dateline japan

Bomb effects
cannot be denied

Published Tuesday, Aug. 28, 1979, in the Corsicana (Texas) Daily Sun.

By JOHN SPRAGENS Jr.
Sun Staff Writer


Toshiko Tanaka, 34, needs the help of a counselor to untie a bundle of handles for the shopping bags she assembles. In her mother’s womb when the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima, she was born with severe retardation.

HIROSHIMA, Japan — Hiromi Morishita, now a high school teacher, cannot hide the fact that he is a survivor of the atomic bomb.

Keloid scars up and down one side of his body give mute testimony to the burns he suffered Aug. 6, 1945, when he was a junior high school student. Even when he is fully clothed, the evidence shows. The left side of his face seems to have melted. Scar tissue tugs the corner of his mouth down toward his neck.

“I am always referred to as a hibakusha teacher,” he says. Hibakusha is the Japanese word for survivors of the atomic bombs here and in Nagasaki.

“I don’t feel shame at myself,” Morishita says, “but I feel that others cannot stand to look at my ugliness. Looking at my keloids I used to think I would be happier if I could forget them and be looked on by others as a normal human being. But my physical appearance shows it. I cannot deny to the world that I am a hibakusha.”

For others, the effects of the bomb were more subtle. Hideo Koike, a sixth grader in 1945, was inside a house, protected from the flash of the bomb’s intense heat. The wooden structure did not protect him from the bomb’s radiation, though.

Shortly afterward, he felt numb all over. Now, 34 years later, he is still too weak to hold a job. His wife works to support the family.

Doctor have been unable to diagnose his malady.

“The doctors would say it was just poor health — that I should eat more so I could gain enough strength to work,” Koike says. But eating does not help.

He blames radiation from the bomb. But what he and others like him refer to as “atomic bomb weakness disease” has not been certified by the Japanese government as a disease caused by the bomb.

Letters bring encouragement

HIROSHIMA, Japan — Kitae Tomoyasu is still haunted by the thought that she did not giver her daughter a drink of water on Aug. 6, 1945.

Even now, 34 years later, she remembers holding the badly-burned child for nine hours, fearing a drink of water would cause a fever.

“I smell, don’t I, Mother,” her daughter siad.

“No, you don’t smell. You’ll be OK,” Mrs.Tomoyasu tried to be comforting.

“I don’t want to die because I’ll leave you all alone,” her daughter said.

“About 11 or 12 that day she put her hand to my neck,” Mrs. Tomoyasu recalls. “‘Your hand feels very cold,’ I told her. ‘Mother,’ she said. ‘Mother.’ The second time was the last word she said.”

Even in the nursing home for hibakusha — survivors of the atomic bomb — where she now lives, few can understand the depths of her lonliness. Most have at least some relatives still alive.

“Last year I happened to be on television to talk about my experiences,” she says. For a while after the program, she received letters and postcards from viewers, but then they stopped coming.

“It’s hard for me to have hope in my life,” says the 78-yearold Mrs. Tomoyasu, weeping. “But receiving letters gives me encouragement to live.”

Those whose diseases have been certified are eligible for free medical care. In Hiroshima, most of the treatment is given at the Atomic Bomb Hospital, founded in 1956.

There are now more than 150 patients in the hospital, and another 130 a day come for outpatient treatment. “The definition of medically proved effects of the bomb now goes further than it once did,” says Dr. Kiyoshi Kuramoto, vice director of the hospital, “but it’s difficult to prove that symptoms are directly related to the bomb.”

In the first 10 years after the bomb, luekemia claimed the lives of many exposed to the radiation. Since 1957 the leukemia rate among hibakusha has dropped back to the same level as that for Japan as a whole.

Today those treated in the hospital suffer from cancer and from a variety of diseases — such as high blood pressure and stroke — common to the elderly.

Not all the problems of the hibakusha can be treated in a hospital, however generous the government’s relief measures.

A lingering fear of the unknown affects the lives of survivors themselves and those of their children and grandchildren as well.

Koko Tanimoto was less than a year old when the bomb fell about a half mile from her home.

Years later, when she was in the United States as a college student, she and an American student made plans to get married. Her fiance’s father vetoed them. He was concerned that genetic effects of the bomb’s radiation might show up in their children.

Back in Japan she did marry. Last year she and her husband, Yasuo Kondo, were expecting their first child. She miscarried. “Now we’re not sure whether we should try again,” she says.

Researchers say they may never know for sure whether Mrs. Kondo’s miscarriage was related to the bomb.

But fears of miscarriages — or worse, mutations — have clouded marriage prospects for tens of thousands of survivors and their children.

So far only one group of people has felt the effects of radiation on the process of reproduction. Those who survived are all 34 now. They were in their mothers’ wombs the day of the bomb.

Several dozen of these children — not all the bomb babies, but more than doctors would otherwise expect to see — were born with smaller than normal heads and severe mental retardation.

Toshiko Tanaka, at age 34, looks like a pretty junior high school girl. With an IQ of 38, she also has interests like those of someone less than half her age. She is a movie and TV fan, and has a crush on Hiromi Go, a Japanese actor and singer.

In a sheltered workshop at the special home for the mentally retarded where she lives, she has a job threading handles through pre-punched holes of paper shopping bags.

Michiko Kubo’s IQ is too low to measure accurately. Her job at the sheltered workshop is punching holes in oyster shells, which are later strung together into artificial reefs used to raise cultured oysters.

In her spare time she watches TV and looks at books. She can’t read, but enjoys the pictures.

Other survivors have had to cope with more “conventional” injuries. In Nagasaki, Chieko Watanabe was trapped beneath a steel beam, which broke her spine.

The major affliction that Miss Watanabe, now 50, has had to live with is paralysis from the waist down.

Four years ago her mother, who had tended to her needs and given her the will to live, entered the hospital. Not wanting to be a burden on other relatives, Miss Watanabe began looking for ways to be more independent.

The new house she built recently, adapted from a standard suburban design, includes toilet and bath she can use by herself and a low-level kitchen where she can cook from her wheelchair.

Her mother died 18 months ago, but Miss Watanabe still looks to the future with hope. It gives her particular pleasure to find new ways to get around on her own and to share her experiences and ideas with other handicapped people throughout Japan.

Like the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she is bullding a new life on the ashes of the old.


Photo copyright © 1979 John Spragens, Jr.
Text copyright © 1979 Corsicana Daily Sun
Reporting for this series was supported by a grant from the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation.


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