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A-bomb survivor returns to Nagasaki to tell her story so deaths of family not in vain

Kazuko Hirata, who traveled from Shizuoka Prefecture, tells of her experience after the atomic bombing of her home of Nagasaki ahead of the peace memorial ceremony, on Aug. 9, 2018, at Peace Memorial Park in Nagasaki. (Mainichi)

NAGASAKI -- On the 73rd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, people from all over Japan and the world gathered here in memoriam of those who lost their lives and to pray for peace.

On that day, a single atomic bomb stole the lives of a large number of Nagasaki residents in an instant, and those who managed to survive the initial blast were pained by diseases caused by their exposure to radiation. These survivors, or "hibakusha" in Japanese, are calling for the tragedy to never occur again, and young people as well have vowed to continue the survivors' legacy of fighting to make Nagasaki the last city to ever experience such an attack.

Kazuko Hirata, 80, traveled from the central Japanese city of Fuji, in Shizuoka Prefecture, to participate in the Nagasaki peace memorial ceremony. She left Nagasaki, in southern Japan, in her 20s, because she was so pained by her memories of the scenes immediately after the blast.

"I'm someone who ran away from Nagasaki," she said.

But even while being tormented by her memories, she is telling her family of her experiences in the hope that the deaths of her parents and the other victims of the bomb will not be in vain. In her hometown that was transformed into a picture of hell that fateful day, Hirata prayed that the next generation will be able to continue maintaining a peaceful society.

On Aug. 9, 1945, Hirata was in the garden of her house 4 kilometers away from the hypocenter. The following night, as she passed through an area near the center of the blast on the way to a relative's house with her father, mother and younger brother, she witnessed scenes of numerous corpses piled on top of one another being burned and survivors crying out for water.

After the war, her family home was seized by the U.S. military, and her family moved to the Urakami district of Nagasaki, close to the hypocenter of the atomic bomb. Time passed even in the town that had been reduced to a burnt field, and slowly, the family's life returned to normal.

Still, "Wherever I went, I was reminded of the flash just after the bomb detonated," she remembered. Even when she entered high school, the psychological scars remained unhealed, and after getting married at 21 years old, she immediately left Nagasaki for Osaka.

It was when she had children that she finally set foot on her home soil again over 10 years later. By then, her mother had already passed away while in her 40s. Her father had followed five years later. Both had died of cancer. Unable to attend either of their funerals, Hirata lamented, "I never even got the chance to apologize for running away from Nagasaki."

Hirata's younger brother, who was a baby at the time of the bombing, also died in his 30s of cancer. To her, the bomb stole the lives of her three family members. After losing them, Hirata began thinking about the role of those left behind, and began to tell her children, two sons and a daughter, about her experience in Nagasaki.

Hirata's daughter decided that she would tell the president of the United States of her mother's pain, and headed to the U.S., where she married an American man. The first time that Hirata attended the memorial ceremony in 2015, she invited her high school-age grandson to accompany her to Japan. He told her that he would never become a soldier, and that he was telling those around him about what she had experienced during the war.

This year as well, it took a great deal of courage for Hirata to head to Nagasaki. Due to her own aging and health, she thought that this might be her last trip so she made the decision to attend the ceremony.

"I was able to live to be 80 years old," she said, thanking her family as she lightly shut her eyes when the clock struck 11:02 a.m.

(Japanese original by Yuki Imano, Nagasaki Bureau)

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