From Hiroshima to New York: Survivors of the 1945 A-Bombing of Hiroshima Discuss Their Experiences, Paper Cranes & 9/11

From Hiroshima to New York: Survivors of the 1945 A-Bombing of Hiroshima Discuss Their Experiences, Paper Cranes & 9/11

On June 13, 2009, Masahiro Sasaki and Tsugio Ito discussed their memories of the bombing of Hiroshima and its meaning and impact on their lives with a group of teachers visiting from New York. 

Mr. Sasaki, who was four years old when the bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945, did not suffer any injuries.  However, his sister, Sadako, developed leukemia and passed away 10 years later at the age of 12.  Sadako, who became one of the inspirations for the anti-nuclear movement in Japan, has had versions of her story chronicled in many books, including the popular children's picture book Sadako and 1000 Cranes.  Mr. Sasaki tells the story of his sister and its meaning, and shares one of the cranes his sister made, in this lecture.

Mr. Ito, who was ten years old at the time of the bombing, lost his older brother shortly after the bomb fell.  Tragically, on September 11, 2001, Mr. Ito lost his oldest son in the attacks on the World Trade Center.  Speaking publicly about these events for only the second time in his life, Mr. Ito shares these stories and their meaning to him.

Thought Questions:
1.  How have Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Ito dealt with tragedy and loss?
2.  What do you think their motivation is for sharing these stories? What do you think their messges are?
3.  How might the ages of Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Ito influence their memories of Hiroshima and its aftermath?
4.  If you could ask Mr. Sasaki or Mr. Ito a question, what would it be?  Why? (Please share it below.)

We would like to acknowledge the Tribute WTC Visitor Center for their cooperation in making these resources available.

Additional Resources
Hibakusha Testimony as Oral History: Thoughts for Teachers by James Orr.
Essay providing insight into ways to approach and discuss atomic bomb survivors' testimonies in the classroom.

"Hiroshima: History, City, Event" by Scott O'Bryan
Brief article placing the bombing of Hiroshima within the larger context of the history of the city.

Globablizing Peace Teachers Toolkit
Interviews with Mr. Sasaki and Mr. Ito with associated teaching materials from the Tibute WTC Vistor Center Website.

Orr, James.  The Victim as Hero: Ideologies of Peace and National Identity in Postwar Japan.  University of Hawaii Press, 2001.
This book analyzes the development of the anti-nuclear movement in Japan, placing the story of Sadako and the thousand paper cranes within a broader historical context.

Coerr, Eleanor.  Sadako and the thousand paper cranes.  Putnam Juvenile, 1999. 
Picture book depicting a slightly fictionalized account of the story of Sadako that is very popular with elementary school students.


Masahiro Sasaki

The size of Sadako’s paper cranes changed from this size to much smaller ones. Perhaps you know that it’s very hard to make small paper cranes. Sadako couldn’t sit up in bed so she folded small paper cranes while lying in bed using a needle during her last days. Her final creations are displayed at the memorial hall so I would like you to take a close look at them. Since you’ve traveled all the way from New York, I would like to show you her last creation here. This is the final paper crane made by Sadako. Please feel free to hold it with your hands. This will be your last chance [to see it]. Please do not hesitate. Imagine how she felt when she was folding the last paper crane.

I currently have 5 small paper cranes that were left by Sadako. I am planning to donate a paper crane to each of the 5 continents. 1 of the 5 paper cranes is at the NYC 9/11 Tribute Center. America is the first country where I donated Sadako’s paper crane. In addition, the color of the paper crane in New York is deep red. The red of the paper crane is the color of the wrapping of Methotrexate (MTX), the medicine that was provided by America for treatment. I find this connection significant. Sadako will live with us forever through her paper cranes. Sadako’s paper cranes are known as a symbol of peace by children and adults all over the world. From now on, I am calling Sadako’s cranes “NEGAIZURU”. You can also call it “INORIZURU”. From now on when you present a paper crane think about what you’re wishing for and praying for night now. This was how Sadako spent her days battling her illness.

Finally, I would like to mention that there is no 12 year old who can tolerate such psychological, physical, and economical pain. Sadako never owned anything she wanted. Nowadays, one can have anything they want as a child. After hearing her story, I would like children her age to realize how fortunate they are.

