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Grandchild of doctor who toiled in Hiroshima after A-bomb looks into family history

Mitchie Takeuchi, left, and Setsuko Thurlow, who attended an international conference on nuclear weapons, are seen in Vienna in this image taken from the film "The Vow From Hiroshima."

TOKYO -- The grandchild of a hospital director who persisted to give out orders after being seriously injured in the Hiroshima atomic bombing has investigated her family history in search of the thoughts of her family members, who remained mostly silent about the atrocity.

    "Gamma rays have extremely strong permeability and even the photographic plates for X-rays stored inside a lead container in a concrete room were entirely exposed to the light," read a magazine column contributed by Mitchie Takeuchi's grandfather, the director of Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital at the time of the August 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

    Takeuchi's grandfather is said to have led hospital operations to treat the wounded while he himself had sustained severe injuries, immediately after the bomb was dropped on the city 76 years ago. In spite of the elaborate descriptions recorded in the magazine, Takeuchi, who runs a consulting company in New York, had hardly ever heard of her grandfather or mother talk about their memories of the atomic bombing while they were alive.

    About five years ago, Takeuchi began looking into her family's history after being encouraged by Setsuko Thurlow, 89, a "hibakusha," or atomic bomb survivor, from Hiroshima, who has continuously engaged in speaking out on her experiences with the deadly blast. Takeuchi also encountered the feelings behind her grandfather and mother's strong resolve behind their decision to remain silent.

    Mitchie Takeuchi was born in the city of Hiroshima. After graduating from high school in 1973, she went to the United States to study psychology at university. In 1988, she launched a business in New York that lends support to Japanese firms starting projects.

    Takeuchi met Thurlow in 2010. She received a request to serve as an interpreter for Hibakusha Stories, an NGO led by Thurlow and others that passes down the stories of hibakusha to high school students and others in the U.S. During this time, she learned that she and Thurlow had gone to the same girls' high school when they were younger, and the two kept in touch. Later, Thurlow, who lives in Canada, began to stay over at Takeuchi's house when she visited New York, and the topic of family came up more and more in their conversations.

    When Takeuchi revealed that she barely knew anything about her grandfather's experience, Thurlow told her that an account of "how a doctor acted immediately after the atomic bombing is a very significant factual record." Takeuchi was encouraged many times by her friend to research about her grandfather and "convey the findings to a great number of people." Takeuchi, who says that she was never really conscious of the atomic bombing despite growing up in Hiroshima, was driven by Thurlow's words to take action.

    Ken Takeuchi, the grandfather of Mitchie Takeuchi, is seen in this image taken from the film "The Vow From Hiroshima."

    Takeuchi was aware of the following background information on her grandfather Ken Takeuchi.

    Ken was born in Fukuoka Prefecture in southwestern Japan, and became a military surgeon after graduating from Tokyo Imperial University, now the University of Tokyo. He relocated to Hiroshima in order to establish a hospital, and was appointed the director of Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital in 1939. Although the hospital, located some 1.6 kilometers from the hypocenter, was heavily damaged in the Aug. 6, 1945 atomic bombing, Takeuchi's grandfather fulfilled a central role to provide treatment for victims. After the war, Ken resigned from the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital and continued his profession after opening a hospital in the city of Hiroshima in 1949. He passed away in 1974 at age 84.

    Takeuchi has vague impressions of her grandfather as a calm person who cared for his family, and liked to draw illustrations as well as create traditional Japanese poems. He never talked about the war with his grandchildren.

    The only time Takeuchi was given an account of what happened at the time of the atomic bombing from her mother Takako was when she was 10. She says the two had been out camping and gazing at a fire, when her mother began recalling a certain story.

    On that day, Takeuchi's grandfather did not return home after leaving for the hospital in the morning, which led Takako, his daughter, to go search for him three days later. When she arrived at the hospital, which was about 5 kilometers away from their house in the suburbs of Hiroshima, she found her father lying face down in the hospital with glass fragments dug into his entire body. He had also sustained severe bone fractures in several areas.

    In spite of this, she said that her father had been giving out instructions one after the other to facilitate doctors' treatment of wounded patients who were rushed to the hospital. Takako also stayed at the hospital for a few weeks in order to look after her father.

    Looking back on the talk, Takeuchi said, "My mother must have walked near the hypocenter, but didn't mention anything about the tragic scenery she must have seen. Thinking about it now, I think that my mom didn't want to talk particularly about the devastation, but rather wanted to tell me about how she was proud of my grandfather who had been working respectably as a doctor." Takako obtained a hibakusha health handbook in her final years, but passed away in 2007 at age 80 due to pancreatic cancer.

    In search of what her grandfather saw and felt at the time, Takeuchi set about research when she made trips back to Japan among other occasions. Although her grandfather had diligently kept a diary including sketches while he was alive, Takeuchi could not find any notes on his work in entries which had been recorded for a few years after the atomic bombing. She then contacted the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to ask if they knew of any documented material left behind by her grandfather, and was informed that he had contributed a column to the August 1946 edition of Monthly Chugoku, published by the local Chugoku Shimbun newspaper.

    A copy of the column Ken Takeuchi, Mitchie Takeuchi's grandfather, contributed to the August 1946 edition of a magazine is seen in this image taken on April 3, 2021. (Mainichi/Hiromi Makino)

    The magazine, titled, "A-bomb commemorative edition," contained an illustration of a mushroom cloud that appeared shortly after the atomic bomb explosion. The column by Takeuchi's grandfather was titled "Stepping foot in the ruins makes it hard to leave." It gave a detailed account of the hospital and his own state on the day of the atomic bombing.

