Japan’s dark secret: Why are locals traveling to share heartbreaking stories?

Locals in Japan are traveling the country armed with tales of sadness, resilience, and peace. Source: Shutterstock.

THE US HAS USED nuclear weapons as warfare, but only twice, and the world hasn’t forgotten.

During the final stages of World War II, Japanese cities Nagasaki and Hiroshima were obliterated by atomic bombs. The first was set off on Aug 6, 1945, and the second three days later. The bombings left death and destruction in its wake, killing at least 129,000 people, most of whom were civilians.

Many others perished due to radiation and illness.

But the devastating moment in history did more than just wipe out most of the cities and murder in cold blood. It also left a handful of survivors with horrific scars and stories.

Nagasaki and Hiroshima have started training these survivors, known as hibakushas (literally translates as “explosion-affected people” to refer to people who were exposed to radiation from the bombings), to become storytellers.

As of March 2017, the official average age of the hibakushas was 81.41.

Hibakushas and their children were, and still are, victims of severe discrimination, especially when it comes to seeking marriage or work, due to public ignorance about radiation and radiation sickness.

This is despite the fact that no differences were found (in frequencies of birth defects, stillbirths, etc.) among the children born to survivors.

To date, there are about 100 storytellers in total, and these locals tour the country to share their heartbreaking testimonies. Their travels include talks at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, where they pass on tales of sadness, resilience, and peace.

As it turns out, everybody wants a piece of their history, with 180 requests for storytellers to give talks in universities, schools, and other organized events in Japan.

As such, Japan’s Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry has allocated JPY30 million (US$280,000) in the draft of the 2018 budget to help share the storytellers’ messages with not only Japan but also the world.

The government will also conduct English lessons to prepare those planning to talk overseas.

Source: Shutterstock.

On another note, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has been actively promoting Hiroshima via “peace tourism” campaigns to draw attention to sites related to the nuclear devastation.

The program is designed to encourage tourists to learn more about the bombing, not to gain sympathy but to remind people of the darker, war-torn times in Japan and the cruelties of war, in hopes of promoting peace. Some ruins that were left standing near ground zero, such as the Genbaku Dome (commonly called the Atomic Bomb Dome or A-Bomb Dome), have been preserved and are still there today.

In 2016, nearly two million people visited the city, a 3.2-fold jump from about 360,000 in 2012.