Hiroshima Maidens

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Silent USSBS (United States Strategic Bombing Survey) footage which is primarily an analysis of flash burn injuries to those at Hiroshima. At 2:00, as is typical of the shapes of sunburns, the protection afforded by clothing, in this case pants, with the nurse pointing to the line of demarcation where the pants begin to completely protect the lower body from burns. At 4:27 it can be deduced from the burn shape that the man was facing the fireball and was wearing a vest at the time of the explosion etc. Many of the burn injuries exhibit raised keloid healing patterns. 25 female survivors required extensive post war surgeries, and were termed the Hiroshima maidens.

The Hiroshima Maidens are a group of 25 Japanese women who were school age girls when they were seriously disfigured as a result of the thermal flash of the fission bomb dropped on Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945, They subsequently went on a highly publicized journey to get reconstructive surgery in the US in 1955.

Keloid scars from their burns marred their faces and many of their hand burns healed into bent claw-like positions. These women, as well as the other citizens affected by the A-bomb, were referred to as hibakusha, meaning "explosion-affected people".

The burns on this survivor took on the kimono pattern; the lighter areas of the cloth reflected the intense light from the bomb, causing little to no burns, the tighter fitting parts of clothing, such as the shoulders are the most severe whereas loose fitting sections show no burning.


By 1951, the Hiroshima bomb survivor Shigeko Niimoto had endured several unsuccessful Japanese operations to repair scarring on her face. However following a Christian church meeting with Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, he invited her to a meeting of bomb-affected people. Upon arriving and finding the meetings discussion too political for her tastes, Niimoto suggested to Rev. Tanimoto that they form a support group just for the dozen or so young women who he knew with similar injuries and concerns. Soon they were meeting regularly in the basement of his church, the women had all experienced similar lives following the war, such as being hidden from view by parents, stared at when they ventured outside, unwanted by employers, and rejected as potential wives for fear they were genetically damaged. As Tanimoto had gained some fame in America as one of the subjects of a celebrated 1946 magazine/book article by journalist John Hersey titled Hiroshima, Tanimoto joined with American journalists to create a charitable foundation to help victims of Hiroshima and "explore the ways of peace." Hersey, Pearl S. Buck and Norman Cousins were Tanimoto's partners in the Hiroshima Peace Centre Foundation.

The group of scarred women was one of the foundation's projects, with Tanimoto calling it the Society of Keloid Girls. Following the help from a female newspaper columnist, Shizue Masugi, Tanimoto began raising funds to get plastic surgery for his group. Newspapers dubbed them genbaku otome, or "atomic bomb maidens," and in 1952 about 20 of them were treated in Tokyo and Osaka. However as Plastic surgery in Japan at the time was not as advanced as it was in the United States Tanimoto tried to find a way to get the girls to America. Once aware of his efforts Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins pledged to help Tanimoto. They found two doctors, William Maxwell Hitzig and Arthur Barsky of Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, who were willing to supervise the medical operations and on May 5, 1955, a group of 25 women in their teens and twenties departed for America. The more specific nickname for the group of women – the Hiroshima Maidens – caught on when the women were brought to The Mount Sinai Hospital, New York in the United States to undergo multiple reconstructive surgeries. This highly publicized turn of events was largely the work of Cousins, an outspoken advocate of nuclear disarmament.[1]

Media in the West[edit]

Following their arrival,Tanimoto was the subject of the US TV program This Is Your Life on May 11, 1955, before a studio audience, numerous guests came forward to illustrate pivotal moments in Tanimoto's life. In the guest line-up were two of the Hiroshima maidens, their faces hidden behind a screen and most surprising Captain Robert Lewis, the co-pilot of the plane, the Enola Gay, which dropped the Little Boy bomb on Hiroshima,[2] with the full film of this encounter appearing to be lost as of 2004.[3]

In all, 138 surgeries were performed on the 25 women over a period of 18 months during the stay in the US, during their stay, the women stayed with a charitable Quaker charity of foster parents. Hiroko Tasaka, heard in the following Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) clip, was known as "Champion Surgery Girl" because she had 13 operations, more than anyone else.[4] One maiden, Tomoko Nakabayashi, died of cardiac arrest while undergoing a reconstruction operation on 24 May 1956, the cause of which was declared by the doctors to have been from complications/errors in the operation, not from radiation effects on her heart.[5][6]

Atomic Bomb Maidens[edit]

However technically not all the Atomic Bomb maidens left for the US, Miyoko Matsubara, states that she was one of 16 young "hiroshima maiden" women who received a number of surgeries in Tokyo and then Osaka in 1953. After the 10 successful operations, together with 2 other Hiroshma maidens, they were then well enough and thus started work as live-in caretakers to disadvantaged children. However when time came in 1955 to travel to Mt. Sinai Hospital in the US, unlike her 2 colleagues, she didn't feel comfortable traveling to the country that bombed her and was "left behind alone".[7][8]

