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Woman born 2 days after Hiroshima atomic bombing grateful for connected life

Kazuko Kojima puts her hands together in prayer in front of the tomb of Umeyo Miyoshi, the midwife who helped her mother's delivery when Kojima was born, in this photo taken in Hiroshima's Higashi Ward on Feb. 9, 2023. (Mainichi/Maiko Umeda)

HIROSHIMA -- A 77-year-old woman who was exposed to radiation from the Hiroshima atomic bombing in 1945 while in her mother's womb recently paid her respects at a grave in the city to pray for a midwife who helped her being delivered into this world.

    Kazuko Kojima, a resident of Hiroshima's Minami Ward, was born on Aug. 8, 1945, just two days after the nuclear devastation unleashed by the United States. In a dark basement room, where people injured by the bombing were huddled together, a woman went into labor, soon followed by the first cry uttered by a baby girl.

    A midwife who happened to be there assisted with the delivery, despite herself being severely burned and struggling with high fever. The birth of a new life offered a ray of hope to people there, who had a brush with death in the catastrophe.

    Her mother, Mikiko Hirano, gave birth to her at the Hiroshima branch of the Postal Savings Office, about 1.6 kilometers from the hypocenter, where she took shelter immediately after the atomic blast.

    On an evening in early February this year, Kojima found herself at a graveyard in Hiroshima. After gently wiping dirt off the tombstone of Umeyo Miyoshi, the midwife who helped her come into the world under those extreme circumstances, she offered pink tulips.

    "It's been a while," she spoke to the tomb, and put her hands together. Kojima makes several visits to the place every year.

    Kojima's birth was portrayed in the famous poem "Umashimenkana" (Bringing Forth New Life), penned by Sadako Kurihara, as a symbol of hope in the ruins of the atomic bombing. Kurihara, a poet who survived the Hiroshima atomic bombing, passed away in 2005 at age 92.

    When Kojima was young, she was burdened by her birth episode. After her story was reported in a newspaper while she was in high school, reporters flocked to her home and school. "It was a pain to speak about what I didn't know about in front of others," Kojima recalled. At one point, she would leave Hiroshima every time Aug. 6 approached, as if to shy away from the atomic bombing anniversary.

    In July 1997, when she was over 50 years old, she heard actress Sayuri Yoshinaga recite the poem "Umashimenkana." Yoshinaga herself was born in Tokyo just three days after the March 1945 Great Tokyo Air Raid, which left an estimated 100,000 people dead overnight. While listening to Yoshinaga's recital, Kojima was left in tears as she felt as if she was witnessing exactly what her mother saw at the time of her birth. After this experience, Kojima became able to frankly tell what she thinks to others.

    After she turned 77 in the summer of 2022, Kojima started creating a poem, inspired by the fact that the life her mother gave her sprang up thanks to the help of midwife Miyoshi, and poet Kurihara supported it like the trunk of a tree. She has her own poem's title in her mind -- "Tsunagareta inochi no ki" (A tree of life that was connected) -- but the composition itself is full of trial and error.

    Kojima has no particular issue with her health, but as she grows older, she is more aware of the time left in her life. "Just as trees bear many leaves, I was blessed with encounters with many people, which led the flowers of my smiles to bloom. I may not necessarily have many years to live, so I'd like to write down what I've gone through in detail," she said.

    While writing, Kojima often has feelings of regret. When she was young, bewildered at what she faced, Kurihara encouraged her, saying, "All you need to do is live. There's no need to think, and you can just speak out when you want." While her thoughtful words were reassuring, Kojima did not actively ask her mother to talk about what it was like when she was born.

    "I should have asked more about what my mother and Miyoshi faced and what they felt when I was born," Kojima said with regret.

    When she hears the news about the atrocities in Ukraine under Russia's invasion, Kojima is reminded of her birth story under harsh circumstances.

    "Innocent people, including children and babies, are left to die with no mercy. People can learn the value of their existence and pride only because they live," she said, thinking once again of the preciousness of peace.

    (Japanese original by Kana Nemoto, Hiroshima Bureau)

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