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Hibakusha: A-bomb survivor carries on father's legacy to share experiences with world

This year, the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 70-year-old Koko Kondo is receiving more requests than usual to talk about her family experiences following the bombing of Hiroshima. Facing a busy schedule of overseas travel, she recently received something close to heart: a letter, originally written by her father to American author John Hersey in 1946. The letter described the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing.

    A grandchild of Hersey delivered a copy of the letter, which had been found in a library at Yale University, to Kondo in March this year. "It was what I wanted the most," says Kondo.

    The letter became a source for a historic report by Hersey called "Hiroshima," published in an American magazine in August 1946. The report was a collection of the stories of six A-bomb survivors, including Kondo's father, Kiyoshi Tanimoto. When Hersey had tried to visit Tanimoto to write the report earlier that year, however, Tanimoto was not at home. When Tanimoto returned and learned of Hersey's visit, he worked into the night to write in English about what had happened after the bombing, and gave the hand-written 10-page letter to an acquaintance to pass on to Hersey.

    "I can sense from the contents (of the letter) the desire of my father to express the tragedy of the bombing to the American people," says Kondo.

    When Kondo was a child, her father was distant. The "Hiroshima" report had garnered attention, and Tanimoto was often away in the United States to give lectures. Kondo spent little time with her father as she grew up.

    When Kondo was in elementary school, a story about the Hiroshima bombing she learned from her father's writings caused her to feel rebellious towards him. Her mother, holding Kondo, who was then only 8 months old, was talking with a neighbor at the front of their house when the bomb hit. Kondo's mother was caught under the rubble. She managed to get out and flee with Kondo, but when they reunited with Tanimoto, who had been exposed to the bomb elsewhere, his first words were to ask after the neighbor's well-being. Reading this story, Kondo felt like her father had not cared about her.

    When Kondo was 37, her father, who had been a Christian pastor, retired. In his last sermon, he confessed, "After the bomb, as I hurried home worrying about my family, I could not save the people on the way who were asking for help." When Kondo heard this, she felt close to her father for the first time.

    For about the past 20 years, Kondo has been telling her story to American university students who visit Japan at around the time of the atomic bombing anniversaries. Before hearing her story, the students read "Hiroshima." Kondo carries on the work of her father, who advocated passing things on "from person to person."

    "I can't change the world; I can only do what I can do. However, passing things on from person to person will one day change the world," Kondo says. (By Takayasu Endo, Mainichi Shimbun)

    (This is the third part of a six-part series)

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