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Nagasaki hibakusha authors picture book memorializing child victim of A-bomb found in 1996

Fumi Takeshita, who wrote the picture book, "Wasurenaide Nagasaki Genbaku to Sakurako-chan," which means, "Don't forget: The atomic bomb in Nagasaki and Sakurako," is seen in the city of Nagasaki on Dec. 27, 2022. (Mainichi/Takehiro Higuchi)

NAGASAKI -- A "hibakusha," or survivor of the atomic bombing, in this western Japan city has penned a picture book using her experience finding the remains of a child who perished in the nuclear attack, hoping to leave a legacy of the child's memory for future generations.

    As cherry blossoms drifted through the air on a day in April 1996, the remains of a child were found in the ground in the city's Hypocenter Park, part of Nagasaki Peace Park. Naming the child "Sakurako," Fumi Takeshita, 81, has mourned the child ever since. To keep the memory of the child alive for today's youths, Takeshita published "Wasurenaide Nagasaki Genbaku to Sakurako-chan," which means, "Don't forget: The atomic bomb in Nagasaki and Sakurako," covering the expenses herself.

    Takeshita was 3 years and 10 months old when she became a victim of the bombing. She was about 6 kilometers north of the impact site, in the town of Togitsu, which was a village at the time. All she remembers is seeing a flash of light from inside a barn of a farming household where she had evacuated. When her father walked to the town from inside the city limits of Nagasaki, he told her, "Urakami (an area in the city of Nagasaki) is nothing now. Lots of people are dead, many more are injured."

    Some four decades later in 1987, Takeshita was invited by her old middle school teacher to go on a tour of war ruins in Okinawa. The experience led her to begin sitting in at protests against nuclear weapon tests. When remnants of the atomic bombing were discovered in Nagasaki Peace Park in the 1990s, she took up a post representing a civic organization dedicated to their preservation.

    In the spring of 1996, while passing by a construction site at the Hypocenter Park, Takeshita found a grey lump about the size of a "manju," or sweet bun, in the park. An analysis found the lump was human or animal bone ash, but experts did not know which. As Takeshita believed there were other remains to be found, she obtained permission from the city to carry out a further search.

    Digging into the ground from dawn to dusk every day, bones from the back of a woman in her 20s and a grater made of porcelain were unearthed. "The backbone had been crushed from above," Takeshita recalled. In the area nearby, the broken skull of a child around 4 or 5 years old was also found. They also found burnt buckwheat husks, which were used in pillows, red and pink buttons, and other buttons from a school uniform. The child's gender was unknown, but based on the color of the buttons, Takeshita thought it to be a girl, giving her the name "Sakurako," meaning "cherry blossom child," because of the cherry blossoms falling nearby.

    Sakurako would have been around the same age as Takeshita when the bomb was dropped. Based on the school uniform buttons found at the site, Takeshita believes she had an older brother. "She could have been napping, tired from playing with her older brother, when all of a sudden, she was killed. She wouldn't have even realized she was dead," Takeshita surmised.

    Takeshita and her group asked the city to preserve the site. The city has covered a portion of it with glass, allowing visitors to view it as a "layer of earth from when the atomic bomb struck."

    From the time she was 25, Takeshita was in an out of hospitals to be treated for asthma. She received surgery for an ovarian cyst at 31, and thyroid cancer at 49. Another bout with cancer in 2019, this time in the skin of her nose, for which she underwent another surgery, made her aware that she may not have much time left. She thought, "If I don't (do something to) leave her memory in place, Sakurako will be forgotten." She decided to publish a picture book, and wrote the storyline herself. For its pictures, she called on an old acquaintance and anti-war illustrator, Susumu Nishiyama, who passed away in October 2022 at 94.

    "If it weren't for the atomic bomb, (Sakurako) probably would have led a full life. Perhaps she would have been surrounded by children and grandchildren by now. Why did such small children like her need to die?" Carrying that message, Takeshita hopes the book will be widely read.

    Five hundred copies of the book were printed. Some were donated to elementary schools, middle schools and libraries in the city. The book is also on sale for 1,200 yen (roughly $9.10), before tax, at Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and the Koubundo book store in the city's Hamamachi district.

    (Japanese original by Takehiro Higuchi, Nagasaki Bureau)

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