None of the near equally numerous disfigured young women at Nagasaki following the Fat Man fission bomb explosion on August 9, 1945 were in the group and there was no comparative Nagasaki Maiden charity organization-although there was an effort on the part of US cities to sponsor their own scarred survivors to travel to receive medical treatment, but this move is said to have been derailed by the US government.[9] Moreover, when the women traveled to the US three Hiroshima surgeons came along, to study the American plastic-surgery techniques, this medical training was done free of charge.[10]

Presumably there were as many scarred boys as there were girls from the Little Boy bomb at Hiroshima, who also could not marry, and who were forced to live in the 'twilight society of Hiroshima,' but these did not receive the same level of media/medical attention received as by the young women.[11] The use of the term 'maiden' reveals the focus was on their attempts to attain romantic prospects with men.[12]

Life after reconstruction[edit]

One maiden, Masako Tachibana, later married and moved to Canada, she was not able to have children and on 1 August 1995 she gave an interview to reporter Len Grant of CBC Television, in which she said although she was a schoolgirl ordered to demolish buildings to create firebreaks at the time of the bombing, and the bomb's flash ignited her clothes on fire and its radiation caused her to vomit- a symptom of acute radiation syndrome- she was glad the US had dropped the bomb and it was justified because it brought the war to a quicker resolution, as without it she does not believe the Japanese would have surrendered, instead more lives would have been lost, possibly close to all of Japan's population.[13] She is the author of the Japanese book Reaction to the flash.[14]

As of March 31, 2009, exactly 235,569 living hibakusha were certified by the Japanese government, with an average age of 75.92.[15] The number of still living Hiroshima maidens/Atomic Bomb maidens is not generally published separately.


  • Tomoko Nakabayashi
  • Shigeko Niimoto[16][17]
  • Suzue Oshima
  • Shigeko Sasamori
  • Masako Tachibana
  • Hiroko Tasaka
  • Michiko Yamaoka
  • Miyoko Matsubara (did not travel to the US)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Hiroshima maidens". 
  2. ^ "The Hiroshima maidens". 
  3. ^ Rakoff, David. "THEATER; Hiroshima Bomber and Victims: This Is Your (Puppet's) Life", The New York Times, January 11, 2004. Accessed February 12, 2008.
  4. ^ "The Hiroshima maidens". 
  5. ^ "The Hiroshima maidens". 
  6. ^ http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue24/jacobs.htm
  7. ^ "With the warm help of these people and many others, I became one of sixteen young women known as the "Hiroshima Maidens" who traveled to Tokyo and Osaka for hospital treatment. Eight years after the bombing, when I was 20, in May, 1953, I found myself inOsaka where I eventually underwent more than ten operations over a seven-month period. These operations were quite successful and, as a result, I was able to open and close my dysfunctional eyelid and to straighten out my crooked fingers. I was filled with gratitude towards those people who reached out with warm, loving hands and softly stroked my eyelid that wouldn't shut. I returned to Hiroshima, wishing for a way to express my thanks...I and two other "Hiroshima Maidens" began work there as live-in caretakers. From morning until night, we were mothers to these children, helping them with homework, meals, going to the bathroom, and changing and washing clothes. Exactly one year later, in May 1955, my two companions left this job to travel to Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York to undergo more cosmetic surgery. For myself, I just didn't feel right about traveling to the U.S., the country which had dropped the atomic bomb. I was left behind alone. ". Wagingpeace.org. Retrieved 2013-11-30. 
  8. ^ "Continue to Relate Stupidity of War and Dignity of Life To Dedicate My Life to Nuclear Abolition-The Atomic Bombing does not Belong to the Past Story of Miyoko Matsubara". 
  9. ^ http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue24/jacobs.htm
  10. ^ http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue24/jacobs.htm
  11. ^ http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue24/jacobs.htm
  12. ^ http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue24/jacobs.htm
  13. ^ "Hiroshima: Bombing was justified, says survivor". 
  14. ^ "Hiroshima: Bombing was justified, says survivor". 
  15. ^ "Hiroshima sides with Obama on nukes". The Japan Times. August 7, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-17. 
  16. ^ Shigeko Niimoto's photographs are labelled 'horror' and 'triumph' in Time magazine, 10 December 1956, p. 76
  17. ^ http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue24/jacobs.htm

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Rodney Barker, The Hiroshima Maidens: A Story of Courage, Compassion, and Survival, New York: Viking Press, 1985
  • 'The Maidens tour Manhattan,' partial group picture taken in Central Park in Collier's, 26 October 1956, p. 92