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A victim of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, she suffered severe burns; the pattern on her skin is from the kimono she was wearing at the time of the bombing.

Hibakusha (被爆者) is the Japanese word for the surviving victims of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The word literally translates as "explosion-affected people" and is used to refer to people who were exposed to radiation from the bombings.

Official recognition[edit]

The Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law defines hibakusha as people who fall into one or more of the following categories: within a few kilometers of the hypocenters of the bombs; within 2 km of the hypocenters within two weeks of the bombings; exposed to radiation from fallout; or not yet born but carried by pregnant women in any of these categories.[1] The Japanese government has recognized about 650,000 people as hibakusha. As of March 31, 2018, 154,859 were still alive, mostly in Japan.[2] The government of Japan recognizes about 1% of these as having illnesses caused by radiation.[3] Hibakusha are entitled to government support. They receive a certain amount of allowance per month, and the ones certified as suffering from bomb-related diseases receive a special medical allowance.[4]

The memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki contain lists of the names of the hibakusha who are known to have died since the bombings. Updated annually on the anniversaries of the bombings, as of August 2018, the memorials record the names of almost 495,000 hibakusha; 314,118 in Hiroshima[5] and 179,226 in Nagasaki.[6]

Panoramic view of the monument marking the hypocenter, or ground zero, of the atomic bomb explosion over Nagasaki.
Citizens of Hiroshima walk by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the closest building to Ground Zero to have survived the city's atomic bombing.
A photograph of Sumiteru Taniguchi's back injuries taken in January 1946 by a U.S. Marine photographer.

In 1957, the Japanese Parliament passed a law providing for free medical care for hibakusha. During the 1970s, non-Japanese hibakusha who suffered from those atomic attacks began to demand the right for free medical care and the right to stay in Japan for that purpose. In 1978, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that such persons were entitled to free medical care while staying in Japan.[7][8]

Korean survivors[edit]

During the war, Japan brought many Korean conscripts to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki to work as slaves. According to recent estimates, about 20,000 Koreans were killed in Hiroshima and about 2,000 died in Nagasaki. It is estimated that one in seven of the Hiroshima victims was of Korean ancestry.[9] For many years, Koreans had a difficult time fighting for recognition as atomic bomb victims and were denied health benefits. However, most issues have been addressed in recent years through lawsuits.[10]

Japanese American survivors[edit]

It was a common practice before the war for American Issei, or first-generation immigrants, to send their children on extended trips to Japan to study or visit relatives. More Japanese immigrated to the U.S. from Hiroshima than from any other prefecture, and Nagasaki also sent a high number of immigrants to Hawai'i and the mainland. There was, therefore, a sizable population of American-born Nisei and Kibei living in their parents' hometowns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time of the atomic bombings. The actual number of Japanese Americans affected by the bombings is unknown – although estimates put approximately 11,000 in Hiroshima city alone – but some 3,000 of them are known to have survived and returned to the U.S. after the war.[11]

A second group of hibakusha counted among Japanese American survivors are those who came to the U.S. in a later wave of Japanese immigration during the 1950s and 1960s. Most in this group were born in Japan and migrated to the U.S. in search of educational and work opportunities that were scarce in post-war Japan. Many were "war brides", or Japanese women who had married American men related to the U.S. military's occupation of Japan.[11]

As of 2014, there are about 1,000 recorded Japanese American hibakusha living in the United States. They receive monetary support from the Japanese government and biannual medical checkups with Hiroshima and Nagasaki doctors familiar with the particular concerns of atomic bomb survivors. The U.S. government provides no support to Japanese American hibakusha.[11]

Other foreign survivors[edit]

While one British Commonwealth citizen[12][13][14][15][16] and seven Dutch POWs (two names known)[17] died in the Nagasaki bombing, at least two POWs reportedly died postwar from cancer thought to have been caused by the atomic bomb.[18][19] One American POW, Joe Kieyoomia, was in Nagasaki at the time of the bombing but survived, reportedly having been shielded from the effects of the bomb by the concrete walls of his cell.[20]

Double survivors[edit]

People who suffered the effects of both bombings are known as nijū hibakusha in Japan.

A documentary called Twice Survived: The Doubly Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was produced in 2006. The producers found 165 people who were victims of both bombings, and the production was screened at the United Nations.[21]

On March 24, 2009, the Japanese government officially recognized Tsutomu Yamaguchi (1916–2010) as a double hibakusha. Tsutomu Yamaguchi was confirmed to be 3 kilometers from ground zero in Hiroshima on a business trip when the bomb was detonated. He was seriously burnt on his left side and spent the night in Hiroshima. He got back to his home city of Nagasaki on August 8, a day before the bomb in Nagasaki was dropped, and he was exposed to residual radiation while searching for his relatives. He was the first officially recognized survivor of both bombings.[22] Tsutomu Yamaguchi died at the age of 93 on January 4, 2010, of stomach cancer.[23]


A hibakusha, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, tells young people about his experience and shows pictures. United Nations building in Vienna, during the NPT PrepCom 2007.

