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'If not for the war, I wouldn't have lost my kin': Nagasaki A-bomb survivor

Hiroko Miura looks at a picture of an area around her deceased brother Haruo's workplace, in the city of Nagasaki on July 26, 2019. (Mainichi/In Tanaka)

NAGASAKI -- A survivor of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki had long kept her memory of the atrocity from others around her. As years passed by, however, she decided to open up about her long-hidden experiences to pass them down to the next generation.

Hiroko Miura, 88, a resident of Nagasaki, southwestern Japan, recently sat for an interview with staff from the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, in the city of Nagasaki, to share her atomic bombing experiences. During the interview, she gave detailed accounts of her memories from the Aug. 9, 1945 bombing, in the hope that she can be of help in bringing about a peaceful world for the sake of her elder brother, who perished in the nuclear attack and whose body still remains unfound.

A native of Kobe, the capital of the western Japan prefecture of Hyogo, Miura survived the Great Kobe Air Raid by the U.S. military on March 17, 1945. Together with her mother and brother Haruo Matsumura, who was three years senior to her, she evacuated to Nagasaki in May that year, where her grandparents lived.

Haruo began working for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Nagasaki arms factory, while Miura transferred to Keiho Girls' High School, both in the city. "I was proud of my brother, who was very knowledgeable and helped me with my studies," Miura recalled.

On the morning of Aug. 9, 1945, Haruo initially came back home from work, as he had some errands at nearby Nagasaki Station, when an air-raid siren went off. He sat down at the entrance to the home and waited for the alert to be lifted. Miura did not exchange words with him, and saw him off as he left upon the lifting of the warning. Before long, the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki at 11:02 a.m., toppling their home and devastating the rest of the city. That was the last time she saw her brother.

Miura was almost unscathed in the blast, and moved from one evacuation shelter to another along with her mother and grandparents. The following day, she and her mother headed to Haruo's workplace near the bomb's hypocenter to search for him.

Along the way, they saw countless black bodies lying on the roadside. "It smelt differently around there from what I had smelt after the Great Kobe Air Raid," Miura said.

Even though the flames that engulfed the city had died down, she clearly remembers the scorching heat in the area, which made her thirsty.

"It's too hard. I can't walk anymore," she complained to her mother, and they went back home without being able to locate Haruo.

After hearing that some relief trains were shuttling those wounded in the bombing, they traveled to the cities of Isahaya and Omura in Nagasaki Prefecture, and the city of Ureshino in neighboring Saga Prefecture. However, they had no clue to where Haruo was, even after the war ended on Aug. 15 that year.

"He might come back home," they thought, and did not lock the door to their home.

Several months later, Haruo's superior visited them with a notice of his death. No one knew Haruo's whereabouts, and his remains were never found. Instead, they received cremated remains of an unidentified person.

"Had I not complained that it was too hard ..." Miura regretted. The fact that she and her mother could not find Haruo on that day haunted her, and she was unable to speak out about her experiences for many years.

As the years went by, Miura came to think that she wants to be of help in realizing a peaceful world by providing testimony while she is still alive, as someone who had gone through both the Great Kobe Air Raid and the Nagasaki atomic bombing. "Had it not been for the war, I wouldn't have lost my family," she said.

She firmed up her mind to leave her recounts on her experiences, and was interviewed by the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall at the end of last year.

Even after 74 years have passed since that fateful morning, Miura prays for the repose of her brother's soul in front of the memorial tablet of him every day. She has no pictures of him left as they were lost to the Great Kobe Air Raid. Instead, she sings the school song of Hyogo Prefectural Daiichi Kobe Commercial High School, Haruo's alma mater.

On Aug. 9 this year, Miura planned to attend a memorial event at the former site of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' arms factory where her brother used to work.

"With just one atomic bomb, my brother's life was annihilated, without any signs of him remaining. The world should not allow such a horrible weapon to exist," she said.

(Japanese original by In Tanaka, Nagasaki Bureau)

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