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Hibakusha: Happiness across 3 generations after a life of hardship

Kimie Kishi looks at her granddaughter in Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

HIROSHIMA -- Kimie Kishi sat in her wheelchair and spoke soothingly to her granddaughter. "There, there," she said, laughing. Standing next to her was her 43-year-old daughter.

Kishi, 73, a resident of the Hiroshima Prefecture city of Miyoshi, has microcephaly from being exposed to radiation in the womb in the Aug. 6, 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This has left her with a small head and a height of only 138 centimeters. But on this day, a happy atmosphere surrounded the three generations, and the smile on Kishi's face did not wane.

Kishi's first daughter gave birth to a girl of her own in June last year. Her daughter had brought her granddaughter to visit her at the care facility where she now resides.

When she was younger, Kishi suffered not only from illness and disabilities from prenatal radiation exposure, but from the accompanying discrimination. When I first went to interview her in 2005, she told me, "I've never once been happy up until now."

About five years ago, Kishi started to suffer from the onset of dementia, and in describing the stage of her condition, her doctor said, "If this was a baseball game, you'd be in about the eighth or ninth inning." She would wander about late at night, talk less, and have a blank expression on her face, but she has managed to retain some calmness since moving into the care facility at the end of last year.

On this day, she lifted both of her hands above her head and greeted me with a smile. Her daughter explained to me, "She seems to remember the people she's been well connected with." Her old smile had returned as she elicited a laugh by playfully trying to put her glasses on the face of her granddaughter.

When Kishi's daughter was in her teens, the mother and daughter apparently argued often, and Kishi's daughter confided, "I hated my nagging mother." Earlier, when Kishi had gotten married and become pregnant, those around her were steadfastly against the idea of her giving birth. "You never know what kind of child you may have," she was warned. She was worried but overcame the resistance, saying, "The life I've conceived is the same as mine."

She gave birth to a boy, and eventually a girl. Both of them grew up healthy, but they eventually drifted away from her.

Now that she is more mature, Kishi's daughter has come to understand how a mother feels for her child.

"When I was young, I was plump, but my mother would always give me piggybacks. Looking now at how weak she is and what a small body she has, I think she did a wonderful job." She imagines that all the more because her mother was prone to illness, she may have roused herself to raise her harshly.

From the Showa era (1926-1989) throughout the Heisei era (1989-2019), Kishi's life was a series of tribulations. On May 1, the new Imperial era of Reiwa began. Her daughter remarks, "I want her to spend her days with a smile always on her face."

This spring, Kishi had her birthday. "How does it feel to be 73?" I asked. "It's good," she replied with a broad smile.

(Japanese original by Hiroko Tanaka, Cultural News Department)

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