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Japan students convey in-utero A-bomb survivors' words through careful translations

Kwansei Gakuin University student Shizuku Sadaiwa, center, and others who were in charge of translating an anthology of pieces by in-utero A-bomb survivors are seen at the university's Osaka Umeda campus on April 25, 2022. (Mainichi/Chinatsu Ide)

OSAKA -- A group of Japanese university students took great care to faithfully translate the memories recounted by in-utero A-bomb survivors to spread their experiences to the world.

    Some 50 students at 10 nationwide universities spent around five months to complete the English translations of a booklet that compiled the experiences of people who were exposed to atomic bomb radiation in their mother's womb. The youths worked together and overcame difficulties of coming up with alternative phrases to convey the hibakushas' stories as accurately as possible.

    The students translated testimonies included in "Hibakusha from birth -- thoughts of in-utero hibakusha, entrusted to the next generation," an anthology compiled by the Japan In-Utero Hibakusha Network, whose secretariat is based in the city of Hiroshima, and published in December 2020. It contains entries by people who suffered from the grave consequences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there were 6,774 in-utero A-bomb survivors that had Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificates, as of the end of March 2021. This accounts for about 5% of all A-bomb survivors.

    The Japan In-Utero Hibakusha Network printed 1,000 copies of the booklet, and handed them out for free to universities, libraries, hibakusha organizations, and other parties in and outside Hiroshima Prefecture. The group's first such anthology published in 2015 was translated into English by a former English teacher based in Hiroshima who volunteered to help. However, the second anthology, which compiled contributions submitted by 47 individuals, had not been translated due to budgetary constraints.

    Shizuku Sadaiwa, a 22-year-old fourth-year student who studies geography at Kwansei Gakuin University's School of Humanities, learned of the absence of a translated version. While she is a third-generation hibakusha from Hiroshima who has a grandparent and relatives that survived the atomic bombing, the topic never found its way into conversation among her family. She said, "It's like they avoided it on purpose. I thought it was strange and wondered why they didn't talk about it." Her guess is that her family members and relatives "don't find it easy to open up as they're caught between the desire to forget and not wanting to, as well as not being able to forget."

    She had the chance to hear the experiences of an in-utero Hiroshima hibakusha during class in February 2021. She felt shocked to learn that the atomic bombing had also caused great suffering for new human lives about to be born. Sadaiwa then became determined to take on the challenge of translating hibakusha stories into English to share them with the world.

    After she approached her friends via the Line messaging app, her ambition spread to like-minded people across the country. Some 50 students from 10 universities, including Hokkaido University, the University of Tokyo, Waseda University, International Christian University, and the University of the Ryukyus, set about the translations from the latter half of July last year, while dividing portions among themselves.

    Manuscripts of English translations of pieces written by in-utero A-bomb survivors are seen in the city of Osaka on June 22, 2022. (Mainichi/Chinatsu Ide)

    However, the students ran into walls right away, as they were handling writings filled with the grave experiences of hibakusha. For example, Sadaiwa had thought of using the English phrase of "missing" or "missing person" in a title of a piece about a mother, now deceased, who lost both her husband and daughter in the atomic bombing. However, as she read further, she learned that the mother believed until the very end that the two were still alive somewhere. She felt that the term "missing" contained the author's sympathy with the mother and their shared grief that went beyond words. To reflect the nuance that the mother had been unable to see her loved ones for many years ever since the atomic bombing, instead of a literal translation, she came up with the phrase "missing since the bombing."

    The students read various testimonies and war disaster records to enhance their knowledge. They racked their brains to come up with the best wording, sometimes spending days to translate one sentence.

    Toko Tanaka, 19, a second-year student at International Christian University considered using phrases like "anniversary of the atomic bomb" and "that summer day" to indicate the date on which the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. However, she reached the conclusion that even if the general Japanese reader could understand what was being said, there may be many overseas readers who are not familiar with the matter, and decided to translate it as "On August 6."

    Another tricky term to translate was the tower-shaped stupa with the remains of unidentified atomic bombing victims, as well as those without family members to claim them. Saki Takeda, a 20-year-old student at Osaka University's School of Foreign Studies, looked up a Japanese term meaning "unrelated," as in having no blood relationship, in the dictionary. As she knew "unrelated" could also mean "irrelevant," she adopted the phrase "non-family" to avoid confusion. After careful consideration, she chose to explain the memorial as "a gravestone for non-family."

    Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the students exchanged advice online and completed the translations of the 243-page booklet last December. Following checks by instructors at Kwansei Gakuin University, the booklet is scheduled to be disclosed in digital format online for free by the end of July.

    Kazuhiko Futagawa, 76, a representative of the Japan In-Utero Hibakusha Network, praised the students' efforts and said, "No words are enough to express my gratitude. We can entrust hibakusha testimonies to people around the world." As in-utero A-bomb survivors have been aging, it is apparently likely that this second anthology will be the last of its kind.

    Sadaiwa stressed, "The atomic bombing is not an incident that ended. I'd like people to think for themselves and gauge the feelings of those who shared their experiences." While there have been threats to use nuclear weapons amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she also said, "We can only do small things, but I believe they'll amount to a large power that brings about peace."

    (Japanese original by Chinatsu Ide, Osaka Regional News Department)

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