Lastly, since we are running out of time, I would like to talk about my experiences of travelling the world sharing Sadako’s story. In 2004, I went to Vienna, Austria. I talked about Sadako at the Central Library. There were children and adults in the audience. As I talked about Sadako they cried for her. A question and answer session followed my presentation. A moment that made a deep impression on me was when a boy, perhaps Sadako’s age asked me a question.
He asked, “Which country dropped the atomic bomb?”

I answered like this: “It has been more than 50 years since the atomic bomb was dropped. God has healed our soul not by focusing on who dropped it or who suffered from it, but by giving us a long period of time. So I have forgotten the country that dropped the atomic bomb.”

Later, at the reception party, one of the staff from the Education Ministry of Austria said to me, “I was eager to hear how you were going to respond to the question. I was surprised, impressed, and touched by your answer.”

Sadako’s spirit should give people reasons to think, not to have prejudices. I would like people to think about Sadako’s story in their own way. Sadako’s true spirit, which I heard there is no equivalent in English can be described as “OMOIYARI” in Japanese. During the 8-month battle against her illness, she gave her family her dear heart filled with “OMOIYARI”. I will continue to speak about Sadako; my first goal will be to connect spiritually with people through my presentations. For example, I am a HIBAKUSHA myself, and we all have different perspectives. I will not contradict other opinions of other HIBAKUSHA. My approach is not to be judgmental, in other words, to start by listening carefully.

In 2004, I also went to Seattle, Washington. As I have just said, there are different views among HIBAKUSHA. But my goal is to be able to connect with anyone spiritually.

I believe you will share this feeling. If we only insist on the damage we had from the atomic bomb, in America, people will ask, “Who started the war?” “Didn’t Japan attack Pearl Harbor first?”

This argument leaves no room for finding common ground. In order to find a common ground for understanding, I believe that God has led us to let go of the past. I will continue to hold this belief. Before finding a common ground, I hope to discuss how we can provide a beautiful future for our children, and how adults and children should live in order to achieve it. Everything about war is evil. Both nuclear and smaller weapons are evil. I would like to discuss how to eliminate this evil in the future.
Thank you.

Tsugio Ito:

I was 10 years old when the atomic bomb dropped. My deceased brother was 12, in his 1st year of junior high school. His school was hundreds of meters from here. In the entrance of the school, there is still a memorial statue of my brother and others. Every year, on the last Sunday of July, a memorial ceremony is held for them to this day. This was my first experience of Ground Zero.

When the atomic bomb was dropped, my brother was in his classroom. He was getting instructions for the schedule of the day. Usually, it would have been summer vacation but as it was during the war, junior high and elementary school students didn’t have vacation. Since he was in the classroom, my brother didn’t get any burns. However, he found himself under the collapsed school building. He crawled from underneath it by himself. He told me that he had no idea how long it took him to get out. When he crawled out, the place was surrounded by flames. I heard he was able to save some of his classmates, but eventually, the fire grew larger, and his own safety was at risk. He had to escape while leaving cries, “Help me! Help me!” behind him. He was very upset and regretful that he couldn’t save his friends. When he was evacuating, he ran nearby the school swimming pool. In the pool, there were many burnt students. Some bodies were already under the water. Their cries, “Help me! Help me!’ coming from the pool remained ringing in his ear. There were many students lying on the ground, too. He regretted that he could not do a thing for them. Feeling incredible sadness, he returned home, 12 kilometers from school.

Fortunately, he found a neighbor with a bicycle to give him a ride. Apparently, he collapsed as he came into our entrance. My mother told me this because I was not home at the time. A doctor was called immediately but could not identify the cause of the illness. For several days, my brother was very ill, but from August 14th or 15th, he became better. We were all happy and relieved. We began to play together with our friends again.

It was summer and we were all wearing straw hats. When my brother took off his hat after coming home, his hair was stuck inside the hat. I touched the hair on his head, and his hair also stuck to my hand. My mother saw this and decided to shave his head. She told me that his head was extremely soft. I don’t recall how many days later, but like Mr. Sasaki said, several spots emerged on his body. After that he became ill again. His nose bled and his breath smelled terrible beyond description. He wanted to drink water but at that time, there was a rumor that one should not give water to HIBAKUSHA. So mother soaked cloth with water and wet around his mouth. She did this everyday, crying. He became more ill as days went by.
One day he told me, in his sick bed, “Tsugio, please take good care of mother and father.” With those words, he died on September 1st, 11:10 A.M.

We later found out his illness, like Mr. Sasaki’s sister, was leukemia. After his death, my parents prayed in front of the Buddhist altar and recited a sutra.

