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Hibakusha: A-bomb survivor's accounts of Nagasaki school life published in anthology

Yoko Nakano is seen on Jan. 12, 2018. (Mainichi)

A woman who was in her mother's womb when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945 received a special delivery at the end of 2017 -- a commemorative anthology written by graduates of a so-called "atomic bomb class" at Shiroyama Elementary School in Nagasaki, which was ruined by the bomb.

Herself a graduate of the elementary school, 71-year-old Yoko Nakano was one of the anthology's contributing writers. The idea to create the compilation came about after the ruins of the old school building, which have been kept on the grounds of the rebuilt school, were selected in 2016 as a national historic site. The decision inspired the school's alumni association to create the anthology.

In total, about 1,400 teachers and students affiliated with Shiroyama Elementary School, roughly 500 meters west of the bomb's hypocenter, were killed as a result of the atomic bomb. In 1952, seven years after the bombing, the school created two classes with 40 students in each -- with 20 atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) and 20 children who were not, respectively. It was also the year that Nakano joined the school.

Nakano, who was placed in the hibakusha-related class, stayed in the same class throughout her time at Shiroyama Elementary School. She recalls that school life was very typical, and no different to that of the students in the other class.

All the school children went through the same post-war hardships together, and in the anthology, there are innocent recollections along the lines of: "We all learned from each other happily, as though we were siblings."

However, there was something that Nakano did not know at the time. The children in the atomic bomb class were being monitored by the American organization, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), which is now called the Radiation Effects Research Foundation. The children's intelligence and physical ability were regularly checked, and comparisons were made with the non-hibakusha children.

The anthology also carries some notes written at the time by the then principal of the school which include the line: "The intelligence and physical ability of the hibakusha children is inferior to the other children." When Nakano read this, she was completely lost for words, but it helped explain why her mother had been so strict with her in terms of education.

After the ABCC had finished its survey, Nakano took some chocolates and cookies home that she had received as souvenirs, but her mother threw them into the trash right in front of her. Her mother was strict. She hired a home tutor despite not having much money, and made her daughter undergo an intensive gymnastics practice on the horizontial bar.

"My mother was on the parent teacher association. No doubt she thought 'I refuse to acknowledge my child as being inferior' upon hearing the objective behind the ABCC survey and the thinking of the teachers," Nakano says.

In total, just seven graduates of the atomic bomb-related class, including Nakano, contributed to the anthology. "Some people hid the fact that they were hibakusha, taking family into consideration," Nakano explains.

However, Nakano put forward some text for the anthology, ending her contribution with the line, "I hope Japan will take the lead as the only country to have been attacked by atomic bombs to realize a world without nuclear weapons, war or terrorism."

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