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A-bomb survivor who opened home to pass on her story turns online amid pandemic

Toshiko Tanaka is seen in this photo taken in Hiroshima's Higashi Ward. (Mainichi/Kazuki Ikeda)

HIROSHIMA -- An 82-year-old woman who renovated her home and opened a space to pass on her experiences as a hibakusha, or A-bomb survivor, is now putting efforts into spreading her story online amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    Toshiko Tanaka was 6 years old, and waiting for her friend near her home, 2.3 kilometers from the epicenter, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. military on Aug. 6, 1945. She suffered burns to her right arm in the blast.

    Tanaka's family had moved from a spot only about 500 meters from the epicenter a week earlier. None of her classmates from Nakajima Elementary School were anywhere to be found.

    In the ensuing years, Tanaka refrained from speaking about her experiences, deciding she "didn't want to talk about something so sad." But in 2008, she had a chance to board the "Peace Boat" to travel around the world, and was told by a mayor in Venezuela that it was her responsibility to tell others about her experiences in the atomic bombing. After that, Tanaka continued to tell her story in Japan and in other countries including the United States and Italy.

    However, as she got older, it became difficult for her to travel. She opened the "Peace Exchange Space" in April 2016 at her home to pass on her experiences to people who visit Hiroshima to sightsee or learn about peace. More than 5,000 people have since visited the space from Japan and abroad.

    Tanaka's works as an enamel artist, including pieces themed on the nuclear umbrella and the circle of peace, can be seen on the wall. The space is meant to be a place where visitors can relax and chat while having tea, and she also tells her story in English if asked to do so. Many of the visitors are students, which motivates her. "I get my energy from young people," she says.

    Although the number of visitors has decreased since the coronavirus outbreak, many in Japan and elsewhere began asking her to share her experiences online. Even though Tanaka now spends more time talking to the camera, she feels the distance between her and her audience has actually diminished, since she can connect immediately with people living far away.

    Tanaka has been getting more and more requests, and her schedule is filled with plans to talk about her experiences as a hibakusha. "Tough times bring opportunity. I hope to continue talking as long my body holds up," she says.

    (Japanese original by Kazuki Ikeda, Hiroshima Bureau)

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