On the eve of the 77th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7, two Hibakusha women sailed to Hawaii to shed light on the impacts the bomb had on their health, family and country.
Hibakusha is a term that they called the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tsukamoto Michiko and Sora Tamiko are two of 170 Hibakusha who are still alive.
As an effort to spread awareness and hope for a more peaceful future without nuclear weapons, Tsukamoto and Sora have joined the Peace Boat Voyage. The Peace Boat promotes universal peace and connection and this year’s voyage is known as the Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World.
Tsukamoto, now 84 and Sora, 76, are born and raised in Hiroshima, Japan. They hope their stories can attribute to a more peaceful and nuclear free future.
“[To] take small steps which will lead to big steps,” Sora said. “From there, I would also like people to tell people about our stories that they heard from us and spread that message because that will grow into a bigger and bigger circle which will help create peace.”
Tsukamoto was 10-years-old and Sora was 3-years-old when Hiroshima was bombed. For Sora, her family home was about 1.4 kilometers (less than a mile) from the blast.
Sora said that anyone within the 1 kilometer radius were either instantly killed, severely burned, pinned or crushed by debris or from the fallen building.
Although she survived the blast, radiation related sickness is still affecting her. Sora suffers from thyroid issues when she was exposed to the blast. Tsukamoto suffers from knee and joint pains.
Sora and her mother was crushed by falling debris, and her father was flown from the second floor. In an attempt to escape the raging fire, Sora and her family fled their family home.
“The fear of having to run for my life,” Sora said. “The fire coming out from the electricity poles. Fire was starting around the houses and the neighborhood, so the fear if I don’t run away right now, I will be caught.”
For Tsukamoto and her family, they flew to a nearby island a few months before the bomb landed. It was at this nearby island where she saw the size of the destruction that occurred in Hiroshima.
“It’s really impossible to put into words, you know everything was completely destroyed and ravaged,” Tsukamoto said. “It’s just a very horrendous and fearful feeling when you realize what happened.”
Since Sora and her family were in the city, they saw first the destruction that the bomb had on her beloved hometown.
Sora and her family spent days looking for her family members. Sora encountered people who were so burned near the Matsuya River, she vividly described as a scene where you could not tell if you were looking to the front or back of them.
“Their bodies were so burned, they kept asking, repeatedly over again, ‘water, please give us water,’” Sora said.
Sora said the ground was filled with scattered bodies. Sora and her family did not know if they were alive or dead.
“The smoke and the smell from the bodies was raising and covered the entire city of Hiroshima in black smoke and the smell of burning flesh,” Sora said. “It was very dark and it was like a living hell watching these scenes.”
By the end of the first day, according to Atomic Archive, approximately 135,000 people have died on the first day in Hiroshima. At least 64,000 people perished in Nagasaki.
In an attempt to end nuclear weaponry, Sora and Tsukamoto hope that their stories will encourage others to share their stories and their message for a more peaceful future.
“I want people to be aware of what’s happening in the world and being informed,” Sora said.
Sora asked college students to be aware of the current events around the world.
Tsukamoto and Sora are expected to return to Yokohama on the Peace Boat on Dec. 17, 2018.
Editor’s note: The interview with Sora and Tsukamoto were translated from Japanese to English by Ami Terachi, International Director of Peace Boat and Cole Harton, International Coordinator for Peace Boat.