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US nonfiction book on lives of hibakusha after Nagasaki A-bomb released in Japan

Yasue Ujigawa holds a copy of "Nagasaki - Kakusenso go no Jinsei," which she translated into Japanese from Susan Southard's "Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War," in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on June 26, 2019. (Mainichi/Asako Takeuchi)
Susan Southard, the author of "Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War," is seen in this photo. (Photo courtesy of Susan Southard)

TOKYO -- The nonfiction book "Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War," which first came out in the United States and raised debate in a country where many consider the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan justifiable, was recently released in Japanese.

Author Susan Southard of North Carolina, who carried out multiple interviews with hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors, and finally completed the book after 12 years, told the Mainichi Shimbun that the stories of the hibakusha "are so powerful and intimate" that they can sometimes penetrate people's hearts.

In the book she described the history behind the dropping of the atomic bomb on the southwestern Japan city of Nagasaki, as well as medical treatment of hibakusha, a radiation survey, public opinion in the U.S. and other issues focusing on the lives of five hibakusha.

One of them is Sumiteru Taniguchi, the late former co-chairperson of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, who used to show a photograph of him taken after the bomb with burned and melted skin on his back to inform people in Japan and overseas about the horrors of nuclear weapons.

The book, when published in the U.S. in 2015, evoked a strong response among the public. Southard said she received many emails from readers, and while about 75 or 80% of comments said they were "deeply moved" by her book, around 20% of the messages were filled with anger and hatred with senders stating that "the bombing was the right thing to do."

Southard, who came to study in Japan as a high school student, served as an interpreter for Taniguchi when he delivered a lecture in the U.S. in 1986. After the address, she spoke to Taniguchi and came to know further details of his experience as a hibakusha and the difficulties he faced following the bombing.

Wanting to know more, Southard visited Nagasaki the following year to hear more people's stories. She conducted numerous interviews with other hibakusha between 2003 and 2011, and thoroughly read through various materials on the bombing.

Each of the hibakusha she interviewed led different lives, including Mineko Do-oh, who gave up on getting married due to the bombing and threw herself into her work for the rest of her life. Southard also interviewed Etsuko Nagano, who kept blaming herself for the A-bomb deaths of her younger brother and sister after she brought them back to Nagasaki from where they had evacuated during World War II.

After getting to know that "the impact of the bombing continued far beyond the first day," Southard felt "it wouldn't be honorable" if she didn't write about their lives following the bombing.

"I grew to love the five hibakusha and they trusted me with their stories," said Southard. "I wanted to tell their stories so much." She explained that there are people in the United States who do not know "what happened beneath the mushroom cloud" and she thought it was "important for Americans to understand the impact of our actions of dropping the bomb," which became her motivation for finishing the book.

Unfortunately, of the five hibakusha, two of them passed away before the completion of the book in 2015, and Taniguchi also died in 2017 at the age of 88.

Yasue Ujigawa, 62, who translated the book into Japanese, said she was shocked to find many stories in Southard's book that she "never knew about, even as a Japanese" when she read the book in 2016. Ujigawa of Tokyo's Itabashi Ward says she placed emphasis on accuracy when translating, such as quoting exactly what interviewees said.

The 464-page book titled "Nagasaki - Kakusenso go no Jinsei" in Japanese is priced at 3,800 yen, not including tax. For more inquiries, please call the publisher Misuzu Shobo at 03-3814-0131 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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