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Nagasaki A-bomb survivor shares his experiences for 1st time with 6th graders

Atomic bomb survivor Mamoru Ukon shares his experiences with sixth graders before their school trip to Nagasaki, at Iwamatsu Elementary School in Ogi, Saga Prefecture, on Oct. 27, 2022. (Mainichi/Noriko Tokuno)

OGI, Saga -- Sitting in front of an elementary school class, 81-year-old Ogi resident Mamoru Ukon reached down into his memory and pulled out the sight of his mother, hair gone, her face a horrific wreck, and described it to the children. They were first people he had ever told about what had happened to him and those he loved in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

    Ukon, a hibakusha or A-bomb survivor, dug out the memory of his mother, who died a month after Nagasaki was bombed 77 years ago, on Aug. 9, 1945. When he was a teenager, he was told by relatives that he must not speak of his tragic experiences related to the bomb, and kept them secret even from his three children and nine grandchildren.

    Ukon joined the Saga Prefecture council of A-bomb victim organizations in September 2021, after reading a newsletter enclosed in a guide to health exams for hibakusha. He went on to attend the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Ceremony for the first time as a representative of the prefecture's bereaved families on Aug. 9, 2022.

    Delivering the Pledge for Peace, A-bomb survivor representative Takashi Miyata, 83, from the Nagasaki Prefecture city of Unzen, shared his experiences and appealed for determination to abolish nuclear weapons. The speech moved Ukon deeply, and he recalled thinking, "I have to speak out, too."

    The next day, Ukon went to Ogi City Hall to express his wish to give a lecture. He could not get in front of a school audience immediately, though, as the children were on summer vacation. He also consulted with the prefectural council of A-bomb victim organizations, but they had been putting off public lectures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    Sometime later, the municipal education board acknowledged Ukon's wishes and solicited schools willing to host him. Municipal Iwamatsu Elementary School, which was planning to take its students on a trip to Nagasaki, said it would like the 81-year-old to give a lecture as part of the pre-trip program.

    Atomic bomb survivor Mamoru Ukon shares his experiences with sixth graders before their school trip to Nagasaki, at Iwamatsu Elementary School in Ogi, Saga Prefecture, on Oct. 27, 2022. (Mainichi/Noriko Tokuno)

    On Oct. 27, he nervously began his story before 29 sixth graders.

    When he was 4 years old, Ukon was playing at a shrine at the foot of Mount Inasa, about 1.7 kilometers from the Nagasaki bomb's hypocenter, when the sudden wail of an air raid siren sent him scurrying to a bomb shelter. A short time later, he saw a strange light and was blasted to the back of the shelter. Outside, a nearby lumber yard was on fire, and children were crawling on the ground, dragging skin that had peeled off their backs and was sagging down to their heels.

    Ukon's mother Katsu, then 33, was working when she was exposed to the bomb's radiation about 1 kilometer from the hypocenter, but somehow managed to get back to her children. His older brother, aged 9, carried Ukon on his back, while his mother did the same for his badly burned 6-year-old sister. They set out for their mother's family home in the Koshiki Islands in Kagoshima Prefecture.

    "My mother must have been physically exhausted as she'd been hit with radiation," Ukon fought back tears as he explained to the students. It took a month to get there, but Katsu couldn't move after she had been laid down under a mosquito net.

    "She called out to me from inside the mosquito net, saying 'Mamoru, Mamoru.' I think she was worried about me because I was the youngest child," Ukon said. He added, "Her hair had fallen out and her face had crumbled into a mess, and I couldn't go inside the mosquito net because I was scared." Ukon's mother died on Sept. 9, 1945.

    On the day Ukon delivered his lecture at Iwamatsu Elementary, he had been shocked when he'd read the morning newspaper at home. The article reported that Russia had test-launched a nuclear-capable missile. "Someone, please stop (Vladimir) Putin," he'd thought out loud.

    At the end of his 50-minute speech, he touched on Russia's hinting that it could use nuclear weapons in its invasion of Ukraine. He stressed, "They absolutely must not." Ukon asked the children, "What kind of effect do A-bombs have on human beings? I hope you will share your wisdom so that they will never be used again."

    After his first lecture, the 81-year-old smiled a little and said, "I want to keep doing this as long as my body keeps moving." He looked into the children's faces as if to confirm this feeling gained from his first step in opening his experiences to the world.

    (Japanese original by Mio Matsumoto, Nagasaki Bureau)

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