Hibakusha Story: Suzuko Numata

Watch a short version of Hiroshima Hibakusha Suzuko Numata’s interview on ANT-Hiroshima’s YouTube Channel:


Hibakusha Suzuko Numata

Hibakusha Suzuko Numata interview in 2007.

Below is a short excerpt from Numata-san’s testimony archived on Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum online archive. Read the full version here:

The atomic bombing, three days before my wedding day
When the air-raid warning sounded, I was uneasy. It was early morning. Maybe this would be a real B29 attack. Still, I assumed it would be cleared soon like the others, without incident. We just waited at home. I didn’t look at the clock, but later I learned that the warning sounded at 7:09 and was cleared at 7:31. It seemed like at least an hour to me. Our small radio assured us that all of the planes that had been approaching Hiroshima had turned back. Relieved, I picked up my air-raid hood and small first-aid kit, said goodbye to my mother, and left with my father and sister for work at the Communications Bureau, a four-story reinforced concrete building located 1000 meters from what would soon be the hypocenter. My older brother was working at the Hiroshima Savings Bureau, 1,500 meters from the hypocenter. My mother was at home.

When we arrived at the Bureau, my father went up to the fourth floor and my sister to the third. I hurried up to my post on the roof and found no other women there. I thought I was the first person to arrive, but when I glanced at the desks, I saw men’s shirts on them. I looked out on the roof. There was not a cloud in the brilliant blue sky. The men, stripped to the waist, were exercising, chatting, or fanning themselves and looking at the sky. I watched them for a while, then decided I should start cleaning the room. When I finally finished cleaning the large room, I went down to the fourth floor for some reason. Usually, I would have used one of the three low water taps on the roof. I would have been bent over scrubbing the cloths, my back and head exposed to the sky. Instead, after taking a look at my colleagues outside, I set off with my bucket for the fourth floor. I was standing in the hall opposite the sink beside the steps when I saw a brilliant, multi-colored flash.

I don’t think it could have taken me more than two minutes to get from the roof to the sink on the fourth floor. I was facing the yard, in the direction of the hypocenter. I remember a bright mixture of colors: red, yellow, blue, green, and orange. I didn’t know it then, of course, but later learned that I had seen the flash released at the moment the atomic bomb exploded.



My personal Digestion of the National Conflicts – Meeting Shoaib and Ahmed

One of the best things interning at ANT-Hiroshima is the people I can meet here, the inspiration they bring, and sometimes the fresh perspectives they present to questions I have always had. Our visitors from Pakistan last month lent me some insights to understand how I, a Chinese citizen working for peace in Hiroshima, should view China and Japan’s national conflicts. I found some clues through their take on education.

I grew up in Beijing, and then studied in the United States majoring in East Asian studies and now living in Hiroshima. The China-Japan relations, past and present, have always been a haunting theme of my conversations with others. 

When I told my relatives I was going to Hiroshima to work for “peace,” people’s general reaction was first a little surprised, then encouraging, and lastly with questions “why Japan? Why Hiroshima?” I would answer “to send the message of peace from the A-bombed city to the world.” I don’t think I knew, at that time, what I meant there either. In the general impression, Japan seemed to be the antonym for “peace” in China. These questions probably came from curiosity on how a Chinese person could promote peace from Japan, from Hiroshima, the city that symbolized Japan’s defeat in a nutshell. Why was I here? I had many thoughts but not a coherent answer. 

After arriving here last September, I started my search for the answer. My education and upbringing have reinforced this Chinese patriotic spirit in me. I kept thinking about what I, a Chinese, should approach my peace promotion work here. What perspectives could I add to the existing ones? How should I, at least in my narrative, incorporate China and many other countries’ voices as victims in the past wars? Is peace promotion here contradictory to Japan’s invader past? 

A year later, my answer to the original question was even more obscured by the emergence of the new questions. But a few words from our Pakistani guests gave me a new perspective to resolve my confusion. Shoaib Haider and Ahmed Abbas are ANT director Tomoko’s long-time friends. Tomoko met Shoaib during her trip to Pakistan in 2002 to establish a clinic near the Afghan-Pakistani border. Since 2002, Shoaib has been a partner of ANT and later a strong supporter of the “Sadako’s prayer” picture book project, co-publishing the picture book in English and Hindi and utilize the material for peace education at many schools in Pakistan. 

Shoaib used this term, the two “faces” of education during his lecture on human rights and education at the Hiroshima City University: one side as equal, peace-promoting, and conflict-sensitive and the other as the opposite, unequal, excluding, conflict- and bias-aggravating. Basically, the same narrative focusing on different aspects of facts would end up teaching students drastically different lessons. He used education in Pakistan as an example. A “bad” education reinforced biases, emphasizing stereotypes, wrong-doings of a nation’s historical and present “enemies”. Judgment and hate would be passed down to the next generation. Whereas a “good” education, biases were recognized and confronted. While remembering the wrong-doings, the past wars, students were taught more about the lessons and harmony for the future.

Sitting in the front of that packed classroom, I started recalling the education I had received, especially what I learned in elementary and middle school in China. I wasn’t a good history student but still remembered much about the Japanese invasion. Textbooks were not the only source I learned my history, from historical TV dramas too, and people’s daily jokery towards Japan on dinner tables, public TVs, and the internet. “Conflict” was a recurring theme of Chinese history and the Sino-Japanese war was its ignominy of the twentieth century. That history was unresolved and the telling of it was emotional. It was embedded in people’s lives. But, was that just inheritance of the past or the building of the new China’s identities? 

So, the questions I had before, why did I ask them in the first place? I questioned whether there was a reason for a Chinese to promote peace through the history of an a-bombed city, the cover image of Japan’s victimization. I was worried to be judged by working here. I was worried about whether I should work here. The worries came from within because my underlying assumption was that a Chinese should not promote peace for the “enemy” and would be judged if doing so. 

