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Hibakusha: 73-yr-old hopes photo of her after A-bomb conveys truth of atomic arms to world

Kikuno Nishikubo cares for a Nagasaki A-bomb survivor at a first-aid station set up at the city's Michinoo Station in this photo taken by Yosuke Yamahata on Aug. 10, 1945. (Photo courtesy of Kikuno Nishikubo)
Kikuno Nishikubo talks about her experience treating survivors soon after the Nagasaki A-bombing, in this recent photo taken in the city of Saga. (Mainichi/Noriko Tokuno)

SAGA -- A historic summit meeting between the United States and North Korea was held earlier this year -- some 73 years after the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed at the meeting to completely denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, but no specific moves to achieve this goal are in sight. There is a long way to go before nuclear disarmament is accomplished.

Despite that, atomic-bombing survivors are speaking up and pursuing a world without nuclear weapons.

The Mainichi Shimbun's late 2018 hibakusha series on atomic bombing survivors begins with the story of a woman who still cherishes a photo of herself taken the day after the A-bombing of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945.

Kikuno Nishikubo, 92, a former nurse who worked for the Japanese Red Cross Society, showed the Mainichi Shimbun the photograph during a November interview at her home in the city of Saga, western Japan. The photo shows Nishikubo caring for people injured in the bombing.

"A photo like this should never be taken again," says Nishikubo.

Nishikubo was working at an army hospital in Saga when she was ordered on Aug. 9, 1945, to go to the atomic-bombed city to offer aid to survivors. She was 19 years old. She and a colleague headed to Nagasaki by train, and arrived at the city's Michinoo Station in Nagasaki at around noon the following day. Her first job was to pull out a tree branch that had pierced a woman's buttocks. The woman was lying on her stomach, and was in terrible pain.

"She was a young volunteer corps member," Nishikubo recalled.

The details of her work shown in the photo are still fresh in her memory. She used tweezers to pull glass fragments from a woman's face, arms and legs, disinfected her wounds and wrapped them in bandages. Caring for the victims absorbed her completely, and she had no time to either change into her white coat or even give words of encouragement to her patients.

Nishikubo visited air raid shelters and schools to treat hibakusha until Japan surrendered on Aug. 15. She went back to her hometown right after that. One of Nishikubo's colleagues who had worked with her in Nagasaki, however, subsequently fell ill due to unknown causes and died.

In 1948, Nishikubo married her husband, who lost his left arm in the 1942 Battle of Midway, and had a son two years later. She continued to work as she raised the boy, but he suddenly died of leukemia when he was a university student. Nishikubo was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and couldn't keep working. She believed that her son had died because of her own exposure to radiation from the Nagasaki A-bomb.

That August 1945 photo of Nishikubo taking care of the Nagasaki A-bomb survivor was taken by Yosuke Yamahata (1917-1966), then an army photographer. Yamahata entered Nagasaki the day after the nuclear attack, and took at least 100 photos of the devastated city, including near the hypocenter. His photos show the body of a child burned by the heat of the explosion, a stunned-looking mother and child holding rice balls prepared by volunteers, and other scenes. Through his photos, he conveyed what had happened beneath the mushroom cloud to the world.

Nishikubo learned that she had been photographed when she was interviewed by public broadcaster NHK in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombing. She has carefully preserved the photo to hand it down to her children and grandchildren.

Since she was in her 70s, Nishikubo has attended the annual peace memorial ceremony in Nagasaki to mark the atomic bombing anniversary.

She attended this year's ceremony thinking that it might be her last. However, Nishikubo is certain in her belief that, as someone who treated the hibakusha and lost both her coworker and her son, her determination that there must be no war will be embraced and carried on by people who see the photo.

(This is part 1 in a series)

(Japanese original by Takehiro Higuchi, Kyushu News Department)

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