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Hibakusha: Ex-baseball star's sister recalls their escape from Hiroshima A-bomb ravages

Aiko Kobayashi is seen dewy-eyed as she recounts her experiences as a hibakusha in her hometown of Hiroshima for the first time, in Naka Ward, Hiroshima, on Aug. 4, 2019. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

HIROSHIMA -- "The damage wrought by the terrible, bitter war and the atomic bombs cannot be repeated," said Aiko Kobayashi, 81, older sister of baseball hall of famer and commentator Isao Harimoto, 79, speaking for the first time in her hometown of Hiroshima about her family's experience of the Aug. 6, 1945 atomic bombing by the U.S. military.

Kobayashi, now a resident of Kakogawa in Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan, gave the talk on Aug. 4, her first time relaying her experiences in Hiroshima since the attack 74 years ago. Hosted by a live music club, a group of some 120 people, largely from the younger generation, listened to her speak of her hatred for nuclear weaponry and her wish for peace.

At 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, Kobayashi, then 7, her brother Harimoto, 5, and their mother were together at home when the atomic bomb exploded some 2.3 kilometers eastward.

They heard a thundering noise, followed by a deep red flash of light, with which their home collapsed on impact. Their mother, who protected them both, was bleeding from glass shards that had pierced her skin all over. The children's eldest sister was in the city center doing enforced labor, and died from burns to her whole body.

The memories of the time are painful for Kobayashi and her family, and when they saw one another they would refrain from discussing it. But around 20 years ago, she was asked to give a lecture about her experiences at an elementary school.

As Kobayashi saw the children listening intently, she came to think that she had to tell her story. The elderly woman continues to gives talks largely in and around Hyogo Prefecture, where she resides. The opportunity to speak in Hiroshima had not arisen before.

The offer came from a group of local musicians who invite hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors, to speak once a month at their events. Aiming to try and get younger people to get a sense of the issues from a closer proximity, they asked the sister of the well-known Harimoto to share her testimony at the event.

After the musicians finished their set, Kobayashi took to the stage and began to speak. With tears in her eyes, she said, "My mother told me to 'Take Isao and run, quickly!' and the two of us ran in the opposite direction from the blast.

"At one point, we went to the river to try and wash our shirts. They smelled, and were stained deep red with our mother's blood. But the river water had become a mix of red and brown, and there were so many corpses floating in it.

"When we ran away, my brother and I didn't say anything. In truly terrifying situations, people do not speak or cry," she said, adding, "There is absolutely no need for nuclear weapons."

One 27-year-old man who came all the way to the event from Miyagi Prefecture in northeast Japan said, "I got the feeling that even now this is a tragic experience that still can't be talked about even as a family. I don't want to stop at just listening, I want to pass it on in any way that I can."

On that day, Kobayashi also sought signatures from the audience for the Hibakusha Appeal, a petition which calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

As Kobayashi finished relaying her experiences here in her hometown for the first time in 74 years, she said, "My generation is getting older; even in Hiroshima the number of people doing testimonial activities is growing smaller. I want to help at least a little bit in passing on the experiences of hibakusha."

Former pro-baseball star and commentator Isao Harimoto is seen in this file photo taken in Ota Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 15, 2018. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

Her brother, Isao Harimoto, was 5 years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. That day is left imprinted in his memory, and he began to talk about it as "the last messenger" around the time he welcomed his 60th birthday.

So as not to forget his regret and anger toward the bomb that stole their beloved older sister from them, he talked about his bombing experiences through the media. But, he says he does not intend to be in Hiroshima on Aug. 6 for the last anniversary of the day in his 70s.

"Even though I think I have to go ... I feel I'm tired of being angry," he said over the phone, a tinge of loneliness seeming to creep into his voice.

"It may sound pathetic, but I'm getting old," he laughed, adding, "It may be about time to pass the baton to younger generations."

(Japanese original by Lee Yong-ho, Fukuyama Bureau, and Tetsuya Hirakawa, Hiroshima Bureau)

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