HIROSHIMA, Japan — Hiromi Hasai was being trained to make machine gun bullets when the flash from the atomic bomb that destroyed his city lit up the already bright morning sky. Just 14, he had been pulled from school a week before to help Japan’s failing war effort.
Mr. Hasai, now 84, has often talked publicly of his experiences that day, 70 years ago Thursday, when the first of the only two nuclear weapons ever used in war ultimately killed more than 100,000 people. The victims included hundreds of his classmates, who were still at their school near the blast’s epicenter. The bullet factory, 10 miles out of town, was paradoxically a haven.
On Sept. 8, 1945, about a month after the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare was dropped by the United States, an Allied correspondent stood in the rubble in front of the shell of a building that was once an exhibition center and government office in Hiroshima, Japan.Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Revives Debate Over the Atomic BombAUG. 5, 2015
Yet the things that Mr. Hasai saw and felt that day are not recounted by him alone. The person who knows his story best, after Mr. Hasai himself, is Ritsuko Kinoshita, a woman 25 years his junior who is serving as his “denshosha” — the designated transmitter of his memories. It is part of an unusual and highly personal project to preserve and pass on the experiences of atomic bomb survivors, whose numbers are dwindling rapidly.
Mr. Hasai, a retired university physics researcher with a quick and infectious laugh, is still healthy, as are many of the survivors. But the object for Ms. Kinoshita and roughly 50 other volunteer denshosha is to keep telling the stories they have inherited once the witnesses become too frail to do so, to keep alive memories of a traumatic event that has anchored the pacifist sentiment that has pervaded the country ever since.
Professor Kawanishi called the denshosha project, supported by the city-funded museum, an attempt to preserve some of the moral and emotional influences wielded by those with direct experience of the bomb. Although many survivors have left records of their experiences in memoirs and documentaries, which are widely available to the public, they often end up treated as dry historical records.
So far that experiment is a small one. Ms. Kinoshita, a former tour guide, has known Mr. Hasai for nearly 20 years, since she began giving volunteer tours at the Peace Memorial Museum in her spare time. But the museum did not start recruiting formal denshosha until 2011. So far 13 bomb survivors have agreed to be paired with one or more denshosha, who are required to spend at least three years shadowing and meeting with the survivor before telling their stories in public. One of the survivors has since died.
Ms. Kinoshita and Mr. Hasai say they have faced criticism from survivors not involved in the project, who question whether someone who did not experience the bomb directly can claim to speak for those who did. Others say such a role should be reserved for family members. Some denshosha are children of the survivors, but many are not, and children are not always willing or able to be public representatives of their parents’ suffering.
“I’ve been told more than once that I have no right to tell their stories,” Ms. Kinoshita said, before leaving to guide a group of high school students around the Atomic Bomb Dome, armed with Mr. Hasai’s memories. When she speaks to groups in the museum’s lecture halls, she says, she shows them a PowerPoint presentation based largely on his recollections.
“There are all kinds of records, but how many people actually seek them out?” he said. “The freshest memories are stuck in an archive.”