by being harsh on the children.

    When she felt like she couldn't take it anymore, Kimura would go to her father's grave. He had loved his children, and would watch sumo and movies with them -- telling them about his dream of setting up a hospital with them when they grew up.

    After marrying, Kimura moved to the Tohoku region in her 30s. For a time, she did not talk about her A-bomb experiences. When she saw the face of her newborn first son, however, she thought, "I will not let him go through the same experience." She has had seven surgeries for ailments common to A-bomb survivors, such as knee deformities, and it has become difficult for her to walk. She feels, however, that the spirit of her father is telling her to appease the pain of the A-bomb victims by speaking out.

    Kimura is secretary-general for a Miyagi Prefecture association for A-bomb survivors, and works tirelessly to support A-bomb survivors in the Tohoku region. She began talking at schools and other places about her experiences as an A-bomb survivor after her two sons grew up, around 30 years ago.

    In spring, Kimura plans to travel to the United States on the occasion of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, and speak out for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

    "If we are silent, the history of the atomic bomb will be buried away," she says. "I will transform my hatred into an appeal -- and I will continue talking (about my experiences) until I die."

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