1 Sweden

My First Trip

Hjördis Andersson, a Swedish missionary, used to live near my house in Hiroshima. She had a large number of visitors from all over the world. Whenever she had guests, I told them about my experiences of the A-bombing and showed them Peace Memorial Museum. In September 1995, she returned home on leave and I decided to follow her and visit Sweden. When I was preparing for the trip, some friends said they also wanted to go. The number increased day by day and the party numbered 17 in all.

In Stockholm, our first destination, we visited the church of Pastor Karin Jansson who was proficient in Japanese. From then, every time I went on a peace pilgrimage around Stockholm, she served as interpreter. At the end of 2003, we received the sad news that she had passed away of a heart attack at the age of 54. I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings.

Two days later, we moved to Jönköing, an inland town in the south. They had a potluck party and we Japanese were supposed to bring sushi and jiao-zi. While my friends were preparing them, I was interviewed by a newspaper reporter. I talked about my A-bomb experiences only briefly, but tears welled up out of his eyes. He said, wiping the tears away with his fair-haired arm, “My country doesn’t take part in war and I cannot imagine such atrocity. Considering the current world situation, my country should contribute to the realization of world peace. I will write a good article.” He was a young and sensitive-looking reporter.

The party started when the Swedish folk music band and dancers came in. We also joined in the circle of dancing.

“I understand why the Japanese are small. With two thin chopsticks, food will fall off before it reaches your mouth,” said one old man. Friendly conversations made us forget the passage of time.

The next day, the article about me appeared in the newspaper. The people who had read it made a request that I should come back and talk about my A-bomb experiences. Hjördis said, “Let’s make a peace tour. I will serve as interpreter.” It was realized in 2001, after she retired and returned home.

(Picture) I enjoyed dancing with people in a Swedish costume.

2 A Second Generation Japanese-American and Hiroshima

Early April in 1997, a friend in Numazu asked me to give Mr. M., a second generation Japanese-American, and his grandchild a place to stay and show them around when they visited Hiroshima. I went to Hiroshima Station holding a paper with his name on it as usual. He introduced himself in fluent Japanese, saying, “I am a retired pastor.” I was not surprised that K., his grandson, was quiet because he could speak only English.

After dinner, K. fell asleep very early and Mr. M. and I kept talking endlessly. He said he was the second son of a family who immigrated from Matsumoto City to America. Before the Pacific War started, his parents told their eldest son to visit the land of his ancestors and sent him to Japan. He liked the people and nature of Japan, especially his parents’ hometown. He didn’t return to America and got accepted into Keio University. Then, he died in the war as a Japanese soldier. Mr. M.’s family had a hard time in a relocation camp. He said tearfully that the A-bombing on Hiroshima was not inexcusable because Japan made a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

The next morning, we went to the Peace Memorial Museum. He gazed at each article on exhibit, saying, “Horrible!” “Awful!” again and again. But when he found the display showing how many nuclear bombs each country possesses on the globe, he said proudly in a loud voice, “K., America is great.”

In the return train, he asked me, “Do I look Japanese or American?” I wondered what answer he wanted. I stared at his face. Obviously, he looked Japanese. I hesitated to answer his question. Then he said in an imperative way, “I am an American, aren’t I ?”

The next day, I took them to Miyajima that is registered as one of the World Heritage sites. K. was excited at digging clams on the beach because Colorado doesn’t face the sea. He could get only 10 or so clams, but he was delighted with clam soup.

Some of Mr. M.’s words still linger in my ears. He said, “If Japan hadn’t made a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, my brother wouldn’t have died. Japan killed him.” And “After the war, when we were released from the relocation camp, we heard that Japan was suffering from shortages in everything and began relief activities. He also said, “I want you to know that it was Japanese-Americans who sent most of the relief items from America to Japan.”

He had mixed feelings between Japan and America.

I am now wondering if anything has changed in him after visiting Hiroshima, or if he is still proud of America that wouldn’t stop possessing nuclear weapons.

(picture) Miyajima, a World Heritage Site : when the tide is in, the floors of Itsukushima Shrine are covered with water.

