On The Anniversary Of The Atomic Bomb, One Woman Shares Her Powerful Story

Photo: Courtesy of Miyako Taguchi.
Miyako Taguchi with her mother, an atomic-bomb survivor. Miyako tells Refinery29 she had to leave her home in Nagasaki in order to speak out about the tragedy of that day.
This story was originally published on August 9, 2015.

On August 9, 1945, the United States military dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. An estimated 70,000 people died, many of them burned alive. The attack came just three days after the bombing of Hiroshima that left an estimated 140,000 people dead.

Less than a week after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Japanese government surrendered, formally ending World War II. The dropping of both bombs ushered in the nuclear age and the arms race between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

To this day, researchers still do not know the true number of victims of the atomic bombings — although they estimate that nearly all were civilians and fewer than 150 Japanese soldiers were killed.

For decades, many of the families who survived that day found it too painful to share their stories. The shame and scars of being a "bomb-affected person" — known in Japanese as hibakusha — were too great.

Artist Miyako Taguchi is a second-generation survivor from Nagasaki. Both of her parents survived the bombing but never spoke about their experiences. Miyako says she believed the cost of not relating her family's experiences is too great — so she left Japan. She shared her story with Refinery29 from New York, where she now lives.

How did you learn about that day: August 9, 1945?

"Both my mother's family and my father's family were survivors of the bombing of Nagasaki. When the bomb hit, my father was 17 years old and my mother was 12 years old.

"My father didn't want to tell me what happened, so I had to find out from my mother and from my father's sister, my aunt. I began putting the pieces together.

"My father had been working in the shipyard, but he was home that day because he had injured his leg. If he had gone to work that day, he would have been closer to the epicenter and may have died. When the bomb hit, people didn't know what was happening. They were crazy with fear and they didn't know what to do. People were screaming, people were dying, everything was shaking, and everything was black.

"People did what they were supposed to do — they tried to go into the bomb shelters, but the shelters didn't have enough space. They didn't expect that all the people would need to escape at the same time. So my father, his friend, and his friend's family walked for three or four days to a place they had in the country. He escaped with them."
Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images.
Dr. Nagai, a medical instructor and x-ray specialist at Nagasaki Hospital, was a victim of atomic radiation caused by the bombing of Nagasaki. He died a few days after this photo was taken.
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What does your mother remember about that day?
"My mother would never have talked about it if I hadn't asked. She never talks about the whole story. And when I keep asking her questions, she says, 'Stop'; she doesn't want to remember anymore. But six years ago, when I got involved with Hibakusha Stories, I told her how important it was that she share her story. Now she talks more than before, but it is still very painful.

"Imagine you are digging for a potato, and then you find others; it's the same way with memories. I ask her one question, but in her memory, so much more comes to the surface than that one question. It's very hard and terrible, because I am basically torturing my mother when I ask her these questions. I feel my mother's pain and I want to stop, but I know I cannot stop now. I am digging further and further, I want to know more detail. I want to know her experience, her feelings in detail, so that I can feel what she felt as a 12-year-old girl surviving that day. But I know it hurts her to talk about it."

I felt I couldn't breathe or live in Japan. I just felt something blooming inside of me. But everyone was trying to stop me and telling me that I was wrong.

Miyako Taguchi, Second-Generation Atomic Bomb Survivor
How did the bombing affect your life and your family?
"I asked the same question of my mother, because both she and my father were victims of the nuclear bomb, they were both hibakusha. My mother and my father were an arranged marriage, and at the beginning, my mother didn't like him at all. But it was after the war, and they were trying to figure out how to survive, and one way was to get married so my grandfather wouldn't have to feed my mother anymore. Even though my grandfather was a teacher and he had high standards, they had to survive. And so even though my mother and her family didn't like my father, she had to marry him.

"When I was little, I wanted to see my parents together, but as I grew up, I began to realize my mother was deeply unhappy. It had been a big question ever since I was little when my mother and father were together and they didn't get along.

"After I grew up, I realized that it wasn't just their relationship, it was the war and the atomic bombing and what was happening in Japan at the time. When I was 20 years old, I began to see the whole picture. I tried to help my mother because I was her child, and I had deep sympathy for her.

