Remembering the day: August 6, 1945

Haruyoshi was supposed to deliver food to his older sister, who was a nurse aid at a prefectural hospital roughly two and a half kilometers away from where he resided. However, upon arriving at the train station, he learned that his train was delayed. With time to spare, Haruyoshi decided to wait at the nearby Nippon Express Cargo Department building where he worked. As he stepped inside, there was flash from behind him. Moments later, he would wake up to a different world. 

Haruyoshi was just 14 years old on August 6, 1945, when American forces dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He never made it to see his sister, whose hospital was just feet from the epicenter, and he never saw her again.

Decades later, Haruyoshi can still remember the burns left behind on his neck, and the wreckage of the building he crawled out of. To this day, it is a memory that still scares him. 

He is among the dozens of hibakusha members still active with the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors, better known as ASA. The Los Angeles-based group is among the few remaining in the world with members from Hawaii to New York. Despite its large geographic reach, the group is now fighting to keep their members’ legacy alive and to continue the organization’s work. 

Supporting Hibakusha in the United States

Hibakusha is a word designated for people affected by the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fewer than 1,000 are believed to be alive in North America, but those figures are likely much smaller. About six years ago, ASA had roughly 300 members; however, the group recently reported that only 176 members are active with the Los Angeles group with an additional 100 people in Hawaii. Members are an average of 86 years old, and about 70 percent are women. 

ASA was first organized in 1972, dedicating its work solely to helping hibakusha in the United States. Since 2014, members receive health check-ups from Japanese doctors. The medical delegation, which still operates today, includes health care professionals and personnel commissioned by the Japanese government and Hiroshima prefectural government. Every two years, this group conducts medical exams, including interviews, blood tests, and screenings for survivors, free of charge. 

Unspoken Understanding and Strong Connection

Over the past several months, ASA leaders began to explore different ways to continue their organization by introducing a new element: lunches. Junji Sarashina, a hibakusha and ASA president, says he was inspired by luncheons hosted by similar organizations within the community. With extra encouragement from his wife, he decided to apply for the Keiro Grants Program to promote social connections for his members. 

“It’s a nice gathering for older adults,” Junji said. It sounds simple, but a lunch with bentos and some good company can mean so much more – there’s an unspoken understanding, a silent comfort that members have with one another. “They can talk to each other in Japanese. And it’s easier to communicate to reveal their inner feelings with a fellow hibakusha.”

Photo Courtesy: Darrell Miho

ASA always organized a formal dinners when doctors visited from Japan, but Junji says there is a stark difference in these new, more informal gatherings. “The [doctor’s gathering] event is formal, everyone wears a tie, and the consul general will attend and a city representative will show up. It’s not the same as hanging out at luncheons like these.” Adding that those events are important but only happen every other year. Gatherings for ASA members were few and far between, and these added luncheons help to change that. 

Now, he says with a big laugh, “they just keep talking.” 

Most of the Keiro funding for this gathering allows members to leave their homes to enjoy the meal and to organize transportation for those who can no longer drive themselves. It’s one of the many challenges ASA faces, but this added support is vital.

Socializing and Keeping the Legacy Alive

“I really think it’s so important,” said Fujiko Yoshikawa, an ASA member who has attended both luncheons after discovering the organization through word of mouth. She was 12 years old when the bomb dropped, and says the social connections she makes at these events are unlike any other. 

“There is no one else who has experienced being affected by the atomic bombs. Many are passing away, and that’s why it’s absolutely necessary,” she said. “We are small in numbers, but we have to keep on living.” 

Fujiko says there are things she can only say at the luncheons, and only among other hibakusha. She doesn’t expand on those experiences, but like Junji, she agrees there’s an unspoken understanding amongst the members. It’s their shared trauma and survival that keeps them connected in ways others can’t imagine. 

ASA Director Darrell Miho is now working to further share these stories, helping future generations understand the ever-lasting effects of nuclear weapons on people’s lives. 

While not a hibakusha himself, Darrell has dedicated years as a photographer and filmmaker in documenting the stories of survivors from around the world. Darrell explains that with each passing year, more hibakusha disappear – and so do their stories. Their legacy reminds us to never forget what happened 74 years ago. Today, the group is a champion for world peace, often sharing their experiences with others by speaking at colleges, schools, libraries, and temples, or through special appearances on major news networks and in media publications.

But their legacy also lives on through their connection with each other, and their casual chats over lunch. Darrell looks forward to ASA luncheons and hopes to continue providing a place for these hibakusha to gather and just chat.

Photo Courtesy: Darrell Miho

Learn more about ASA’s stories, future speaking engagements, and ways to support their group through their Facebook group.