Hiroshima survivor warns of nuclear danger
On Monday, a small, quiet Japanese woman stood in front of about 100 students and faculty to tell a story.
The room was hushed as Yoshiko Kajimoto spoke in Japanese with a voice of both reserve and sorrow. The only other sounds were the English translations of her interpreter.
Seventy-seven year old Kajimoto is a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are often classified into two groups—those who were in the city when the atomic bomb struck and those who went into the city following the explosion.
Kajimoto belongs to the former.
Kajimoto is in the U.S. as a member of the survivors program, an organization sponsored by the mayor of Hiroshima that works to educate the world about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
According to Chris Riha, the coordinator for international programming in the International and Area Studies (IAS) program, the survivors program and Kajimoto’s visit both contain a component of activism.
Listeners were encouraged to sign a petition to abolish nuclear weapons and stop nuclear proliferation in anticipation of the Nonproliferation Treaty in 2010.
Kajimoto met with Riha and a dozen IAS students for lunch on Monday. According to Riha, her soft-spoken manner did not make the tone of her message any less compelling.
“Having lunch with her was really powerful because this is an intense story,” Riha said. “She expressed how she never wants this to happen again.”
Although 63 years have passed since the bombing, Kajimoto did not tell her story to the public or to anyone outside of her family until eight years ago. Her husband was a survivor as well and talking about their experiences from Hiroshima had always been a private, intimate dialogue between the two.
When her husband passed away, it was Kajimoto’s granddaughter who encouraged her to tell her story publicly. At first, her fear of public speaking overcame her. Eventually, however, she discovered the impact of her own words.
On Aug. 6, 1945, Kajimoto was a 14-year old worker in a factory that produced propeller parts. When the atomic bomb detonated, the factory building collapsed. Kajimoto’s leg was crushed under the debris.
When she managed to pull out her leg, much of the skin had been torn off.
Looking around her, she found that many of her friends were already dead. She left the ruins of the city with her surviving friends.
Kajimoto’s father, who was not near the epicenter of the blast at the time, came into the city soon afterward to look for his daughter, rummaging through the rubble and corpses. He died 18 months later from radiation poisoning.
Kajimoto herself was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1999 and underwent a successful operation to remove two-thirds of her stomach.
Several of her surviving friends, however, were less fortunate and succumbed to radiation poisoning by the 1990s, she said.
Senior Yiye Zhang, vice president of the Asian Culture Club, was instrumental in bringing Kajimoto to campus.
“I’ve been involved in Asian Culture Club since freshman year. I didn’t like that when people thought of the Asian Culture Club, they thought of free food and entertainment,” Zhang said. “We are supposed to be on campus to promote culture and different perspectives.”
Zhang grew up in Hiroshima and said she believes that it is an important issue that people in the United States do not know enough about.
“I grew up in Hiroshima, so I have had survivors talk to me before,” Zhang said. “I wanted to be involved in something that helped provide people with a different perspective.”
Kajimoto will be in the United States for 11 days, traveling across the country to speak on college campuses. Her main wish is to educate students about the danger of nuclear weapons and encourage them to take action against nuclear proliferation.
After finishing her story, Kajimoto reminded the students in the room that Russia and the United States currently own 95 percent of the warheads in the world.
Kajimoto’s visit was the result of work by the Heisei Japanese Club, the Harris World Law Institute, the Asian Culture Club, the IAS department and Sigma Iota Rho, the IAS honorary.
With additional reporting by David Messenger, Lauren Olens and Perry Stein