In celebration of the Sept. 21 United Nations International Day of Peace, the Northfield community hosted four "hibakusha," atomic bombing survivors, who ranged in age from five to 16 at the time of the bombing in Hiroshima. In a program entitled "Voices of the Past/Voices of the Future: The Human Cost of Nuclear War," the survivors Kimoyoji Kawasaki, Juno Kayashige, Tadahiko Murata and Miyako Yano shared their stories and called for nuclear disarmament and peace. Muratas account of the bombing began with a pretend game of "war" under a summer sun that suddenly plunged into darkness. He recounts a flash and resounding boom, the infamous "pikadon" (flash-boom), and being swept into his neighbors house from the explosions shockwave.
Though he miraculously suffered only a five-by-10 centimeter burn, his sister Setsu was not so fortunate.
"The left side of her body was a burning mass dripping down to her fingertips," Murata remembered. "Her hair was standing on end. She didnt look like a human being."
In the end, Murata lost his mother and all three sisters in the aftermath of the bomb.
"I want to say that the experiences we underwent couldnt happen again," Murata said. "We all need to work together to think what we need to do to save this beautiful planet for our children, grandchildren and generations to come."
Yano, who spoke during chapel at St. Olaf Monday, stayed home sick from student mobilization activities on the day of the bombing, which saved her life: all 654 of her schoolmates died instantly in the explosion.
"Every day I worked burning the corpses of the dead with my uncle," Yano said. "For quite some time I did not perceive myself as a victim of the atomic bomb."
It was not until four years later that she was finally diagnosed with radiation poisoning.
"As a victim I cannot keep silent as we work around the world to get rid of nuclear weapons, depleted uranium and nuclear waste," Yano said.
For Kayashige, whose face and arm were badly burned from the blast, coming to terms with what happened and looking to the future was also a gradual process.
"All through childhood I didnt want to talk about it. I pretended that it never happened," Kayashige said. "When I became a teacher, I knew I had to teach peace and began to be able to speak about it."
The mental, physical and emotional scars run deep in the Hiroshima survivors. They have devoted their lives to telling their stories around the world in hopes of fostering peace and understanding for the future.
"We atomic bomb victims are getting older and will not be able to travel the world speaking to people much longer, so our opportunities to speak to you are very limited," Murata concluded, referring to the dwindling population of roughly 260,000 hibakusha remaining in Japan. "We can die happily if we know people are working together and nuclear weapons can one day be eliminated."