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Inspired by Obama's Hiroshima visit, Nagasaki hibakusha shares 'painful memories'

Terue Horiuchi is seen speaking about her atomic bombing experience in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, on June 30, 2022. (Mainichi/Atsuko Nakata)

KOBE -- Encouraged by former U.S. President Barack Obama's 2016 visit to Hiroshima, Terue Horiuchi, 88, who was exposed to the Nagasaki atomic bombing and suffered from the aftereffects, started talking about her own A-bomb encounter in public after she turned 80.

    Horiuchi, a resident of the Hyogo Prefecture city of Amagasaki, is now determined to pass down her A-bomb experiences to younger generations.

    On Aug. 9, 1945, the 11-year-old Horiuchi was exposed to the atomic bombing in Nagasaki's Akunouramachi, approximately 3 kilometers from the hypocenter. Her father, who was listening to the radio, had told her that an enemy aircraft was flying over the Amakusa area to the south, and the young Horiuchi went outside to let the neighbors know of the situation. The sky then turned bright red, as if it was a fiery sunset, and Horiuchi lost consciousness. By the time she came to, there was fire everywhere, and bodies were piled up in heaps.

    Horiuchi saw a middle-aged man crying at a cremation site. He had lost his daughter to the bombing. She heard him say, "I'm sorry I couldn't save you." She was later told that her own uncle, who had been at his home about 500 meters from the hypocenter when the U.S. military dropped the bomb, died after being crushed under a beam.

    Even after the bombing, Horiuchi continued to suffer -- not only from the aftereffects of radiation but also from discrimination against A-bomb survivors, who are known as "hibakusha" in Japan. She had internal bleeding in her thighs, developed anemia and bladder inflammation, and was diagnosed with stomach cancer. When she was engaged to her husband, whom she met after the war ended, his family was opposed to their marriage, saying that he didn't have to marry a hibakusha. Her father gradually lost his hair and passed away seven years after the bombing due to radiation exposure, while her two brothers also died of stomach cancer.

    While her life has been tough at times, Horiuchi didn't open up about her war experiences in public. She declined a request to speak at a special nursing home in Amagasaki six years ago, explaining to them that she didn't want to revive the "painful memories." However, that same year, then President Obama visited Hiroshima and called for nuclear arms abolition. Horiuchi felt encouraged, and since then, she has engaged in storytelling activities a few times a year at elementary schools in Amagasaki. She says it's "time to speak, since I don't know how long I've got left."

    This summer, Horiuchi made the acquaintance of a third-year high school student who told her that she wanted "to listen to the real voice of a hibakusha." Horiuchi shared her story online, telling the student, "An atomic bomb takes away precious lives in the blink of an eye. I want you to tell everyone that the peace we enjoy today isn't something that should be taken for granted."

    (Japanese original by Atsuko Nakata, Kobe Bureau)

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