The terror of nuclear weapons…I finally believe that we should eliminate nuclear weapons from this world.

I will now talk about myself. At that time, I was in 5th grade and 10 years old. Just like my brother, I didn’t have summer vacation, so I went to school at 8 A.M. every morning. Teachers would give us an admonitory speech, and we would do radio calisthenics in our underwear. While I was exercising, a strong light flashed and I heard a large and destructive sound. It was a really big sound. Although I don’t recall how long it was after the sound, I looked towards the west sky, where Hiroshima City was, and saw a huge mushroom cloud. We were ordered to go home immediately. Although the windows were destroyed, the school building remained standing.

I went home and was playing in the river near my home around 11 A.M. As I was playing, I saw trucks loaded with injured people rushing to school. Most of the people were burnt, their hair falling out, their faces unrecognizable, and their skin hanging from their bodies. Literally, they did not look like human beings. As I was watching them, one of the women from the National Defense Women’s Group told me to go to school and help. I immediately went back to school. It had become a rescue center since the building was not damaged. I help the injured out of the trucks and led them to classrooms. Classrooms were filled with people, but there was no medicine or doctor to treat them. With the adults’ suggestions, we grated potatoes and cucumbers and placed them on the burns. We gently wiped them on their burns, and since it was summer and hot, tried to cool them by fanning them. Eventually, maggots emerged from their bodies. I picked them one by one with my hand and killed them. It was a horrible situation beyond words.

Eventually people started to die. We had to carry the bodies to the crematorium, but soon the town crematorium became filled with bodies, and we had to dig holes in the schoolyard for a makeshift crematorium. We cremated bodies there. According to the records, 29 people died.

My second Ground Zero experience is in regard to my first son, whose pictures you saw a moment ago. I don’t know anything about the status of my son. I am waiting for the results of the DNA testing every day. My wife and I pray in front of the Buddhist altar every day. We are doing exactly the same as my parents who had lost my brother.

My son worked on the 82nd floor of the South Tower of the Word Trade Center. He was an employee of the former Fuji Bank. When I saw the image on TV, I called their office in Tokyo right away.

They said, “Mr. Ito just called to let us know he was evacuating.” We were relieved. But after several hours, the bank called us and said, “Mr. Ito is not at the place where others are all gathering.”

On September 12th, Fuji Bank called us. They told us to come to Tokyo, and then fly to JFK airport as soon as it reopened for operation.  Two days later, JFK airport resumed its operation. On September 15th, we flew to New York. We arrived on September 15th and for 20 days we searched through many hospitals. We thought he may be unconscious, or not able to speak because of injuries. We never though he was dead. We walked around in hospitals, places people gather, and train stations holding this picture. We were told that he was wearing this very shirt to work that day. Unfortunately, we could not find him. This was extremely painful. However, if we give into the sorrow and pain, it would be as if we were giving into terrorism. Therefore, my wife and I promised to be strong.

Both atomic bombs and terrorism are sad and painful. But I believe that hate is not the answer. Whatever the justification, all weapons that hurt people should be eliminated. Whether it is a small weapon or a nuclear weapon, just as Mr. Sasaki said. You’ve seen the many strings of 1000 paper cranes. I think 1000 paper cranes should be for a single paper crane, and a single paper crane should be for 1000 paper cranes. Rather than 100 steps forward by a single person, we should have a single step forward by 100 people. That is to say, a truly gentle and kind human being should be compassionate and be able to help others.
Finally, you are teaching in schools. I think being in school should not only be about learning basic academic knowledge. Children should learn how to comprehend, to determine, and to act on what is morally right. In addition to that, it is important to understand how to learn from one’s mistakes. Learning from mistakes makes one think. Thinking leads to wisdom. I believe that wisdom leads to making the right decisions.

Let me share my favorite quote. “I reflect on myself 3 times a day.” These are words of Mr. [Eiichi] Shibusawa. I hope my presentation today means something to you.

I am here with my son, Kazushige, today. This suit, this shirt, and this tie are my child’s. He must be pleased to see people from New York again. I hope you will have a safe trip back to America. Thank you. 041.jpg
Topic,History-Modern; Topic,International Relations; Topic,Military; Type,Podcast; Topic,Politics; Topic,Popular Culture; Topic,War & Conflict;
Atomic Bomb, Hiroshima, Sadako, 9/11, hibakusha, paper cranes, world war II, A-Bomb, Sasaki, Tsugio Ito, Masahiro Sasaki,