Hibakusha: The Survivors of the Atomic Bomb

Thursday, February 3, 2011 - 6:11 pm

Hibakusha: The Survivors of the Atomic Bomb

Hibakusha: a Japanese term describing survivors of atomic bombs.

Terry Tempest Williams’ use of this term during her interview with Krista came about quite unexpectedly. At the time, it seemed odd. But, it made more sense once she explained that nine women in her family have had mastectomies, the cause of which Williams attributes to an open-air nuclear testing site near her home in southern Utah, which she writes about with great emotion in “The Clan of One-Breasted Women.”
The Atomic Bomb Survivors program categorizes hibakusha into one of three groups:

  1. Persons that were present within a specific radius of the bombed area at the time of bombing (e.g., Hiroshima: August 6th, 1945 or Nagasaki: August 9th, 1945) and were directly exposed to the bomb’s radiation, and babies that were in the womb of such persons at that time.
  2. Persons who set foot into a specific radius of Hiroshima City or Nagasaki City within two weeks of the bombing for the purposes of helping rescue activities, offering medical services, finding relatives, etc., and babies that were in the womb of such persons at that time.
  3. Persons who were exposed to radiation due to activities such as disposing of many corpses, rescuing of survivors, etc. and babies that were in the womb of such persons at that time.

This classification seems rather sterile until you start reading the personal stories of hibakusha such as Hideko Tamura Snider, who was ten years old when the U.S. bombed Hiroshima. She shares the physical and emotional pain she experienced, and recounts trying to find her mother amongst the survivors:

“So I would announce my mother’s name and then say, ‘Oh, please answer me,’ and no one would answer but sort of stir … I want to see her, but I don’t want to see her in that condition. But if I can let her know that I love her and that I want to be there … so, just playing with magical things in my mind, I started to sing some songs that she taught me, that she loved hearing… So I said, ‘Please, God, carry this tune to my mother and comfort her, because I can’t find her.’ That’s when my feelings came back and I just cried and cried and cried.”

About the image: Hideko Tamura Snider with her mother Kimiko Tamura. (photo courtesy of Hideko Tamura Snider)

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as publisher & editor-in-chief. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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