After moving here, because of work, I frequented the Peace Memorial Museum and listened to the survivor testimony from different people. The images and stories of the atomic bombing were horrifying and powerful. I was suddenly emerged in an unacquainted narrative from under the mushroom cloud. I faced a long sequence of ambivalent facts and more questions to myself – who’s the victim? Who’s the bad guy? 

However, many people I met here in the past year taught me direct answers to those questions might not be that important. I met this oral history inheritor of Hibaku Taiken (A-bomb Survivor Testimony) at the ANT office. She told me she took a tour around several cities in China including Nanjing and Xi’an to unearth historical facts for herself. She said it was important for her to inherit and tell the a-bombed history in Hiroshima but also to know the history from other perspectives besides the bombing. The answers to the questions are not as important as the finding of them – the process to see the facts for ourselves and confront the ambivalence. Whether to make a judgment or not, we have the adequate information sources to do so. 

There are values in all aspects of history. As a Chinese in Hiroshima, and as a foreigner living in another country, I should appreciate my perspectives, the opportunities to look beyond one nation’s angle. Shoaib suggested the preferred face of education to be equal, peace-promoting, and conflict-sensitive. Teaching should not be a selection of historical facts but the lessons and logic behind all of them. It goes the same way for learning and living. We ought to unchain ourselves from one narrative, stay open and see a fuller picture. 

I found my voice in the peace narrative here. I can do little with the conflicts between nations, but I can share with people more perspectives and the universal lessons of Hiroshima to make their own judgment. The goal is one – while looking back, to make harmony for the future.


People of ANT-Hiroshima – Liam Walsh, intern

An Australian 23-year-old from Adelaide who lives in Okayama speaks fluent Japanese – in Hiroshima-ben (the dialect of Hiroshima). This is ANT intern, Liam Walsh, a fourth-year student majoring in International Security and Japanese at Australian National University.

After spending two months every day commuting by bullet train from Okayama, Liam finished up the internship at ANT-Hiroshima two weeks ago and said goodbye to colleagues at his farewell dinner, “it has been a great experience. It has been too fast.”

Liam left his legacy of the two-month internship on ANT-Hiroshima’s English blog site – a  four-part English translation of Hibakusha (A-bomb survivors)’s personal story, Ms. Emiko Okada after spending hours and hours with Ms. Okada, who experienced the Atomic bomb at the age of eight and lost her elder sister on the day of the bombing.

On the first day at ANT, he didn’t really know what he could or wanted to do; however, “the second day at ANT, Tomoko-san gave me the Japanese version of Okada-san’s story. After hearing her story in person at lunch, I was just wondering how such a tragic thing can happen to such a lovely person. I became really interested in translating her story and decided to do it then.”

Earlier this year with still about two months left on his student visa Japan after completing a one-year exchange program at Kyushu University, Liam thought why not use this time to do something related to his interests in nuclear policy and peace. Nothing came up with google search of  “Japan peace activities”. Then, he switched “Japan” with “Hiroshima” and ANT was the first thing popped up. After meeting with ANT Director, Tomoko-san, in January over Okonomiyaki for lunch, Liam made up his mind to intern with ANT.

Aspiring to a diplomatic career, Liam is paving his road little by little to be able to influence Australia’s nuclear policy in the future. “Nuclear weapons, I don’t think that should exist in the world. But just saying that doesn’t give me any power to change it. So I came to Hiroshima to hear people’s stories and see the effects nuclear weapons actually had, then gaining the knowledge that I can actually use to convince people that nuclear weapons should not be a thing in the world.”

Australia, as the largest known Uranium source in the world, is the third-ranking producer of the nuclear energy source, following Kazakhstan and Canada.1 Uranium mined in Australia is said to be sold only for electrical power generation or nuclear research under strict International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Regardless of whether uranium mined in Australia is possibly used for nuclear weapons production, there are many opposing voices in the country that the federal government’s intention to expand uranium mining industry is hurting the environment and health of the citizens.

Uranium Mines Distribution in Australia

Uranium Mines Distribution in Australia1

“I have always thought about nuclear policy in Australia. Even when I was little, they were all talking [on media] about peace, peace, peace… or nuclear weapons should not be a thing. But at the same time, many of the world’s nuclear weapons were built from Australian uranium, and we export to countries which are not signatories to the NPT. I always found that contradictory,” said Liam.

It was also the incongruity of Australia’s actions on nuclear matters that sparked Liam’s interests in national security at a young age. “In my primary school in Victoria, there was a class called ‘logic’. We were given newspapers from three different companies written by different people but about the same issue. We had to go into the articles, see where they were different and where their biases were and try to find where the truth is. One day, we were given articles on nuclear policy. Everything was contradictory.”

Liam started his journey with the Japanese language after visiting Japan for the first time in 2012 and came back for a one-year exchange program in Soja, a small city in Okayama Prefecture. Mastering a language is a commitment and Liam has overcome many obstacles living in Japan. “Coming to Japan, of course, I was interested in going overseas, interacting with people from different cultures. I wanted to become a diplomat, have Australia known overseas and build relationships. Australia and many Asian countries are more like trading partners rather than friends. Then, I prefer going down the road more of friendship rather than the one simply about money.”

“The cross-cultural communication skills.” Liam spilled an answer right away when asked about his biggest gain from ANT for his future career as a diplomat, “actually being able to work in an office setting in Japan, meeting with people all around the world.”

Later this month, Liam will return to Australia and start an internship working in foreign affairs in Canberra. He expressed anxiousness about heading back to Australia but stated that he was keen to make sure the lessons of Hiroshima were heard far and wide.


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