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Miyoko Matsubara discusses her experiences as a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima

BROADCAST: Mar. 29, 1962 | DURATION: 00:27:24

Synopsis

Miyoko Matsubara, a Japanese survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, discusses her experiences through translator Joan Takada. Later in life, she went on to work with disadvantaged children and as an advocate for world peace and the prevention of nuclear testing and warfare.

Transcript

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OK

Studs Terkel Miyoko Matsubara is a very charming young woman. She's 29 years old. She is very gracious, and gentle, visiting Chicago now. What - Miyoko Matsubara is no different than any other attractive young woman, gracious young woman, anywhere in the world. But I believe she - her experience is unique, if I may use that phrase, unique in that most horrendous way. She was in the city of Hiroshima. She lived there. It was a day in August, 1945, and she's visiting America now with a young companion Hirobasa[sic]. Hirobasa's[sic] last name is - Joan Takada is with us. Miyoko and I and Joan Takada are about the microphone, and Joan will be interpreter but I hope will participate as well on the conversation here. Hirobasa[sic] isn't that his name?

Joan Takada Hiromasa.

Studs Terkel Hiromasa.

Joan Takada Mhm. Hanabusa is is--

Studs Terkel Hanabusa is is 18.

Joan Takada Last name. Yes.

Studs Terkel And he was about two years old.

Joan Takada He was - mhm.

Studs Terkel At the time. Well right now, Hiro, we call him Hiro and Miyoko are visiting the world, will travel through the world, carrying the message to Geneva. A message it's quite simple indeed, one that involves human beings. I thought perhaps if we just talked about Miyoko or just talked of herself, her life, her memories. You went to school in - what sort of city is Hiroshima, Hiroshima?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She says that the city had a history of about three hundred and eighty years, and they had a castle and it was a very quiet, nice city. It was a beautiful city. But, she said that there was a large headquarters of the Japanese army stationed there in the city.

Studs Terkel Thinking of the - like all cities, there - cities where families gather and live, there are children. The children of Hi- it's Hiroshima, is it not? Hiroshima. Pronounce?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara Hiroshima.

Studs Terkel Hiroshima.

Joan Takada Hiroshima.

Studs Terkel Hiroshima. The children, specifically the childhood of Miyoko Matsubara. How far back can you remember? This is asking a rather difficult question. Do you remember early when you fi- do you remember when you first went to school, the beginnings of school?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She says that she remembers the first day of grade school. And that at that time Japan wasn't at war with any country, and they had candy and chocolates and those things that she wanted to eat. All she wanted at the store, and so she remembers those happy days.

Studs Terkel What sort of games did you play or songs did you sing?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She says that she remembers that they used to sing a lot of Japanese children's folk songs, and then she also remembers that about that time they'd been told not to use English phrases or English terms or the foreign songs they couldn't sing.

Studs Terkel It was the beginning of--

Joan Takada Beginning of the--

Studs Terkel International tensions.

Joan Takada Yes, I

think so. You- your your parents. What did they do for a living? Your family.

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada Now she says that she's going back to the time of the A-bomb, that her parents were about three miles away from the center of the bombing. So they were not affected by the bomb. And that's how they've been able to take care of her. And that's why she is the way she she's today, that they took care of her, and--

Studs Terkel No, I mean, I was thinking of--

Joan Takada Oh, the occupation.

Studs Terkel Occupations--

Joan Takada Mhm.

Studs Terkel How people made - what jobs, what does the main industry of [Hiroshima?] and what did your parents do for a living? Did they run a store, did they work at a plant?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada He was in the construction work.

Studs Terkel Were there other children in your family?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She says she - they had five children in the family, but her elder brother passed away in February this year.

Studs Terkel Was his passing away in any way connected with the bomb?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada They're not too sure yet.

Studs Terkel No way of telling yet. [For me?] there was a class. Now you were 12 years old, I think now. Miyoko Matsubara was 12 years old. This is elementary school, public school?

Joan Takada Yes, uh-huh. She would have been about seventh grade [Japanese]--

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada seventh grade.

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Studs Terkel What sort of school was it? How many girls were there in the class?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada About 320 girls in the class.

Studs Terkel How many of your friends are alive today?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada About 55 girls remain.

