It was the second day of Spring Break. It felt like we had just arrived in Japan as we struggled with jetlag, but still got ourselves up to soak in the beautiful city of Hiroshima.
Sightseeing aside, the intent of the trip was to research a specific topic we had chosen for the semester. I had chosen to research hibakusha, those who were exposed to the atomic bomb, who are of foreign decent and therefore struggled in receiving compensation from the Japanese government.
With months of planning, I was set to interview a lawyer who specializes in foreign hibakusha cases against the government and a Taiwanese hibakusha.
That afternoon, my classmate and I sat in the glass atrium of Chugoku Shinbun, anxiously waiting for people we’ve never met to claim us for an interview.
Mr. Mukaiyama, the lawyer, eventually arrived with an interpreter and Mr. Toyonaga, a Japanese hibakusha. I greeted them in my broken Japanese, nervously stuttering and bowing. They led us to a small apartment, situated above a Chinese food restaurant. It was the home of Mr. Masui, the sole Taiwanese hibakusha still living in Hiroshima. The apartment sat past a narrow spiral staircase with old shoes that lined the corners. We struggled at the entrance, trying to figure out where to place our giant shoes.
Mr. Masui’s apartment was tidy, but the walls were cluttered with photographs, calligraphy pieces and framed paintings. A curtain separated his room to the small living room, which could only fit a table and chairs. Five people were already seated, including Mr. Masui, his daughter, a translator, and several friends.
Mr. Masui immediately greeted me with a smile, pulling me aside to show me his family photos and ancestry books. He seemed ecstatic to meet me as I told him where I grew up, pointing at the location on a map of Taiwan.
As the interview began, everyone in the room listened tentatively to Mr. Masui and his translator. He began to share his story of experiencing the bomb, the “miracles” that saved his life, and his struggles as a foreigner in Japan.
Although he must’ve told the story many times before, he still told it passionately as if it was the first time. Meeting people like Mr. Masui and Mr. Toyonaga, who still work effortlessly to spread their stories despite their old age, was the most unforgettable part of the trip. What is the reason behind their drive for sharing their stories? Is it a simple desire for attention, or is it a hope that it would perhaps help prevent the horrors from ever occurring again in history? More than 60 years after the bomb, these dedicated individuals show relentlessness in allowing history be forgotten with time. That relentlessness is exactly what’s needed at this point in history when nuclear threats are thrown around like thoughtless banter.
At the end of it all, I realize that our generation is one of the last that will have the privilege of meeting directly with people who experienced the worst events in human history. Although I have read, watched and learned a lot about World War II and the atomic bomb, meeting hibakushas in person for the first time was an indescribably emotional experience as not just a journalist, but as a part of society. No documentation can compare to hearing and feeling the emotion of the people tell the story right in front of you. Although journalism serves the purpose of documenting details of historic events before the witnesses themselves inevitably vanish, no method of documentation can be as influential as the people themselves.
The most shocking aspect of the trip was the hospitality and kindness of the people. We were mere college students working on our final projects for a grade, yet all the interviewees treated us like we were professional journalists from famous news agencies. Their only reward from helping us was their stories being shared to perhaps a few more readers, yet they effortlessly contributed.
To make sense of it all, I attempted to think in the perspective of a hibakusha. If I witnessed a horrendous part of history or am a victim to any injustice, I would certainly dedicate the rest of my life to keeping the world informed with my story, too. Even if it were just affecting one more person, I would want my voice to be heard by as many people as possible to create an understanding.
Although we met many amazing people and explored beautiful places, meeting Mr. Masui and hearing his story at the intimacy of his own home was the most unforgettable experience. I was impressed by the vast amount of help I’d received and struggled with the inability to really thank them. I wished I brought gifts from the US to show the slightest bit of gratitude, but even then I knew it wouldn’t be enough. The only thing I can do now to “do them justice” is to compose a story about them. With my research topic none-existent in English, I suppose my biggest contribution will be sharing the story of their hard work in the English language. That seems to have become the least I can do to show my gratitude for the time and effort they sacrificed for me.
You can visit Japan anytime as a tourist, but meeting and interviewing hibakusha was only possible through this course. The historical significance of meeting the last generation of atomic bomb survivors is beyond a simple Spring Break trip. With the younger generation such as Mr. Mukaiyama continuing the fight for awareness through legal battles or storytelling, it shows that the dedication does not die out with past generations. The countless effort in sharing their stories have significantly paid off, as many listeners have been touched and they will never be forgotten.
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