    "It happened in a flash as I stood up from a chair. Suddenly, out of the darkness in front of me, a flare that seemed to be out of this world emerged in the empty sky. I heard metal-like echoes of a complex and abnormal nature."

    "I spat out saliva, and saw blood. I had thought that I was injured inside a room, but heard later that I was crushed under a collapsed mass of objects in the corridor outside the room."

    Although the hospital made of concrete had been heavily damaged, it was visited by an overwhelming number of wounded people as medical institutions inside the city had been close to not functioning at all.

    "An endless number of patients filled the hospital premises, from the corridors to the corners of the garden. Rows of people were dangling as if it were a jam-packed train."

    Furthermore, Takeuchi's grandfather had analyzed properties of the A-bomb and radiation's health effects, in accordance with his occupation as a doctor.

    "Gamma rays (a type of radiation) have extremely strong permeability and even the photographic plates for X-rays stored inside a lead container in a concrete room were entirely exposed to the light. This means that the radiation cannot be blocked even in concrete air raid shelters, unless the walls have enough thickness."

    An atomic bomb victim who received treatment at Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital is seen in this image taken on around Sept. 9, 1945. (Mainichi)

    "With atomic bomb illnesses, singular symptoms that are the primary cause of death are disorder in hematopoietic organs, alterations in blood, hematemesis caused by changes in mucosal epithelium, blood in stool, and internal and external bleeding."

    Meanwhile, the doctor also lamented the dilapidated nature of society following the war, such as an increase in crime.

    He wrote, "Among the Japanese public, I'm certain that there is a number of people who cannot bear to directly face the actual reality of this country's defeat. However, the Allied occupation of Japan is a fact, and not a dream. People must wake up to this reality and gain such insight as soon as possible."

    Takeuchi's grandfather also touched upon the preservation of ruins in cities that suffered air raids, including those in the United Kingdom, and suggested the following: "In Hiroshima too, if parts of A-bomb ruins can be passed down to later generations through appropriate means, this will surely be beneficial in various ways."

    He closed his contribution with a haiku poem, which loosely translates as, "Summer grass/Once inside the ruins/Hard to leave."

    Takako Takeuchi, Mitchie Takeuchi's mother, is seen in this image taken from the film "The Vow From Hiroshima."

    Takeuchi said, "I had questioned for a long time why my grandfather, who had no roots in Hiroshima, continued to live there well beyond the war. After reading this, I felt as if I could finally understand my grandfather's feelings."

    "In 1946, the General Headquarters implemented a press code that regulated reporting and publications, and I've heard that censorship was particularly rigid for material related to the A-bomb. Under such circumstances, my grandfather has made an elaborate record of human damage caused by the atomic bombing, and wrote down his feelings of not being able to leave Hiroshima. I suppose that it was because my grandfather had a firsthand experience of Hiroshima's horrendous damage that he developed a strong desire to work hard toward recovery with everyone else, and became determined to spend the rest of his days there." Takeuchi's grandfather had apparently been popular among patients for his kind and polite responses, and patients from his time at Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital are also said to have consulted him even after he opened his own hospital.

    Takeuchi had also been stumped by the question of why her mother made no attempt to speak of her A-bomb memories except for the one instance mentioned above. Takako had not even talked about the aforementioned episode to the rest of her children. Takeuchi said she used to think the reason was that "her mother was weak, and not as brave as atomic bomb survivors like Thurlow who have actively spoken of their experiences."

    However, in an event held at the United Nations several years ago, Takeuchi heard a female A-bomb survivor say, "I was terrified of my child being the target of unreasonable discrimination as a 'second-generation hibakusha,' and I was hesitant at first about revealing publicly that I'm a hibakusha."

    Takeuchi said that she has understood since that her mother "was not a coward, but was trying to protect her children by remaining silent." She added, "Besides the issue of discrimination, I think my mother was worried that her children would be concerned about their health by acknowledging themselves as second-generation hibakusha. While I feel sorry that I couldn't understand this while she was alive, I also regret not asking my mother about her experiences."

    Setsuko Thurlow, center, is seen during an award ceremony for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, which was presented to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), in this image taken from the film "The Vow From Hiroshima."

    Alongside research on her family, Takeuchi, with members of Hibakusha Stories, has completed work on a documentary film that follows the endeavors of Thurlow, who has dedicated herself to the nuclear weapons abolition movement. She was also present at the moment the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted in the U.N. in 2017, as well as during a speech given after the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year. Serving as the narrator, she said, "I hope that those who watch the film will be able to think about the issue of nuclear weapons as something affecting them," and incorporated episodes of her grandfather and mother.

    "As I learned more of the thoughts held by my grandfather and mother, I began to sense a lot of responsibility to do something myself too," said Takeuchi. In the United States, views justifying the atomic bombing are still firmly rooted among the public.

    Takeuchi has been sharing episodes about her grandfather's actions immediately after the atomic bombing with American high school students since a few years ago. The documentary film is also planned to be shown in universities and high schools in the U.S.

    "It's first important to have people know about what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki 76 years ago. I'd like to do what I can do as a second-generation hibakusha living in New York," says Takeuchi.

    The documentary film "The Vow From Hiroshima" is set to be shown in theaters across Japan from April 17 (https://www.hiroshimaenochikai.com/) On April 17, Thurlow, Takeuchi and others will give online greetings which can be viewed at five locations, including Eurospace in Tokyo's Shibuya district.

    (Japanese original by Hiromi Makino, Digital News Center)

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