3 Union of Myanmar

Wind from Myanmar
In July 1997, Ms. A., the vice president of a seminary in Myanmar, visited Hiroshima, escorted by my friend, Ms. Noriko Kadota, who lives in the Kansai region. I took the opportunity to ask Ms. A. to deliver a lecture at the Hiroshima YWCA. However, she could only speak on the condition of anonymity, because the people in Myanmar are under the jurisdiction of its military regime, and there is a possibility that her behavior abroad would be subject to scrutiny.

The following is what she said in the lecture: “In Myanmar, Buddhist monks are given special treatment. Even so, they have to make a living by asking for alms. Maymyo, where I live, is in the northern heights of Mandalay, which was the old capital of Myanmar. It is so far away from the present capital, Yangon, and for better or worse, is paid little attention by the central government. Furthermore, as there was once a British military base here, there are many Christians – some of them understand English. Most of the people are poor. Daily goods are widely available in the markets, but meat is a luxury item, and seafood is hard to obtain inland, so many people contract rickets due to protein deficiency. Students don’t even have enough stationery, but they have a passion for learning because they long to escape their current situation.”

After Ms. A.’s lecture, there was a question from the audience regarding the attitude of the Myanmar people towards Japan. Ms. A. answered as follows:
“During the war, Japanese troops committed robbery, rape and murder, so there are elderly people who have anti-Japanese sentiments. But many young people, who are jobless, aspire to go and work in Japan, though they don’t like Japan. As an educator, I am making the effort to take an impartial view of the world. I would like to see Hiroshima, which was destroyed by a nuclear bomb, with my own eyes, and convey to my students how this matters to mankind.”

During the tour of the Peace Memorial Museum, and in front of a number of monuments in the Peace Park, she stopped many times to put her hands together in prayer. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Then, she put her arm around my shoulders, and said, “Keiko, you’ve come so far, in spite of being exposed to the atomic bombing. Please speak out on behalf of those who perished.”
After Ms. A. left Hiroshima like the wind, a fund-raising campaign began at the Hiroshima YWCA. It was decided that I would visit Ms. A.’s school with Noriko the following spring to deliver the money and daily necessities.

I received a letter from Ms. A., asking me to talk about my A-bomb experience to her students. Noriko translated my A-bomb experience into English. Practicing my A-bomb testimony in English became a part of my daily routine.
Only God knew that this was to be the first step in my peace pilgrimage.

Constant visitors from abroad to the Peace Memorial Museum

4 Union of Myanmar

Feeling Maymyo breeze
he funds we had raised at the Hiroshima YWCA amounted to 100,000 yen. I decided to go to Myanmar in March, 1998 to deliver the money, together with Noriko, who is a translator. I was also scheduled to talk about my A-bomb experience in a seminar held at Ms. A.’s seminary, and to attend its graduation ceremony as well as Ms. A.’s wedding ceremony.

It took 13 hours to go the 621km from Yangon to Mandalay by train. It was an extraordinarily bumpy and noisy ride. Moreover, from Mandalay to Maymyo where Ms. A. lives, I took a taxi, which was exclusively for foreigners, but the taxi was a rundown pickup truck, made in Japan.

In the seminary classroom, there was only one bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and some broken windows had been repaired with pieces of cardboard.

While I was talking about my A-bomb experience, I wondered if it was really necessary to talk about Hiroshima to such poverty-stricken students. However my doubts were unfounded. They commented one after another that no possession of nuclear weapons, no fights and no hatred are the bases of world peace. Besides, they prayed for the A-bomb survivors who are still sick in bed.

When I gave the donations to the seminary principal, I said, “Please use this money to buy light bulbs or to repair the school building.” But I was struck speechless, when he said to me, “Tangible things will be broken. I want to use the money to support the life of poor students. That will be more meaningful.”

In the evening, I was spoken to by a small old lady on the street. She said to me, “There are electric lights in the school, but ordinary houses don’t even have electricity. They have a TV at the school and allow us to watch it, so I go there to watch ‘Oshin.’” I realized that I had a self-righteous view and at the same time I kept thinking back on what the principal said to me.

The graduation ceremony was simple, but solemn.

