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Hibakusha: Late reverend's daughter aspires to spread message of peace in and outside Japan

A-bomb survivor Koko Kondo is seen talking about new challenges regarding her activities in the city of Miki, Hyogo Prefecture, on Nov. 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Maiko Umeda)

MIKI, Hyogo -- An atomic-bombing survivor, or "hibakusha," in west Japan has set about tackling new challenges and tracing her father's footsteps to pass down memories of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima both in and outside Japan.

    Koko Kondo, 77, daughter of the late pastor Kiyoshi Tanimoto, experienced the atomic bombing when she was 8 months old. She has been unable to hold lectures overseas, because the coronavirus broke out immediately after she took the first step to achieve her dream of many years. The pandemic has restricted her from activities which she had partaken in enthusiastically.

    "If I could hold lectures like my father, I would be able to collect more funds for our foundation," said Kondo at her home in the Hyogo Prefecture city of Miki.

    Out of a desire "to create a chance for young leaders of the next generation to take time to slowly learn about Hiroshima," Kondo established the Tanimoto Peace Foundation in February 2020. The incorporated nonprofit organization's objective is to pass down experiences of A-bomb survivors and promote peace education.

    Kondo had planned to invite young people from abroad to Hiroshima while funding their stay, and have them deepen their understanding of peace through a homestay of more than one month, visits to atomic bomb-related facilities, and interactions with hibakusha.

    However, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus shortly after the foundation's establishment, the scheduled overseas lectures were called off, and difficulties arose in collecting donations. Kondo's current efforts are limited to holding online events, and it seems that a full-fledged start of activities will not take place until the pandemic is contained.

    "Because my father went to great lengths in pursuit of his goals, I'd like to trace his footsteps to the best of my ability. I want to do whatever I can do now, even in the slightest," Kondo said, as if to encourage herself.

    Kondo's father, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, devoted half of his life to the peace movement and relief activities for A-bomb survivors. On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Tanimoto was exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb in the city of Hiroshima's Koi district, about 3.2 kilometers from the hypocenter, while he was visiting the area to evacuate his friend's belongings. At the time, 8-month-old Kondo was at the rectory some 1.1 kilometers from the hypocenter, and was crushed beneath the wreckage of buildings, but suffered no injuries as she was being held in her mother Chisa's arms.

    A-bomb survivor Koko Kondo is seen talking about new challenges regarding her activities in the city of Miki, Hyogo Prefecture, on Nov. 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Maiko Umeda)

    Shortly after the atomic bombing, Tanimoto dedicated himself to support hibakusha evacuees on the verge of death. He went to the United States in September 1948, and visited 256 cities in about 15 months. Through a total of 582 lectures in the country, he conveyed the reality of A-bomb survivors as well as the importance of peace. With the donations collected through these efforts, he built the incorporated foundation Hiroshima Peace Center in 1950. He also used donations gathered during his lecture trips to cover expenses for female A-bomb survivors known as "Hiroshima Maidens" who were left with keloid scars to go to the U.S. for treatment, among other purposes, and engaged in efforts to assist hibakushas' independence. However, Tanimoto passed away in 1986.

    Before his death, he would tell his daughter that he wanted her to "live for Hiroshima, for the sake of world peace." Kondo has taken over her father's activities and has continued to hold lectures in both Japan and the United States. However, she felt that something was missing amid these efforts. Many of the programs where students visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki end after a short period of a few days. It seemed to her that this was not enough time for them to learn about peace.

    Kondo thought, "Can't we create learning opportunities for young people by having them stay a bit longer in Hiroshima?" To achieve this desire, she gained the cooperation of her acquaintances and others, and decided to build the peace foundation. One board member apparently joined the foundation as they were moved after reading a historical reportage where Tanimoto also appears as a main character, and decided they wished to devote their life to striving for peace.

    The basis of Kondo's activities is the phrase "from person to person," which her father often said. He communicated the message, "It's difficult to move big things, but by passing on messages from person to person, one day, the general public will move, and this can bring about change in the world."

    Kondo herself had felt the significant influence of passing down messages "from person to person," from her experiences of interacting with others, including a woman who visited Hiroshima after listening to her lecture and became a history teacher.

    "Being at the site of the atomic bombing, and seeing and hearing the damage caused by the A-bomb with your own eyes and ears will become an experience you won't forget for the rest of your life. By passing down messages from person to person, it is possible to realize the abolition of nuclear weapons. I'd like to sow the seeds to achieve this," said Kondo, who continues to strive toward new challenges.

    (Japanese original by Yukina Furukawa, Osaka City News Department)

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