A-bomb still haunts Japan’s survivors
Ayako Ishii was 19 when she fell in love for the first time. But it was not to be, for the same reason her many subsequent attempts to find love failed.
When the flower-arranging teacher’s family found out Ishii was from Hiroshima, they stopped the young couple’s relationship in its tracks.
“There are many things I could have said, but I didn’t, as my heart was closed and I was resigned,” said Ishii (78).
Those who survived the August 6 1945 atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima were completely transformed by it. They were harmed not only physically but mentally too, long before post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was even a diagnosis. Many lost relatives – sometimes all of them. They were stigmatised by people who were scared that the radiation they were exposed to could cause disease and birth defects.
Many grew old with no one to care for them, which is why Ishii’s nursing home, Mutsumi-en, or the Garden of Amity, opened in 1970. About 600 Hiroshima survivors live in four nursing homes intended just for them.
“This place is where people marked with the same scar huddle together,” said Dr Nanao Kamata, director of the organisation that runs the nursing homes.
“What we can do is give them a chance to live an easy and happy life when they come here.”
Ishii was nine when the atomic bomb exploded about 2km from her home. She was thrown the distance of three houses by the blast, but suffered only minor cuts. Her family survived as well, but that did not matter to potential suitors and their families years later.
When she approached 30, she concluded she was not going to find a husband or have children.
She decided she needed to support herself, and landed a job as a telephone company operator – a coveted job for women at that time.
After retiring, she came to Mutsumi-en, where, she said, she found peace. She joins music sessions at the home and goes on outings, including to her favourite hot springs in Hiroshima.
The home, a five-storey concrete building, is drab on the outside, but inside photographs and calligraphy done by the residents cover the walls. A hanging decoration of