Interview with Mrs. Keiko Ogura

Keiko Ogura was eight years old in 1945 when she witnessed the aftermath of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Her family home was just a few kilometers away from the centre of the explosion. We put out a call on Facebook to crowdsource questions related to her experiences in 1945 and how that has affected her life and work. The following questions were received.

Soumaya: Could you describe what happened to you on 6 August 1945?

I was eight years old, a second-year student at the National School. When the atomic bomb was dropped I was in Ushita Town, 2.4km north of the hypocenter. One of my older brothers, a fifth-year elementary student, had been evacuated, and my other older brother, a junior high school student, was involved in agricultural work north of Hiroshima Station as a mobilized student. My father had said: "Something doesn't feel right. Don't go to school today.” So I was all alone on the road on the north side of our house.

Suddenly, I was engulfed in a dazzling flash of light, and the tremendous blast that followed slammed me to the ground. The straw roofs of the neighbouring houses burst into flames. When I went back to the house, I found that everything inside was destroyed, the ceiling and roof tiles had been blown away, and the doors and window panes were shattered into hundreds of pieces and sticking out of the walls and pillars. But thankfully my family inside the house only suffered minor injuries.

Rain started to fall immediately after that. I went outside, and my clothes were dampened by the sticky black rain.

My brother finally came home, with burns on his face and hands. He said: "Hiroshima is a sea of fire.” I went outside to look at the city from the hill.

It was then that I came across a line of people, their clothes in tatters, with burns, seriously injured, fleeing the city. These people had charred hair, faces and lips swollen and blackened with soot, and they were covered in blood. Most of the people in this silent procession of ghost-like figures were soldiers or students; some of them ended up bent over and others lay down on the stone steps along the road. The whole area was filled with seriously injured people on the brink of death.

I found out later that the reason that people were fleeing up there was that the area around the nearby shrine was being used as an emergency aid station. However there was no sign of anyone who looked like a doctor, just one soldier with a bucket, applying something like zinc oxide oil to the injured with a brush. After that, seriously injured people died every day, and were carried to the park, which was being used as a temporary site for cremating the dead. My father and members from the civil defence unit cremated more than seven hundred corpses.

As I was walking someone on the ground suddenly grabbed my ankle. From around my feet, a weak voice said "Give me water". A woman covered in soot and blood was clinging to me desperately. I ran home, got some water from our well, and carried it to the dying people. Immediately after drinking the water, a number of those people suddenly slumped, and died right before my eyes. Shocked and trembling with fear, I regretted giving them water. I was so young, I did not know that it was said at the time that we were not supposed to give water to people with serious burns. I vowed never to tell anyone about what happened that day. My memory of that day remained with me as a nightmare even decades later.

My half-collapsed home was crowded with injured relatives, friends and neighbors. My older sister was crying as she removed with tweezers shards of glass that were stuck in my uncle's back. Flames had spread to the mountain behind our house, and Hiroshima continued to burn throughout the night.

On August 7, I looked down over the city again. Burnt ruins spread as far as the eye could see, and I could pick out the remains of a number of buildings including the department store Fukuya and the former Chugoku Shimbun building. The sea that I could see beyond that felt so close that I could touch it. Smoke from cremations rose up from the park nearby. From that day, I climbed those stone steps every day and continued to gaze over the city of Hiroshima.

Over the past thirty years, I have interpreted the testimonies of various atomic bomb survivors (hibakusha) on the one hand, while on the other communicating my own experience in English to the people of the world. I do this because I do not want humankind to ever again experience the horror caused by nuclear weapons. I know that retribution and hatred mean nothing under that mushroom cloud, and that all the people of the world share the same fate.

Samuel: What effects did the event have on your life and how did you manage them?

Patrizia: What do you think helped you to survive?

At the beginning, I worried about the effect of radiation to our health. For example, giving birth and the effects that may be carried on to children, because the atomic bomb was different from any other weapons.

The biggest tragedy of the atomic bomb is that the never-ending fear of its effect on our children and grandchildren. That is why Japanese people have a tendency to hide the fact of being a bomb survivor, as we are afraid that telling a truth may have some negative impact on our grandchildren. Parents are always suspicious of the radiation effect.

Although all family members have some fears or doubts, we never discuss them openly.  This year, I decided to meet up with my old classmates to talk about our individual experiences for the first time. It will take place next week. I haven’t seen them for over ten years.

Some people were injured. Some people lost their family members. We are going to talk about many things. But again, we have never talked before. Not being able to talk about it is one of the effects of the atomic bomb.

Personally, I decided to disclose my experience to foreigners who were far from my home. Being discriminated against was the biggest fear. If people didn’t know my family, relatives or community, it was much easier for me to speak out. I believe, telling our stories is a contribution to peace in the world.

