Hiroshima Memo: Tomoe Yamashiro’s efforts and achievements deserve greater recognition

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

I wonder how many Japanese people are familiar with a writer from Hiroshima, Tomoe Yamashiro (1912-2004). Outside of Japan, I'm afraid she is virtually unknown.

Ms. Yamashiro's works, though, as well as her other achievements involving the compilation of an A-bomb-related anthology and her efforts to promote literature among women living in rural parts of Japan based on her faith in "peace and women's independence," should be more widely recognized.

In November 1945, nearly three months after the atomic bombings, Ms. Yamashiro set eyes on the ruined city of Hiroshima. She had been arrested, along with her husband, a labor activist, in May 1940, on charges of aiding and abetting the violation of the Peace Preservation Law. She was detained until August 1945, when Japan surrendered.

In this connection, Ms. Yamashiro was summoned to Toyo Kogyo Kaisha, Ltd. (currently Mazda Motor Corporation), based in Fuchu, Hiroshima, which was under the control of the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ). Ms. Yamashiro arrived at Hiroshima station on the evening of the day she had been ordered to appear. She later wrote about her experience in detail.

A U.S. officer, a second-generation Japanese-American, asked her in Japanese: "How do you feel about the occupation forces eliminating the Peace Preservation Law, the cause of your imprisonment, regarding it as barbaric and an affront to human rights?" "I'm very grateful," Ms. Yamashiro replied. And to the question, "What do you think about equal voting rights for women and freedom of speech, the press, and assembly?" she replied, "I support them all wholeheartedly. I would like to make efforts for these principles."

But when she said "It's awful" in response to the question about the consequences of the atomic bombing, she was admonished: "If people like you, who were punished for promoting peace and freedom, say such things, it will hinder the work of the occupation forces. Do not speak about the bombing or you will be sent to Okinawa." Ms. Yamashiro wrote about this incident, commenting, "If I am sent to Okinawa, it means I will be forced to work at a construction site for a U.S. base there."

As this episode shows, the GHQ was very concerned that the devastating effects of the bombing might become known to people in other parts of Japan and out in the world.

After this, Ms. Yamashiro became involved in the literary movement mainly in her hometown and in the city of Hiroshima. With members of her group, which included poet Sankichi Toge (1917-1953) and Ken Kawate (1931-1960), a student at the time, she provided support to A-bomb survivors and formed the Atomic Bomb Survivors Association in August 1952.

In September of the same year, an anthology of poetry connected to the A-bomb that she and her colleagues compiled, titled Genshigumo no Shita Yori (From Under the Atomic Bomb Cloud) was issued by the publisher Aoki Shoten.

The poems for the book were collected by the members of her group from the citizens of Hiroshima, including elementary, junior high and high school students. From the more than 1,300 poems that were gathered, about 120 poems were included in the anthology.

A mother, who lost her sight,
Was holding her dead child,
Tears streaming from her blind eyes.
Walking with my mother, hand in hand,
I saw this sight.
That moment, and the fear I felt then,
Haunts my mind still.

This poem, titled "In the Ruins," was written by a girl in sixth grade. The poems by children, in which they captured their experience of the bombing seven years before, have a unique and captivating power that differs from the writing of adults. It's a shame the anthology has not been translated into other languages, not even into English, while Children of the Atomic Bomb, a collection of children's accounts of the bombing, has been translated into more than ten languages, including English and Esperanto, and is widely read. Children of the Atomic Bomb was edited by Arata Osada (1887-1961), dean of Hiroshima University, and was published in 1951.

Against the backdrop of a political movement to ban atomic and hydrogen bombs, Ms. Yamashiro proceeded with her work to support A-bomb survivors, focusing on the pain of each individual. Her small but steady efforts heightened public awareness of microcephalic patients and their families, whose weak status had forced them into the shadows of society, and brought about greater government support.

Ms. Yamashiro's efforts have also led to assistance for victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster through the Junod Society, a grassroots citizen's group.

"One book written by 100 people, not 100 books written by just one." "People helping each other through group efforts, this is essential." These were reportedly among Ms. Yamashiro's favorite sentiments. A substantial number of people are carrying on Ms. Yamashiro's spirit here in Hiroshima, her base of activity. However, outside Hiroshima, her spirit is little known.

Five years have passed since Ms. Yamashiro's death. I hope efforts will be made to draw attention to her achievements, including her writings, which were realized as a "citizen of Hiroshima" so more people, both in Japan and in the world, can appreciate them.

(Originally published on Nov. 2, 2009)

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