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Bar owner who provided stage for A-bomb survivors dies, legacy published in book

Atomic-bomb survivor Takashi Teramoto tells of his experience at the 140th meeting of the event at the Swallowtail bar with the late Yojiro Tomie's photo in the background, on July 6, 2017, in Hiroshima's Naka Ward. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- The owner of a bar here that served as a stage for atomic bomb survivors to tell their stories to the next generation for the last 11 years passed away on July 3, but not before completing a book preserving testimony of survivors and his experience.

    Yojiro Tomie was only 37 years old, a Hiroshima-native whose grandmother experienced the bombing. Embarrassed that he knew little about his roots, he turned his bar into a meeting place for those to share their stories of Aug. 6, 1945. In order to convey the importance of the thoughts and stories of atomic bomb survivors, or "hibakusha," Tomie penned essays and a record of the meetings while fighting a battle with cancer, publishing it in the book "Kaunta no mukou no hachigatsu muika" (August 6 from behind the counter), released on July 20.

    After graduating from high school, at 20 years old, Tomie opened the bar "Swallowtail." While his grandmother was a hibakusha, he became frustrated that he was unable to answer questions his customers asked about the bombing. So, in February 2006, he began an event held on the sixth of each month where survivors could come to tell their stories. While he received criticism that he "shouldn't use hibakusha stories to make money," he attracted many curious young customers to the event.

    The book contains the testimony of hibakusha such as Keiji Nakazawa, the late author of the A-bomb-themed manga series "Barefoot Gen," the interactions between the hibakusha and the customers at the events, as well as his own questions about conveying the experiences of the hibakusha to the next generation. Last summer when he was offered the chance to publish the volume, he thought, "In the near future, we will be left without people who have experienced the atomic bomb. If I write this now, it will be read, and if there are mistakes, they can still be pointed out."

    However, in January this year, Tomie was diagnosed with terminal-stage lung cancer and he was told he had only two months to live. He began to lose his voice, and his hair fell out from the treatment, but in order to leave his mark on the world, he continued writing. When the final manuscript of the book was delivered to him in June, a friend read the text aloud and helped him complete the line-by-line final check. Tomie passed away roughly 10 days later.

    "Whatever happens, the meetings will continue," Tomie wrote at the end of the book.

    "Mr. Tomie understood hibakusha's worries that their experiences would fade away with time," recalled Masao Ito, a 76-year-old Hiroshima resident who spoke about experiencing the bomb at the age of 4 at the event this February. "I got a sense from him that he strongly believed that we have to listen while we still can."

    Volunteers opened the 140th event on July 6. Tomie's photo was illuminated subtly on the wall of the bar, and some 60 people gathered to pay their respects. Another Hiroshima resident who came to know Tomie 17 years ago, 35-year-old Kana Morimoto, commented, "Along with his wishes, we will find a way to continue this event together."

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