"The second-generation survivors faced discrimination also. I remember when I was 18 years old and working at a new company, my colleague went to see her boyfriend's family in another state, away from Nagasaki. And when she came back, they had broken up because his parents did not approve of their engagement because she came from Nagasaki and was a second-generation survivor of the bomb."
Photo: PhotoQuest/Getty Images.
An injured mother and her son walk the day after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan, on August 10, 1945. An estimated 70,000 people were killed in the bombing.
Why did you choose to speak out?
"I started because I felt that I have a responsibility to speak out as a second-generation survivor and as a human being about how immoral these nuclear bombings were, and how immoral the possession of nuclear bombs today is.

"But my father and my grandfather, they didn't complain to the government. I think in a way, it's because the Japanese are so polite. It's something that is a good thing and that is also sometimes not a good thing, because they don't know how to share their thoughts or hopes or wishes.

"Even I thought like this. In Japan, I didn't have my own voice. My father always told me to be quiet, and they taught me not to have an opinion or share it. I felt that, because I am an artist, I needed to find my own voice. I felt I couldn't breathe or live in Japan. People are always saying how you are supposed to live, and I didn't want to be that. I just felt something blooming inside of me. But everyone was trying to stop me and telling me that I was wrong.

"So I came here to Philadelphia to go to college, and I realized that this place was something I had wanted for a long time. I learned the American way to speak out. I only learned how to say something and express my opinion since I came here.

"In Japan, the group's opinion is more important than the individual opinion. In Japan, I couldn't be an artist. I didn't feel that way, I couldn't have those cookie-cutter opinions. I wish more Japanese young people could find how to express their thoughts and opinions and not be as cookie cutter as Japanese culture insists from us.

it was after the war....one way to survive was to get married so my grandfather wouldn't have to feed my mother anymore.

miyako taguchi, Second-Generation atomic bomb survivor
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"It suits me, being here, because I found my own voice and my own way to live. I am not only here to speak out for nuclear abolition, I am trying to grow into the person that I wanted to be ever since I was a child."

What do you want Americans to know about the atomic bomb?
"Americans definitely have to remember the victims of the atomic bombs more. When I am with my peace-activist friends, I feel they are interested, but when I go back to my own daily life, no one cares. No one thinks they need to do something, but they don't understand how threatened our lives are. It's a serious issue, not only that nuclear bombs still exist but the by-product of that technology, nuclear power.

"We don't know how to deal with the risks of nuclear power. After the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant [a 2011 catastrophe that caused the meltdown of three out of six of the nuclear plant's reactors], they still don't know the answer of how to clean it up. And when I think about the fact that human beings are smart enough to develop so many things, if we don't know how to clean up disasters at nuclear plants, we should just stop using them. We know how dangerous it is, so how can we use this and do this to our children? I believe that if we change our focus, we can have another, cleaner energy source than nuclear power."
Photo: Courtesy of Miyako Taguchi.
Miyako's artwork symbolizing her conflict with her father, an atomic bomb survivor who, she said, raised her to be quiet and obedient and not to speak out about what had happened in Nagasaki.
What is your message to young people?
"I want to see us build true peace, not temporary peace. The most important thing for me is nuclear abolition. It's very difficult, but I believe we have to get rid of nuclear weapons if we are going to get rid of the wars. We have countries fighting with each other, countries fighting over which bomb you have and which bomb I have. That fighting is not right, it is immoral.

"I want young people to know that they can do something. When I speak as part of the Hibakusha Stories group, people tell me they feel that there is nothing they can do. I grew up thinking that way also.

"But everyone can do something, and that's using your heart to tell these people's stories. Individual stories touch people more than a history book ever could. But we don't often hear the personal story. We hear about the number of people who died, the statistics. But not the experience of the person.

"So everyone needs to keep talking, to keep sharing. Share it with your younger sister, or your parents, or the person sitting next to you — that is a good start."

Editor's note: Refinery29 extends a special thanks to Robert Croonquist and Hibakusha Stories, who helped connect us with Miyako Taguchi.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Taguchi began speaking out because she wanted to complain to the Japanese government. Taguchi clarifies she started to speak out because she felt the bombings and the development of nuclear weapons were immoral around the world.
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