The next day, Ms. A. paraded the streets in a horse-drawn carriage in her wedding dress. A pig, which her students had raised, was cooked and set out on the wedding reception table.
Half an hour after the reception started, the guests started to disappear one after another. Then, many people who had been watching the reception through the windows dashed to fill the empty seats and to eat the dishes on the table. One of the townspeople told me, “It’s customary for poor people to swap places at a wedding reception, otherwise we would not have any chance to eat meat. “

Students listening to my A-bomb testimony

The classroom with its single bare light bulb is always dim.
(The school building was previously to be used by the British army, but it was left incomplete due to the army’s withdrawal from Myanmar, so the stairways and classrooms are full of danger.)

5 America

An Afghan woman
In 1998, we traveled around five states of northeast America, sent by the World Friendship Center, which has its base in Hiroshima. The members were an A-bomb survivor from Nagasaki, two students and me.
Twenty-three hours had passed when we arrived in Annapolis, Maryland from Hiroshima on Sep. 15. I stayed with an Afghan woman, who was running an Asian restaurant. I was not satisfied, wondering why I had to stay with an Afghan in America. Her husband was American, but he didn’t seem to be pleased to have a Japanese in his home.
During the six days of my stay, I heard the narrative of Mrs. F.’s life night after night. Her first husband was Afghan. He died of alcoholism, caused by repeated wars. A close relative of hers became disabled due to a land mine. She was a chemist back in her country, but she came to the U.S. and began a business in order to save her family from war-torn Afghanistan. Every story was painful. “But I was saved by my present husband,” she said happily. And she also said, “I read in the newspaper that hibakusha were coming, and asked one of them to stay with us. Keiko, you can share my pain, can’t you?”
I heard that her husband had thought that I would blame the U.S. for the A-bombings. After Mrs. F. recommended he read my A-bomb story, it seemed that he was trying to understand our peace pilgrimage. But our distance was not narrowed enough.
Other members stayed at typical American homes, and there seemed to be no end to cheerful talk. After they knew that I was enjoying Asian dishes, they said,” We envy you. Every time, we are served junk food. We might be fed up soon.”
In my farewell, I said to Mrs. F., “Please come to Japan.” She answered,“No. When I have saved enough money, I will go back to Afghanistan to bring my family to the States. Keiko, YOU should come here again.”
After 9/11, the U.S. attacked Afghanistan. I hear that Afghans living in the U.S. feel uncomfortable, but, according to church members, Mrs. F. brought over her sister and her husband to the U.S. and her restaurant is doing well. I wish they are doing well, as I heard.


6 America

School Visit and Civil Society

The first thing we did was to pay a courtesy call on the Mayor of Annapolis. In the center of the room we were shown into, we found a desk standing majestically, on which Washington, Jefferson and Franklin had made the draft of The Declaration of Independence. The city has a population of 35,000. Its assembly consists of nine councilors. I felt encouraged to learn four of them were women.

Then we visited an elementary school. Each of us was given only ten minutes individually to talk to children. Things couldn’t go as well as we had planned because we were a hastily-assembled visiting team. Both the college student with a good command of English and the A-bomb survivor with little English felt awkward with each other.

Children had learned about Sadako Sasaki, who was exposed to the A-bomb radiation and died of a radiation related disease, leukemia. When it came to their country’s dropping the bomb, however, they said in unison, “Remember Pearl Harbor!” They seemed to have learned that from their parents. What drew their interest was the thousand paper cranes. Asked to show them how to fold a paper crane, I was obliged to do so. Having been eager to talk to them more, my time ran out.

Elementary school children were too little for us to argue with over the difference of historical perspectives, so we bit our tongues. I felt a lump in my throat, frustrated and mortified. I am afraid that Americans and Japanese may not be able to reach any settlement to fill the gap of each other’s public sentiment.

We had chances to attend various meetings in the evenings, which started with a potluck. I came to learn that it was an American way to host guests.

The most interesting one for me was the one held by a group acting to heal Vietnam veterans. I heard there were many veterans who were still agonizing over what that war had been for. They had not been able to return to society yet, not having found any answers. A lot of citizens extended their helping hands to them, by singing together or having a chat with them in a casual manner, to encourage them to feel that they were not left alone. A friendly man came up to me saying, “Hi.” He was the mayor in casual clothes.

