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Woman whose grandmother survived Nagasaki A-bomb passing on victims' stories

Ruiko Matsunaga, left, listens to her grandmother Sueko's experiences of the atomic bombing in Nagasaki on Aug. 7, 2018. (Mainichi)

NAGASAKI -- A 26-year-old woman whose grandmother survived the Nagasaki atomic bombing on Aug. 9, 1945, is writing stories about the experiences of her grandmother as well as another female atomic bombing survivor, or hibakusha, in an effort to pass down what happened below the mushroom cloud to future generations.

"Hibakusha have talked about their tough experiences to us," said 26-year-old Ruiko Matsunaga, adding that she is writing the stories about hibakusha in the hope that it will "serve as an opportunity for us to consider the feelings of A-bomb survivors as a matter relevant to us."

The story traces the lives of her grandmother Sueko, 84, and another hibakusha Sakue Shimohira, 83, who has continued to serve as a storyteller about the atomic bombing for many years.

Although there are no direct links between them, Matsunaga hopes to describe their respective lives in a bid to highlight the moment when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the common experience for the two hibakusha.

When she was a child, Matsunaga did not like to listen to when hibakusha talked about their experiences or look at photos showing the moment of the bombing and devastation because it was horrifying. Her family members also tended to avoid mentioning the blast and she was not particularly aware that she is the grandchild of a hibakusha.

However, her awareness drastically changed when she listened to a story by Shimohira when she was a second-year high school student. Shimohira said at the time that she lost her mother and three of her siblings while a sister killed herself after suffering from the after-effects of exposure to radiation.

Matsunaga recalls she was shocked when Shimohira said, "I couldn't find the courage to die."

When Matsunaga asked Shimohira why she talked about such sad experiences to her and others, the hibakusha took her hand and said, "I'll pass the baton of peace onto you."

Matsunaga thought to herself that Shimohira "was warning people in our generations who don't know war not to repeat war. I must convey that message," and decided to receive the baton from the hibakusha.

Matsunaga is involved in various activities to pass down hibakusha's experiences to current and future generations, including a campaign organized by high school students to collect signatures from 10,000 people calling for nuclear weapons abolition.

The death of Sumiteru Taniguchi, a well-known hibakusha from Nagasaki, in August last year further encouraged Matsunaga to write about the atomic bombing experiences of her grandmother and Shimohira.

"I belong to the last generation that can listen directly to what hibakusha have to say," Matsunaga said. "Unless I inherited hibakusha's feelings now, I would regret that for the rest of my life."

To concentrate on writing about the two hibakusha's experiences, Matsunaga quit her job as a part-time instructor at an elementary school after working for four years.

Sueko, who was exposed to radiation 73 years ago after entering Nagasaki while looking for a friend, would never talk about her experiences, simply saying, "I don't remember."

Matsunaga now carefully helps her grandmother remember what happened to her when she was exposed to radiation by showing her a book describing people's lifestyles at the time.

Matsunaga plans to place stories about her grandmother and Shimohira such as their marriage and childbirth, on the facing pages, and black out the entire page for Aug. 9 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

"On that day, ordinary people were leading their lives just like today. I'd like to write stories that will convince people that the atomic bombing is relevant to them," Matsunaga said.

(Japanese original by Yuki Imano, Nagasaki Bureau)

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