KUNITACHI, Japan —
On a recent weekend, an 84-year-old survivor of the Nagasaki atomic bombing retraced his movements on a map: the inferno during his 20-kilometer (12-mile) walk home, the “black rain” of falling radioactive particles and how he felt sick days later.
His audience of eight listened intently, some asking questions and taking notes. They hope to tell his story to future generations after he is gone, to take their listeners to the scene on Aug. 9, 1945, the way Shigeyuki Katsura saw and felt it.
In a government-organized program in the western Tokyo suburb of Kunitachi, 20 trainees ranging from their 20s to their 70s are studying wartime history, taking public speech lessons from a TV anchor and hearing stories from Katsura and another Kunitachi resident who survived Hiroshima.
“It’s been 70 years since the bombings, and we survivors are getting old. Time is limited and we must hurry,” said Terumi Tanaka, the 83-year-old head of a national group, the Tokyo-based Japan Confederation of A and H Bomb Sufferers’ Organizations.
In a way, they are going backward in this digital age, learning face-to-face from their elders in order to carry on a storytelling tradition. It is not unlike Kabuki actors inheriting their seniors’ stage names and performing their signature pieces.
The same stories may be in video and text on the Internet, but organizers feel that in-person storytelling adds an invaluable human touch.
The Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing in Hiroshima killed about 140,000 people from injuries and immediate effects of radiation within five months, and another one dropped on Nagasaki three days later killed 73,000. The death toll linked to the attacks and their radiation effects has since risen to 460,000, with the number of survivors declining to some 183,000, according to the latest government statistics.