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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 10:46 pm | Fair 53º


Survivor of Hiroshima Bombing Speaks for Peace in Santa Barbara

Nuclear Age Peace Foundation holds Monday commemoration at La Casa de Maria Retreat Center

Kikuko Otake was 5 years old when the United States dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While the bombings effectively ended World War II, they also irrevocably changed the lives of families and inhabitants within those cities forever. Now 72, Otake is the keynote speaker for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 18th Annual Sadako Peace Day Ceremony, when she’ll tell her personal tale of overcoming tremendous pain and trauma as a Hiroshima survivor, as well as sharing the harrowing experiences of her family members.

Living only a mile away from the Hiroshima hypocenter with her mother and two brothers, Otake barely escaped with her life, suffering a major head wound and, later, atomic bomb syndrome. She also lost numerous uncles, cousins and her father, whose remains were never found.

“The shock was so great, I was so young, I only remember a few things,” said Otake. “Seeing my uncle covered in burns, another naked burn victim glazed white like a marble statue, lying outside.”

Otake had no appetite one week after the bombing, vomited continually, and was beset with radiation sickness as well as malnutrition. She was bedridden for almost four months, but eventually regained her health. All the while her family hoped her father was still alive somewhere, missing.

“We never had a funeral, we never had closure,” remarked Otake. “Technically he was still missing, but gradually we just thought of him as dead.”

Otake was not the only child without a father in Hiroshima, however. She remembered how all of her cousins were also fatherless, and how common it was to grow up in a town without grown males.

Eventually, Otake graduated from Tsuda College in Tokyo, moved to the United States with her future husband, and, while earning a master’s in education from California State University, Los Angeles, she began working on an autobiographical account of her life and the trauma suffered from the Hiroshima bombing. The work eventually evolved into a collection of prose poetry recounting her mother’s point of view of incidents that took place in Hiroshima.

“I first thought about writing about my experience but I didn’t remember very much,” recounted Otake. “I couldn’t fill the details, so I wrote the book in the form that my mother told me.”

Masako’s Story: Surviving the Bombing of Hiroshima received praise from many literary critics and book reviews for its honest and somewhat graphic portrayal of life, trauma and devastation many human beings suffered and died from after the nuclear bombing.

Otake later became an assistant professor of Japanese and an award-winning haiku, tanka and senryu poet before retiring a few years ago.

The 18th Annual Sadako Peace Ceremonywill take place at 6 p.m. Monday at La Casa de Maria Retreat Center, 800 El Bosque Road in Montecito. The ceremony is named after a young Japanese girl from Hiroshima who developed leukimia due to the nuclear radiation of the bombings and set out to fold over 1,000 paper cranes for world peace, since Japanese legend holds that folding that many grants a person one wish.  According to Nuclear Age Peace Foundation president David Krieger, the ceremony is a time of commemoration and reflection on the ruinous effects and events that came from the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“We feel it’s really important to keep what happened alive in people’s minds, to not the lose the awareness of how destructive those bombs are then and now,” Krieger said. “It’s a special thing to have a survivor so committed to telling their story so their past doesn’t become someone else’s future.”

Zack Zaitsu, a college student from Japan currently interning with NAPF, visited the Nagasaki Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum last summer and learned first-hand the impact of nuclear weapons, inspiring him to help create this year’s peace event for NAPF.

“It is really important to me as a young Japanese man because the purpose of this event is to tell people what really happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” explained Zaitsu. “There are so many reasons why we shouldn’t have nuclear bombs in times of peace and humanity.”

NAPF began hosting their annual peace day ceremonies during the 50th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and according to Krieger chose an outdoor nature garden free and open to the public to encourage visitors to stop by for an hour or so, listen to beautiful music and poetry, and focus their attention on what happened to their fellow human beings so many years ago.

“At NAPF, we look back in order to look forward and raise awareness,” Krieger stated. “This is what we know now and we can’t hide our eyes from it any longer.”

Click here for more information on the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, or call 805.965.3443.

Noozhawk intern Amanda Garcia can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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