Hibakusha and their children were (and still are) victims of severe discrimination when it comes to prospects of marriage or work[24] due to public ignorance about the consequences of radiation sickness, with much of the public believing it to be hereditary or even contagious.[25] This is despite the fact that no statistically demonstrable increase of birth defects/congenital malformations was found among the later conceived children born to survivors of the nuclear weapons used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or found in the later conceived children of cancer survivors who had previously received radiotherapy.[26][27][28] The surviving women of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that could conceive, who were exposed to substantial amounts of radiation, went on and had children with no higher incidence of abnormalities/birth defects than the rate which is observed in the Japanese average.[29][30]

Studs Terkel's book The Good War includes a conversation with two hibakusha. The postscript observes:

There is considerable discrimination in Japan against the hibakusha. It is frequently extended toward their children as well: socially as well as economically. "Not only hibakusha, but their children, are refused employment," says Mr. Kito. "There are many among them who do not want it known that they are hibakusha."

— Studs Terkel (1984), The Good War.[31]

The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (日本被団協, Nihon Hidankyō) is a group formed by hibakusha in 1956 with the goals of pressuring the Japanese government to improve support of the victims and lobbying governments for the abolition of nuclear weapons.[32]

Some estimates are that 140,000 people in Hiroshima (38.9% of the population) and 70,000 people in Nagasaki (28.0% of the population) died in 1945, but how many died immediately as a result of exposure to the blast, heat, or due to radiation, is unknown. One Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission report discusses 6,882 people examined in Hiroshima, and 6,621 people examined in Nagasaki, who were largely within 2000 meters from the hypocenter, who suffered injuries from the blast and heat but died from complications frequently compounded by acute radiation syndrome(ARS), all within about 20–30 days.[33][34]

In the rare cases of survival for individuals who were in utero at the time of the bombing and yet who still were close enough to be exposed to less than or equal to 0.57 Gy, no difference in their cognitive abilities was found, suggesting a threshold dose for pregnancies below which, no life-limiting issues arise. In 50 or so children who survived the gestational process and were exposed to more than this dose, putting them within about 1000 meters from the hypocenter, Microcephaly was observed, this is the only elevated birth defect issue observed in the Hibakusha, occurring in approximately 50 in-utero individuals who were situated less than 1000 meters from the bombings.[35][36]

For those who did not suffer ARS, or who survived it. In a strictly dependent manner dependent on their distance from the hypocenter, in the 1987 Life Span Study, conducted by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, a statistical excess of 507 cancers, of undefined lethality, were observed in 79,972 hibakusha who had still been living between 1958–1987 and who took part in the study.[37]

An epidemiology study by the RERF estimates that from 1950 to 2000, 46% of leukemia deaths and 11% of solid cancers, of unspecified lethality, could be due to radiation from the bombs, with the statistical excess being estimated at 200 leukemia deaths and 1,700 solid cancers of undeclared lethality.[38]




