Michiko Harada put on a blue air-raid hat and apron Tuesday just as she might have done as a 6-year-old living in Nagasaki, Japan. The 76-year-old shared her story as a Hibakusha — or atomic bomb survivor — at the University of Minnesota campus to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the World War II bomb drop in Japan and to spread her message of peace.
More than 80 people listened to Harada describe how she lived after the bombing while others were not so fortunate.
“Everything in Nagasaki changed at that moment of 11:02 a.m., August 9,” she said.
At age 6, Harada remembers playing outside with her siblings and friends when a flash of light surrounded them. They thought it was safe to venture outside because the air raid had been lifted, said Harada, speaking through a translator.
“I felt like I was swallowed up in the whiteness,” she said. Her family ran to a nearby air raid shelter, but her grandfather and father, who were at work at the family factory, were nowhere to be found.
As soon as she stepped out of the shelter, Harada said, fire consumed her surroundings.
“We could hear the crackling of flames,” she said. “The whole city was a sea of flames.”
Harada later found out her grandfather and father were alive. When her father returned, he said he had seen blackened bodies begging him for water. Her father would die at age 50 from the radiation he experienced, she said.
Tuesday was the first time Harada had shared her story in the United States. Her visit was made possible with the help of the St. Paul Nagasaki Sister City Committee and the U’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The cities of St. Paul and Nagasaki are celebrating their 60th anniversary of sisterhood.
Caren Stelson, a St. Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee member, said many of the atomic bomb survivors are getting too old to tell their stories, so it was important to have Harada share hers now.
“I was wondering as I was listening to her, in 10 to 20 years from now, what will happen to those stories,” she said.
After working in health care and seeing the effect of the bombing in Japan, Harada dedicated her life to advocating for peace.
She said she would like the world to think about how to live a peaceful life.
“We must never fight wars,” she said. “War is a foolish thing.”
Harada lost many family and friends to the atomic bomb. She was concerned about how the exposure to radiation would affect her health through the years.
She said she breathed a sigh of relief when her children were born without any problems caused by her exposure.
Before arriving at the U on Tuesday, Harada spent her day at the Capitol Hill Magnet School in St. Paul speaking about the bomb with students. On Wednesday, she will speak at Hamline University.
Eric Suter, a U senior studying Asian language and literature, said he found Harada’s story and message of peace to be powerful.
Joining Harada as she addressed the audience was Masanobu Chita, director of the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb. The organization has held exhibits around the world since 2005 to document and to bring attention to the effect of the bomb on Japan. The Hiroshima Nagasaki Peace Exhibition is now on display at the Landmark Center in St. Paul.
As the presentation came to a close, Chita handed out tiny paper cranes to the room.
The origami cranes, Chita said, are symbols of peace.