Shigeko Sasamori was only 14 years old when an atomic bomb exploded two miles away from her in Hiroshima, Japan. On April 11, she visited Kenyon and shared her life story to a rapt audience in the Gund Gallery’s Community Foundation Theater.
At the event, sponsored by the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Sasamori maintained a conversational and personal tone. She described the audience as her “grandchildren” and said that she chose to talk standing up instead of sitting behind a table because she wanted to see everyone in the audience.
Sasamori started by describing August 6, 1945 — the day the bomb dropped — as a beautiful, normal day. She remembers hearing a plane flying above and looking up to a blue sky to admire the shining aircraft. Just minutes later, she heard a loud explosion and felt a strong force.
“I don’t know how long I was unconscious. When I became conscious, I looked around but I could not hear or feel anything. It was very dark; I could not see anything,” Sasamori said. She found herself surrounded by hundreds of injured people. Looking at the direction of the river, there was no sign of water; she only saw floating bodies.
The first thing she heard when she regained her hearing was a baby’s cry. Barely standing and not knowing what to do, Sasamori tried walking back home.
That day, Sasamori suffered severe burns, and the radiation also caused intestinal cancer. She later came to America for treatment as one of the Hiroshima Maidens — a group of 25 Japanese women who were school-age when they were injured because of the atomic bomb.
Sasamori has used her story ever since to advocate against the use of such violent weapons. In 2008, she was a panelist on the Treaty of Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations. During her talk at Kenyon, she stressed the importance of communication and storytelling in advocating for denuclearization.
She also expressed her desire for the younger generation to work toward world peace by urging governments to avoid using destructive weapons.
When an audience member asked if she ever received a formal apology from the American government, Sasamori noted that she didn’t want one. “Instead of an apology, let’s do something so the same thing doesn’t happen again,” she said. “We have to be all together.”
At the end of the hour, she received a standing ovation from an audience touched by her story.