In spite of those devoted activists, the country has waged wars repeatedly since then. Annapolis is a thriving city hosting the U. S. Naval Academy, which became known in Japan from the movie, “An Officer and a Gentleman.” The trainees in the academy are respected as special elite students. But a certain suspicion crossed my mind that soldiers are professional murderers after all.

(In the City Hall: Courtesy call on the Mayor of Annapolis)

7 Soup Kitchen

The Brethren Church in Washington, D.C. has opened a soup kitchen for homeless people.
It is like a kitchen of an extra-big hotel, which is much larger in scale than I have ever heard of. They say that a great many people have come from many parts of the world to join its activity as volunteers. They are people of diverse colors, which characterizes the U.S.A. This activity is operated with financial support from various people. Food companies donate their products. Those homeless people who have returned to society contribute money and other articles as a token of thanks.

As one–day temporary volunteers, we engaged in simple work. I was surprised at the gorgeous menu with dessert and coffee. I was assigned the work of laying the tables.

As soon as the chime of the church began to ring at 12:00, people came upstairs with a rush and shoved to stand in lines, which were just like human walls.

Oblong trays holding a few big rolls, a plateful of buttered rice, and eggplant stew were thrust in front of me one after another. It was difficult work to pour macaroni soup or tomato soup into big bowls after asking them which soup they wanted to eat. I could not look in the faces of the people who demanded a second helping in secret or who were eating in silence shyly, but soon I became self-composed and became able to observe them calmly.

After finishing their meals, some people hid snacks or bread in their pockets, and some packed the leftovers from meals into plastic cases to take out. I was at a loss which way to look when I saw them make an ingratiating smile at me.

I thought I understood the reason why it was difficult for them to return to society. Many of the homeless had war experiences on a battlefield, and many of them were minorities. Some women were victims of men’s violence or those tired of childrearing.

Today we see more and more homeless people in Japan. Around the station, at the riverbed or in the park, they stay in their own “homes” made of cardboard and plastic sheets just like ones we see at the construction sites. I tend to avoid passing them.

I am wondering what my experience at the soup kitchen means to me. Is it possible for me to find its answer someday in the future? I felt I was filled with something depressingly hard to solve. Soon after the work finished, I felt hungry. I requested the leftovers of the homeless for my lunch. The soup scooped out from the bottom of the pan was unusually delicious.

After the volunteer activity at the soup kitchen

8 Peace Education in the U. S.

In Bluffton, Ohio in September, 1998

Joan asked me to tell my A-bomb experience on the first night I stayed with her. So I told her my story, making it short, since it was after the dinner, and I was going to give a talk for her peace education class the following day. Then she pleaded in tears, “My dear students are only third graders. So please teach them something about Japanese culture or songs for children.” While I was thinking in bed through the night, I realized what I should do in the class.”

I observed the first class she taught. A chosen girl started reading. Each of the students was doing different things, which made me wonder. Some were sitting at computers, some lying on the floor, and some playing with word cards.

The second class started. I was introduced to them as Keiko Murakami. Then I introduced myself, saying, “In many Asian countries family names come before individual names. I am Murakami Keiko. I took out and spread the one-thousand paper cranes which I was entrusted with by a nursery school my grandson attends. The children were excited and said, “Were they really made by children?” When I said, “I’m going to teach a Japanese song,” there was applause. I sang a song, which was easy, translating into English, “Spring has come. Spring has come. Where is it now?” And the students joined in with me.

Suddenly Joan made a sign with her eyes, saying, “Keiko, start now.”

I started to talk about my brief Atomic bomb experience, saying, “Please listen to my story in Hiroshima.” The lively class fell silent, which only made me feel almost scared.

Afterwards one child came up to me, holding my hand, another mopping tears, another covering his face with his hands, and so on. Small as they were, the children seemed to have appreciated my story in their own ways.

In the afternoon, I observed a lecture on how to conduct peace education at a nearby university. Those who took the lecture were all concerned with education. The lecturer said that when children were suggested to draw a picture imagining a peaceful country, they drew animals. She also suggested to have children discuss in the class who to invite to your table. According to her, education aiming at nurturing characteristics should be promoted, so that one can say, “Your skin has the same color as my horse, and I love it.” However, I saw some discriminatory view here.

