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Hibakusha: Children's author recalls father's efforts to search for students after A-bomb

Author Masamoto Nasu, 72, who is known for children's fiction, also published a book in 1984 titled "The Children of the Paper Crane: The Story of Sadako Sasaki and Her Struggle with the A-Bomb Disease," which details the story behind the Children's Peace Monument in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park that was built in Sasaki's memory.

    Sasaki tragically died from leukemia at age 12, and the statue now stands as a symbolic monument for peace. She and Nasu were the same age, and several of his high school classmates had in fact attended elementary school together with her.

    Nasu is best known for his children's book series "Zukkoke sanningumi" ("Go, Hilarious Trio!"). The idea for a book detailing Sasaki's story came about after his friends said to him, "The Hilarious Trio series is great, but since you yourself are a hibakusha, why don't you write about the atomic bombing?"

    In response, Nasu decided to write about the topic for the first time. He felt he owed it to children to do so. Based upon interviews with Sasaki's former classmates, teachers and bereaved family members, the book recounts her brief life -- as well as the efforts launched by her former elementary school classmates to see the statue built in her honor.

    In the book, which was published by the PHP Institute, Nasu also introduces the tanka poetry of his father, Shigeyoshi, a school teacher who passed away at age 89.

    Roster of the deceased

    Finding a student's name there

    Brings a sense of relief,

    On this day and this day alone

    Grief is forgotten

    This poem expresses Shigeyoshi's feelings about walking around the city just after the atomic bomb was dropped in order to look for his students.

    "In finding out that someone had been killed, the first feeling to register was one of relief rather than sadness, since the alternative was that they were missing," Masamoto explains. "This was a poem that could only have been written by someone who had gone through the actual experience of looking for people (following the atomic bombing)."

    The girls' school where Shigeyoshi had been teaching was located some two kilometers away from the epicenter of the blast. He escaped its heat rays because he was inside the faculty room at the time the bomb was dropped, but his head and back were pierced by small pieces of glass.

    Later, after the war had ended, Masamoto would use tweezers underneath a bare lightbulb to remove the fragments from his father's body, which were smaller than grains of rice.

    Every time that he read Shigeyoshi's poetry, Masamoto would think of what his father must have been feeling as he frantically ran through the scorched city searching for his students.

    Masamoto's book also touches upon another one of his classmates, who passed away the year after Sasaki, also from leukemia.

    "This student was always tanned and active, but in death, all of her color had drained away," he recalls. "Seeing a classmate die was shocking."

    He adds, "This was also the moment when I first came to the intense realization that I myself was a hibakusha."

    (By Tadashi Sano, Oita Bureau)

    (This is Part 4 of a new Hibakusha series)

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