Studs Terkel Remain.

Joan Takada Mhm.

Studs Terkel In this class, this day was was August--

Joan Takada Mhm. August [Japanese]--

Studs Terkel August 5th, was it? Was it August 5th?

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Studs Terkel 1945.

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada Sixth over there.

Studs Terkel August 6th, 1945. Do you remember what you were doing that at th- what the girls were doing? Were you in school at the time?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada Oh. All the students weren't able to go to school. But, you know, at that time, and so we all had to go to work. Either for the military plant or render some other services. And their cl- her class had to go and clear out the buildings that's being torn down. So that's where she was.

Studs Terkel This this may be difficult to ask Miyoko now, it's not difficult for me to ask it. But it may be difficult to answer it. If she perhaps can recall that day and that time and that moment and what happened.

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Studs Terkel In your own way. Just whatever comes to mind [you remember?].

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada They were looking up in the sky trying to spot the airplane.

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada But and then she thought that there was a very big flash in the sky so she hid her face on the ground.

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She remembers that sh- she must have been blown away with, by the impact.

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada And when she regained her consciousness, she couldn't find most of her friends. So they were either blown to bits or burnt or.

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She says that all her clothes were torn away except the very undergarment. And her skin where she has all her, you know, burns, she said that the skin was hanging about [50? 15?] centimeter. The skin was just peeled off and hanging from her body. And she has that on her arms and legs and on her face.

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada And she said it was so such an intense heat that she jumped into the nearby river, the small river that was running through the city.

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She said that that her friends were in the river - I don't think I can say it.

Studs Terkel So, after this moment, time then you found yourself - well do your friends - did you, did you see any of your other friends afterwards?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She said it took her about eight months to heal the open wounds. And so after the eight months have gone by she's gone back to school, and then found that there are only 50-some classmates remaining there.

Studs Terkel Do you see any of them today? Are there any around - do you see any of your old friends today, or how are they?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She said that the girls that have a very bad burn on their faces would rather not go out. So they are at home. So - but then their friends that they have gone through the all the hardship together, so they understand each other's feelings. So a lot of times that they go visit among themselves.

Studs Terkel Well they do visit. I mean the girls are - feel self-conscious and they want to stay home.

Joan Takada That's right.

Studs Terkel [unintelligible]

Joan Takada So the ones that don't have to bear a burn, then they are the ones to go and visit.

Studs Terkel They go visit.

Joan Takada Yes.

Studs Terkel And the girls who are at home, who stay at home, I'm thinking of this now. Are they - is morale pretty low, them now [that they?] - what interest do they find in life now, to keep them going?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She says that they all have to eat, and so many of them have learned how to sew and they do a lot of sewing work at home. And then the others would go up and work, too.

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada And she's has been, the last eight years, she has been working as a teacher for the blind orphans in institution.

Studs Terkel Well, I do know that, Miyoko Matsubara, this I know, is quite popular with her students--

Joan Takada Yes.

Studs Terkel And how did the students let her go and come to America?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She says that the children didn't want her to come because they're going to miss her so much. But they came to the - all came to the station and said goodbye to her and told her that, "Be sure to come back then we'll let you go." So, but then she said that that was the very happy memory that she has: the faces of the children laughing and saying goodbye to her and hoping that she will come back and believing that she will come back.

Studs Terkel Well Miyoko, obviously your interest is very much in children. Now here the children of Hiroshima. How are they when - what is that - These little children, how old are they? These children whom you teach.

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada This institution has children from three to 18 years old, but her charge, this particular group is retarded children and blind and also they wet their beds at night. There is a term--

Studs Terkel Disturbed children.

Joan Takada Yes and she has those. And then the ages are [Japanese]--

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada From eight to 13. About that age group.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of Miyoko again as, Miyoko Matsubara, and your interest in life. Obviously just in meeting you we can see this: your interest in the joy of living. But, did you always want to teach? You, has this always been your feeling, or did this happen later?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara She says that she was attending the commercial school in seventh grade, and wanted to become a clerk in the bank, but all her plans had to be changed. And then she thought that she would work with the children.

Studs Terkel Today, Hiroshima today and the people living in - the ravages of of that bomb, of that day in August are still being felt, I know. To what extent is it obvious today? Say I - you walk the streets of Hiroshima.

