Towards an oral history of Hiroshima. Part Two: Witnessing

Interviewees from Hiroshima 2014

Elizabeth Chappell, The Open University, and interviewees

‘We live in an era of the witness’, wrote Annette Wienorka in her 2006 book, The Era of the Witness. I recently gave a talk on witnessing the survivors of Hiroshima for the English department of the Open University Post Graduate Research conference held on 22 November 2014 at the OU’s Camden Centre. I spent the last part of my travel grant, provided by the Great British Sasakawa Foundation, on a trip to Hiroshima in September this year. During this trip I interviewed about a dozen witnesses — known as hibakusha in Japanese — as well as those who work with or study the history of the hibakusha, (from hibaku, explosion, and sha, person, in Japanese).

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Towards an oral history of Hiroshima

Elizabeth Chappell and interviewees

While in Japan to research a travel book, I spent a night in Hiroshima. Talking to the ‘guides’ who met me for dinner, it emerged both were children of survivors of the atomic bomb but their parents had never talked to them about the blast. I went with my guides to a neighbourhood meeting; hearing that I was interested in war survivors, a 94-year-old woman, who had been attending these meetings for years, stood up and said: ‘I too am a hibakusha’.

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