We took a drive on a freeway outside of town. Two hours’ ride took us to the birthplace of Wilbur Wright (1867-1912), one of the Wright brothers who invented the airplane. Cornfields, with corn already harvested, extended as far as the eye could see. Only birds were moving. Once upon a time an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the U. S. Those who live here think that they have nothing to do with it.

(The children love paper cranes.)

9 America

Twin Cities
Minneapolis and St. Paul, two cities on both sides of a bridge crossing the Mississippi River are called the Twin Cities. I hear that Minnesota is a state where Native Americans and people from Europe dwell half and half, which makes it typically America that stands for liberty and equality. On the birthdays of Reverend Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, the citizens have a peace walk, and on August 6 and 9, they hold a memorial gathering of Hiroshima and Nagasaki wishing for nuclear abolition.

The places we visited so far did not necessarily accept us, the A-bomb victims, open-mindedly. Remembering the last three weeks which was continually disappointing, I was kind of worn out.

Somebody’s words at one church gathering, “Building a Hiroshima- Nagasaki Museum in America would be nice,” were good enough to boost me. I responded, “That would be more than nice, but there are many impediments. I would rather you, Americans, make it, please.”

October 6, 1998 was the day when the “Atomic Bomb and Peace Gathering” was scheduled at Macalester College, the last program of our trip. It is the college people speak well since a number of figures renown for their contribution to world peace, including Kofi Annan, General Secretary of the UN, graduated from it.

The gathering was to start in the early evening. People including students were coming in one after another, and the large place was filled before long. Since it was going to be our last presentation, we were full of spirit. When all four of us, finished speaking, silence dominated the place. The MC urged the audience to ask questions more than once, but nobody said anything. We were looking at one another feeling uneasy.

After a while, there was somebody who commented, “You have talked enough. We have learned about the facts of the A-bombing. Let’s work together for peace.” The next moment a storm of clapping hands arose, and many came up to us to shake our hands.

There were a few Japanese students studying in America who helped to interpret during the Q and A session. “How long did it take Hiroshima to be rebuilt?” “Don’t you bear a grudge against America?” The questions were similar to the ones commonly asked anywhere, but nobody brought up Pearl Harbor. I don’t know if we can give credit to Macalester College about it or we just happened not to be exposed to that kind of question.

Having been able to have little dialogue, we were to go home with frustration, half resigned. However, I found a little hope in America.

10 U.K. I

Former POWs taken by the Imperial Japanese Army

I was contacted by Ms. Hjordis Andersson, who was a missionary living in Hiroshima. She said, “Former British soldiers taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army are visiting Japan accompanied by Ms. Keiko Homes. I was asked to officiate at their memorial service for the war dead in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims.” She continued, “Because of the atrocities of the Imperial Japanese Army, British people’s sentiment toward Japan isn’t good. But this will be a good opportunity to make them aware that all countries at war are equally to blame. So, Keiko, tell them about HIROSHIMA.”

I had had my story translated into English to tell foreign people, so I decided to accept Ms. Andersson’s request. After learning that I would have only five minutes, I thought it would be more important to get HIROSHIMA across to them rather than my personal experience.

On November 2nd, 1998, the group of former POWs stood in a row in front of the Cenotaph. The service proceeded with Ms. Andersson’s officiation. Introduced by her, I stepped forward and stood before them. After introducing myself briefly, I read a Junichi Mizuno’s poem of Hiroshima, “Please Walk Quietly,” which was translated into English by Kazuko Ichikawa.

The poet asks people to walk quietly with care in Hiroshima where numerous people were killed. The poem seemed to come home to these visiting POWs’ hearts. So, wherever they were, they kindly walked quietly, whispering to each other, “Quietly, quietly with care…”

Ms. Keiko Homes was honored by Queen Elizabeth II for her distinguished deed of making efforts to comfort the former British POWs. “We have many Keikos here. Would all the Keikos pose in a row for a photo?” At the request of the press, Keiko Homes, another Keiko in the group and I stood in front of the camera. Keiko Homes said close to my ear, “The former British POWs believe that they are the ones who suffered most during World War II. You should come over to tell your story in the UK.” At her words, I felt she was very close to me though we first met each other on that day.

Former British POWs, their families and bereaved families (in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims)