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2nd generation A-bomb survivor continues telling tale of father's pain, loss of brother

The tricycle ridden by Shinichi Tetsutani when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, is seen exhibited at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in the city's Naka Ward, on Aug. 1, 2018. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- Seventy-three years ago on Aug. 6, the first atomic bomb was dropped on this city, wiping out the lives of the people who lived there in an instant.

Some who lost their beloved family to the blast locked that sadness within their hearts and have never spoken about that day. Others have continued to live with regret at being unable to help the injured begging for water. As those who experienced the atomic bomb, or "hibakusha," begin to vanish from the world due to old age, their children and grandchildren have vowed to continuing telling the stories of what happened that day and take a step forward to realize a world free of nuclear weapons.

At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in the city's Naka Ward, an exhibit called "Shin-chan's tricycle" shakes the hearts of many visitors. The tricycle is a piece representative of the deep love and sadness of the late Nobuo Tetsutani, who buried his child along with the toy in the garden of their home. For Tetsutani's third son, who was born after the war, 69-year-old Toshinori, watching his father offering a prayer in front of a small Jizo Buddhist statue in the garden was a daily sight. But he only later realized that his father was facing such painful memories in front of the statue each morning.

"As a second-generation hibakusha, I will continue telling my father's story," Toshinori decided on the 73rd anniversary of the bomb and his brother's death.

On that fateful day, his father Nobuo and his family were in their home 1.5 kilometers from the hypocenter of the blast, where Nobuo ran a pharmacy. He lost three of his children. His eldest son Shinichi, who was 3 at the time, had been playing on his tricycle in front of the house. The boy's face swelled from the burns from the blast, and he died that night begging for water. The following day, the remains of two of his daughters, 7-year-old Michiko and 1-year-old Yoko, were found in the charred remains of the house.

Not wanting to cremate his son, Nobuo carefully joined his son's hand with that of a neighborhood girl he used to play with who had also died, and buried the two with Shinichi's beloved tricycle in the garden of their home. On the site, he placed the Jizo, a patron for children, which he said resembled Shinichi, and it became his ritual each morning to light and place incense there and offer a prayer.

In July 1985, 40 years after the bomb, as Nobuo was renovating their home, he decided that he would exhume Shinichi's body. Together with the relatives of the girl who was also buried there, they searched. When Toshinori and others had dug roughly 50 centimeters into the soil, he came upon the handle of the tricycle, and when he dug even deeper, he came across the stark white of bones. The small fingers as well as the skull of his brother had remained almost completely intact.

While Toshinori was shocked, "My father just watched quietly without becoming upset," he said. The bones were transferred to the family grave, and the tricycle donated to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

Toshinori Tetsutani offers a prayer before the Jizo statue where his older brother Shinichi, who died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, was buried, in their family garden in Hiroshima's Naka Ward, on Aug. 6, 2018. (Mainchi)

After the tricycle was exhibited at the museum, Nobuo came to be interviewed by the media, but he never once spoke to Toshinori or his family about the day the bomb dropped or about what happened to Shinichi. When a young Toshinori had run around and played in the garden where his older brother was buried, his father had never once gotten angry or told his son to pray at the Jizo with him.

What left the biggest impression on Toshinori was the image of his father, offering a prayer to the small Jizo statue in the garden each morning before breakfast. Even after Shinichi's remains were moved to the family grave, his father continued to pray there, right up until his death in 1998.

"It was such a normal scene to me, that I somehow began doing it," Toshinori explained of how he has come to pray before the Jizo in his father's place each morning. Then he realized something.

"Going before the Jizo each day, he was remembering the day he lost his child," Toshinori said. "If it were me, I would not be able to stand the pain, but he probably did not want to forget, no matter how painful the memories were."

Approaching his 70th birthday himself, Toshinori felt the need to track down the experiences and memories that his father had only ever told to the media or others, and began searching for notes left behind by his father and other records. On the morning of Aug. 6, Toshinori placed his hands together to offer a prayer in front of the Jizo as he did every morning.

"Each family has a method of conveying their experience of the atomic bombing," said Toshinori, believing now that it is his role to pass the story of his father on to his children and grandchildren. "For me, it is the image of my father's back as he prayed, teaching me that we cannot just simply forget."

(Japanese original by Shun Teraoka, Hiroshima Bureau)

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