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Last essay by late Japanese writer who lost classmates in Hiroshima A-bomb published

Japanese nonfiction writer Chieko Seki is seen in photo taken in Tokyo on Nov. 13, 2015. (Mainichi/Kimi Sorihashi)

TOKYO -- The final work of Japanese nonfiction writer Chieko Seki, who lost most of her classmates in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, has been published following her death in February this year.

    The essay, "Zoku: Hiroshima Taiwa Zuiso" (Essays on Hiroshima dialogue: Part II), published in March by Nishida Shoten, is based on letters Seki exchanged with 90-year-old writer Shiro Nakayama, a long-time friend and A-bomb survivor. The 14-year-old Nakayama was in the middle of work demolishing buildings in Hiroshima, 1.5 kilometers away from the hypocenter, when the bomb was dropped.

    Seki had pledged to keep writing until her death, and in her books, she continued to express her feelings as a member of the generation that experienced the war. She had already gone over the draft of the book before her death on Feb. 21 at the age of 88.

    Seki was born to a wealthy family and loved to read as a child. Her family moved from Tokyo to Hiroshima Prefecture in 1944 due to her father's job, and she attended an all-girls school there. As a second-year student at the age of 13, Seki felt ill and happened to be absent from school on Aug. 6, 1945 -- the day of the Hiroshima bombing. Her classmates however, were demolishing buildings in the city to prevent fire from spreading in the event of an air raid, when the bomb was dropped. As they were only 1.1 kilometers away from the hypocenter, 38 of the 39 students were killed. About 6,000 students like them, taking part in the demolition work, apparently died in the bombing.

    Seki, who suffered no major injuries as she stayed at home, more than 3 kilometers away from the hypocenter, continued to blame herself for surviving the bombing. After graduating from university, she worked as a Mainichi Shimbun reporter, and moved with her husband to the United States where he was transferred.

    After returning to Japan, Seki took the 33rd anniversary of her classmates' death as an opportunity to hear stories from their bereaved families, while raising her children and working as a reporter at the Zenkoku Fujin Shimbunsha newspaper company. She compiled a collection of interviews conducted over a span of eight years into a book that included descriptions of the A-bomb victims' personalities, what it was like when the bomb was dropped and even the emotions of parents who were too devastated over the deaths of their daughters to talk about their memories. The book won the Japan Essayist's Club Award in 1985 and was repeatedly performed in stage readings.

    Nakayama, who exchanged the letters with Seki that inspired "Zoku: Hiroshima Taiwa Zuiso" is an atomic bomb survivor himself, now residing in the Oita Prefecture city of Beppu in southwestern Japan. He suffered severe burns on his face, hands and legs in the bombing, which left keloid scars that made him conscious of others even after the end of World War II.

    Seki and Nakayama came to know each other as they both took Russian Studies at Waseda University in Tokyo around the same time, and their friendship deepened.

    Seki invited Nakayama and they began publishing their essay series in the online magazine "Chinokigisha" in 2012. The two were inspired by each other's words, and digging into their pasts, they described their thoughts on society in a frank manner in over 200 entries. Based on this, volumes 1-3 of "Hiroshima Ofuku Shokan" (Hiroshima letter exchange) and "Hiroshima Taiwa Zuiso" (Essays on Hiroshima dialogue) were published by Nishida Shoten. "Zoku Hiroshima Taiwa Zuiso" is the final volume.

    When the United Nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017, Seki wrote in an essay to Nakayama saying she was "truly embarrassed" that the Japanese government didn't sign it.

    Nakayama told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I had been guided by Seki-san. We are members of the last generation with memories of the atomic bombing. I hope that this book serves to pass down those memories, and becomes a starting point for people to think about war and peace."

    A copy of "Zoku: Hiroshima Taiwa Zuiso" (Essays on Hiroshima dialogue: Part II) (Mainichi)

    Seki, who lived on her own in Tokyo, broke her thigh bone two years ago, but recovered after rehabilitation, and received assistance once a week. Every year on Aug. 6, she would visit Hiroshima to talk about her late classmates, and interacted with many young people including university students. She apparently remained energetic until right before her death.

    Her last essay was published in the online magazine in mid-February. In it she expressed her happiness after learning that a signature paper she sent to her friends urging the Japanese government to join the nuclear weapons ban treaty received a great response. A huge amount of writing material was left at Seki's home. Her 56-year-old daughter placed manuscript paper and a pen in her mother's coffin, saying, "You aren't satisfied unless you're writing, right?"

    "My mother was driven by a sense of mission. I think that the guilt of surviving the atomic bombing, and carrying on the will of her friends were at the core of everything," Seki's daughter said. Seki's bereaved family has been receiving words of sympathy from many people who were close to the writer.

    (Japanese original by Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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