See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Overseas Atomic Bomb Survivors Support Program". Atomic Bomb Survivors Affairs Division Health And Welfare Department Nagasaki prefectural Government. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
  2. ^ "Mayor vows to pass on Hiroshima history / Ceremony marks 73rd anniversary of bombing". The Japan News. August 6, 2018. Retrieved 2018-08-09.
  3. ^ "Relief for A-bomb victims". The Japan Times. 2007-08-15. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-10-02.
  4. ^ "30 A-bomb survivors apply for radiation illness benefits". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
  5. ^ "Hiroshima mayor questions nuclear nations' nationalism, wants Japan to do more". The Mainichi. August 6, 2018. Retrieved 2018-08-09.
  6. ^ "Nagasaki marks 73rd anniversary of atomic bombing". The Japan News. August 9, 2018. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  7. ^ US diplomatic cable reporting the ruling
  8. ^ My Life: Interview with former Hiroshima Mayor Takashi Hiraoka, Part 10, Chugoku Shimbun
  9. ^ Mikiso Hane (2001). Modern Japan: A Historical Survey. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3756-9.
  10. ^ Hibakusha: A Korean's fight to end discrimination toward foreign A-bomb victims Archived 2013-02-19 at Archive.is, Mainichi Daily News. May 9, 2008.
  11. ^ a b c Wake, Naoko. "Japanese American Hibakusha", Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved Aug 5, 2014.
  12. ^ "Nagasaki memorial adds British POW as A-bomb victim". The Japan Times. August 9, 1945. Retrieved Jan 9, 2009.
  13. ^ [1] This reference also lists at least three other POWS who died on 9-8-1945
  14. ^ "CWGC: Casualty Details". Cwgc.org. Retrieved Jan 9, 2009.
  15. ^ "CWGC: Casualty Details". Cwgc.org. Retrieved Jan 9, 2009.
  16. ^ [2] does not tell if these were Nagasaki casualties
  17. ^ "Two Dutch POWs join Nagasaki bomb victim list". The Japan Times. August 9, 1945. Archived from the original on December 20, 2005. Retrieved Jan 9, 2009.
  18. ^ [3]
  19. ^ It Gave Him Life – It Took It, Too United States Merchant Marine.org website
  20. ^ "How Effective Was Navajo Code? One Former Captive Knows", News from Indian Country, August 1997.
  21. ^ "Twice Bombed, Twice Survived: Film Explores Untold Stories from Hiroshima & Nagasaki". Columbia University. August 2, 2006. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
  22. ^ Japan Confirms First Double A-Bomb Survivor
  23. ^ "Man who survived two atom bombs dies". CNN. January 8, 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  24. ^ Simons, Lewis M. (June 7, 1984). "Children of Hiroshima, Nagasaki survivors facing prejudice, discrimination in Japan". Ottawa Citizen. Knight-Rider News. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  25. ^ "Prejudice haunts atomic bomb survivors". Japan Times. Archived from the original on 2007-08-10. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
  26. ^ http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/268/5/661.short The Children of Atomic Bomb Survivors: A Genetic Study. 1992. No differences were found (in frequencies of birth defects, stillbirths, etc), thus allaying the immediate public concern that atomic radiation might spawn an epidemic of malformed children.
  27. ^ http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/78218/1/9789241505130_eng.pdf World Health Organization report. page 23 & 24 internal
  28. ^ Winther, J. F.; Boice, J. D.; Thomsen, B. L.; Schull, W. J.; Stovall, M.; Olsen, J. H. (1 January 2003). "Sex ratio among offspring of childhood cancer survivors treated with radiotherapy". Br J Cancer. 88 (3): 382–387. doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6600748. PMC 2747537. PMID 12569380 – via www.nature.com.
  29. ^ http://www.rerf.jp/radefx/genetics_e/birthdef.html (RERF)Radiation Effects Research Foundation. Formerly known as the (ABCC)Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.
  30. ^ "NUCLEAR CRISIS: Hiroshima and Nagasaki cast long shadows over radiation science".
  31. ^ Terkel, Studs (1984). The Good War. Random House. p. 542.
  32. ^ "Welcome to HIDANKYO". Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization (Nihon Hidankyo) website. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
  33. ^ Latest Knowledge on Radiological Effects: Radiation Health Effects of Atomic Bomb Explosions and Nuclear Power Plant Accidents
  34. ^ Medical Effects Of Atomic Bombs The Report Of The Joint Commission For The Investigation Of The Effects Of The Atomic Bomb In Japan Volume 1
  35. ^ Kalter, Harold (28 July 2010). "Teratology in the Twentieth Century Plus Ten". Springer Science & Business Media – via Google Books.
  36. ^ Effect of Exposure to the Atomic Bombs on Pregnancy Termination in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1956) doi.org/10.17226/18776
  37. ^ Effects of Ionizing Radiation: Atomic Bomb Survivors and Their Children ... edited by Leif E. Peterson, Seymour Abrahamson. Table 7.3
  38. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions #2". Radiation Effects Research Foundation. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  39. ^ Lim, Fifi (4 August 1988). "Survivor Haji Razak Recalls The Horror Of It All". New Straits Times. Universiti Sains Malaysia. Archived from the original on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  40. ^ Hibakusha Portraits, The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, London, 2012
  41. ^ Carl Randall Bio, www.carlrandall.com, London, 2012
  42. ^ Hibakusha, Eastlit, 2015
  43. ^ Hiroshima's Walking Ghosts, Groove Magazine, Korea, p. 53, 2015
  44. ^ Stefania Summermatter and Christian Raaflaub (2015-08-13). "Als die Sonne vom Himmel fiel: Hiroshima: "Wer nicht dabei war, wird es nie verstehen können"" (in German). swissinfo.ch. Retrieved 2015-08-14.

Further reading[edit]

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