We can tell people that the use of atomic bombs has terrible humanitarian consequences. Nevertheless, we are fearful of being excluded from our communities and societies. In reality, people I know experienced this kind of discrimination because their stories were published in newspapers.

Our stories involve our loved ones; we want everyone on the earth to understand. Everyone in our family was affected. The big concern was that we may not be able to have healthy babies. If babies have a disability, people would see it as an effect of the radiation.

Personally, I have two traumas.  Firstly, I gave water to  survivors when I was not supposed to. A lot of people were happy when I gave them water, but they soon died. I blamed myself for a long time. The trauma did not disappear even when I got older. I was devastated that everyone else knew that we should not give water to victims.

I kept my secret for a long time, but one day – decades later – I told my friend for the first time.  When I finally told someone, my suffering lessened. I conquered my hardship. It is awful not to be able to tell everyone. The terror of the atomic bombs must be told. I overcame my problem by sharing with others. I believe that it is the best way to end suffering.

Most survivors have hidden stories for a long time. Children died, but they survived. They wonder why they couldn’t save the others. However, forgetting is not the way to conquer suffering. Rather, they need to think about reasons why they survived and tell people why they survived. This is important. Many victims in despair overcame their problems by drawing, writing a poem and telling their stories.

The most extreme case was that people even stepped on others when trying to get out of danger. These kind of memories keeps coming back. Everyone’s agony is that they survived but couldn’t save others.

A lot of victims came to our home in pain. Some people were in terrible state. Outside my house was the same and we lost a sense of empathy. We were terrified but could pass the pile of dead bodies. I was a child who lived in a hell but still ate to maintain my own life. How could I be so insensitive? My old self scares me. My mind was forced to be numb and this is my second trauma.

Adolfo: What has been your greatest achievement in the fight to eliminate of nuclear weapons?

To be honest, I don’t feel we are getting good results. It is terribly difficult to reduce nuclear weapons. That’s why on 6 August every year, I stand by the river to reflect what I have done in the past years and think about people who died due to the atomic bomb.

I can’t believe how long it takes to agree on the disarmament of nuclear weapons. To us, it is meaningless to discuss the number of nuclear weapons that shall be eliminated. They must be eliminated completely all together. Under this circumstance, however, we have never been given up calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. We can say this is the fruit.  It is much more compelling to listen to  survivors who tell their experience of being exposed to radiation, shivering in fear, than to read books or see photos. It is crucial to talk to people face to face.

Usually, people do not want to listen to our stories, but the number of foreign visitors to Hiroshima is increasing. I want more people to come here.

Children from countries with nuclear weapons should be taught about the humanitarian consequences of them.

But those who engaged in the process of producing nuclear weapons are also victims. They are exposed to radiation when digging out uranium. Some have told me that all workers at uranium mines were exposed to radiation, but were never been told the risk. They share their stories with me because I am a survivor too.

People who experienced the terror of Rwanda genocide came to Hiroshima, and people from the Middle East. They come to find out how we overcame psychological trauma or reconstructed the city. They can learn from Hiroshima.

The doctors from Three Miles Island and Chernobyl come to learn about medical treatment and how to reconstruct towns. We get questions on healing psychological trauma and on overcoming  hatred towards another country. 70 years ago, we had little to eat. We struggled with hunger and the fear of radiation. We lived desperately day by day. And that is why we can relate to pains of people around the world who went through similar terrifying experiences.

Mike: What would you recommend an average person could do to help the cause of nuclear disarmament?

I would like the world to stand up for the disarmament of nuclear weapons. I do not believe we can justify the cruelty of nuclear weapons.

I tell my story to those who says nuclear weapons are need them to promote security. It is widely recognized that nuclear weapons would bring humanitarian disaster. We must learn from history – not only of your own but other –. We must know of the history of nations so we know what made that country wage war. We should have a dialogue with those come from different countries. I would like high school and university students to join this discussion. We would then understand why the value differs from country to country. We would discover what we have in common through such discussions.

We are all equal in front of nuclear weapons.


Kate: Do you believe we will ever be a nuclear weapons free world? What needs to happen for this to become a reality?

How we react to potential conflict is important, but we must know at what point people start making wrong choices. When telling my story to students, I try to reach out to each person. If they then discuss the issue with friends, the message will be dispersed. Try to talk to someone close to you.

Imagination is key. It is important to empathize with people affected by disaster, imagine how they survived, how they suffered. I want the young people to be caring. Those who are rich in imagination can related to others’ pain easily.

Knowing what happens to others is also important. Indifference is like a weapon, I think.

I also think that media and education can play critical roles. Our fate was dominated by  the media during the second world war. We believed Japan would win the war. Teachers also made us believe that dying at war is a devotion to our country and is a beautiful thing. Education turned to indoctrination at some point. Thus, education is also critical.