Joan Takada Oh, I see. [Japanese]

Studs Terkel Among the people.

Joan Takada Oh, among the people, not the buildings.

Studs Terkel Well both, both. Buildings and--

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She says there are 90,000 survivors in Hiroshima and most of them are--

Studs Terkel Out of how many?

Joan Takada [Japanese]--

Studs Terkel What was it then?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada It's either 240--

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada Mhm. How many were killed with one bomb?

Female Speaker 1 Well, estimates are now officially 200,000

Studs Terkel to 240,000 [unintelligible] 200 to 240,000 were killed, in the bomb then is lesser than the one that is today.

Joan Takada That's right.

Studs Terkel Tested. The 90,000. Tell us about the 90,000.

Joan Takada She said that these people, most of them are living in a very substandard condition, because they're unable to work. Some of them are unable to work, some are not healthy enough to work.

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She said that every year about 100 people would die fr- from the direct effect of the the radiation. So she said her every day, she always wonders if there will be tomorrow or this is all, or there there is another year for her. She doesn't know how long.

Studs Terkel Miyoko Matsubara.

Miyoko Matsubara [Hi?]

Studs Terkel Your feelings today, as you travel around the world. You are traveling now from Hiroshima to Geneva, traveling to different cities in America. What do you sense as you travel? What is your feeling as you are told about the headlines, as the headlines are translated to you? The headlines you make out about international tensions, possibility of war between major powers, and the dropping of bombs, and testing. But does - what are your feelings when you read this?

Joan Takada [Japanese] atomic bomb [Japanese] nuclear bomb [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She said that her sincere hope is that there will be no more occasion that would bring people such sufferings to people like her, herself, and all the others from Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Studs Terkel I know this is the message you're carrying to Geneva, where the statesmen meet - Miyoko Matsubara and Joan Takada, before we say goodbye for now, anything else that you haven't said you'd care to say? Something on your mind, something inside you like to say?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese] nuclear [Japanese]

Joan Takada She said that a nuclear test alone is a very serious problem for the people in Japan who have been exposed to the overdose of radiation. That the mere fall out that might not be so effective to the ordinary people that never been exposed, but the people in Japan who - Hiroshima and Nagasaki - each testing would mean so much danger to them, because the fact that they have been exposed previously. So she hopes that there will not even be any testing if it could be--

Studs Terkel One last--

Joan Takada Done.

Studs Terkel One last question, Joan. Thank you Joan. One last question, Miyoko. The children of Hiroshima. I'm not speaking now of the retarded children, the children of the - disturbed - The average child in Hiroshima. What is he told by his parents, grandparents, those who have survived? And what is the little child's feeling? Is there is there a fear, is there a fright in the child? What is he taught? What does he remember through the minds of others?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Studs Terkel Or is he a child?

Joan Takada [Japanese]

Miyoko Matsubara [Japanese]

Joan Takada She says that the the bomb victims' children lot of times become orphans because the parents die in later, you know, after, from - what is it? The radiation sickness. And so there are many many orphans in Hiroshima. She she hates to think of those poor children. And it also the children that she has in school, she always tell them that she doesn't want this to be repeated for them. And so she always tells them and encourages them to do everything under their power to help and work for the world peace.

Studs Terkel The children are aware of it as they play games--

Joan Takada [unintelligible]

Studs Terkel As they sing their songs, as they learn the lessons.

Joan Takada [Japanese] Yes they are aware, quite aware of it, I think.

Studs Terkel Thank you very much.

Joan Takada You're welcome.

Studs Terkel Miyoko Matsubara and Joan Takada. And what you have to say is very simple, indeed. It needs no further comment. [pause in recording]

Female Speaker 2 When the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, thousands of people, in order to survive, had to seal off their memories. They haven't dared to look at them or they couldn't go on living. And at the same time I think that Americans had to seal off their consciences. They couldn't look at them and go on living. But now in the situation that we face today, the people of Hiroshima have been willing to reopen these wounds as Miyoko San has done, and they've been willing to expose the pain again so that we can all live. And Americans, I think, have now got to open up their consciences and let it hurt, so that we can once again become human beings and uncover our humanity.