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Hibakusha whose family came to Japan from China says A-bomb experiences are world's tragedy

Yoshiko Ohara, a naturalized Japanese citizen whose family came to Nagasaki from China, reflects on the atomic bombing at Fukken Kaikan hall in the city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 2021. (Mainichi/Tomohisa Yazu)

NAGASAKI -- Each year there are fewer and fewer people still living who have direct experience of the U.S. military's atomic bombings of Japan. Hibakusha -- or A-bomb survivors -- revisit painful memories to pass them down to the next generation in the hope the tragedy will never be repeated. Among them is a naturalized Japanese citizen whose family came to the country from China. She insists that everyone, regardless of nationality, suffers from war.

    "Please don't forget the atomic bombing is a tragedy that affected not only the Japanese but all the world's people," said Yoshiko Ohara, 87, who grew up in Chinatown in Nagasaki's Shinchimachi district. She reflected on the atrocity from Fukken Kaikan hall near Chinatown, a place where streams of injured people covered in blood were brought immediately after the bomb was dropped on the city. About 74,000 lives were lost in the Nagasaki atomic bombing 76 years ago, and among the fatalities were overseas Chinese residents.

    Before obtaining Japanese nationality after World War II, Ohara's name was Chen Lan Ying. Her grandfather Chen Chang Dai came before the war from China's Fujian province with his wife and children, and managed a Chinese confectionery shop.

    During the Edo period (1603-1867), Nagasaki was the only place in the country where trade with China was permitted under Japan's period of national isolation, and the Tojin-yashiki residential quarter was built to confine Nagasaki's Chinese population to the area. Overseas Chinese who came to Japan during or after the Meiji period (1868-1912) made a Chinatown in Nagasaki's Shinchimachi district. In the early Showa period (1926-1989) the city had a Chinese community of over 1,200 people.

    The 1931 to 1932 Manchurian Incident and the second Sino-Japanese War beginning in 1937 also cast a shadow on the lives of Nagasaki's overseas Chinese people. They were obliged to notify authorities when going out, and Special Higher Police tailed and monitored them. Other residents treated them as outsiders and told them to leave. Chinese people were not allowed to enter neighborhood air raid shelters, so Ohara's parents and others dug their own underground shelters in the yard at Fukken Kaikan hall used for Chinatown festivities. Ohara recalled even as a child feeling the discrimination and hostility directed at the community despite their being Nagasaki locals, too.

    Yoshiko Ohara, top left, her grandfather Chen Chang Dai, center, and her three younger sisters are seen in this photo taken around 1944 and provided by Ohara.

    On Aug. 9, 1945, the day of the atomic bombing, Ohara was playing with a friend near the air raid shelter on the Fukken Kaikan hall premises some 3.8 kilometers from the bomb's hypocenter. Her surroundings suddenly went dark and were enveloped in an explosive sound. There was a blast of wind, and she was enveloped in a dust cloud unlike anything she had seen.

    Panicked adults urged Ohara into the shelter. When she eventually emerged aboveground, she found the hall full of seriously injured people. She remembers being so frightened that she couldn't move when a person covered in blood begged, "Water, please give me water."

    Everyone in her family survived. After the war, her father Chen Yi Fen opened a restaurant, Horaiken, and began making champon noodles with the hope of "filling starving people's stomachs." Ohara helped at the restaurant while attending school, and the family endured Japan's chaotic post-war period. Unfortunately, her grandfather who showed her the most love, passed away from malnutrition in 1946.

    Ohara ran the restaurant until three years ago. The emotional trauma brought not only by war but also discrimination stays with her today. She did not want to recall the war, and had not talked about her own hibakusha experiences for a long time. But when the childhood friends she suffered the atomic bombing with began passing away one by one, she realized she might now be the only one who still knew about that day. Her mind made up, she left records of her experience after responding in the spring to a Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims inquiry.

    On Aug. 9, Ohara put her hands together in prayer at Fukken Kaikan hall. "I don't want our children or grandchildren experiencing the pain of losing close family or being discriminated against. After all, war brings misery to everyone, regardless of nationality."

    (Japanese original by In Tanaka, Nagasaki Bureau)

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