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A hibakusha of Hiroshima, symptomatic nuclear burns; the pattern on her skin is from the kimono she was wearing at the moment of the flash.

Hibakusha (pronounced [çibaꜜkɯ̥ɕa] or [çibakɯ̥ꜜɕa]; Japanese: 被爆者 or 被曝者; lit. "survivor of the bomb" or "person affected by exposure [to radioactivity]") is a word of Japanese origin generally designating the people affected by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States at the end of World War II.


The word hibakusha is Japanese, originally written in kanji. While the term Hibakusha 被爆者 (hi "affected" + baku "bomb" + sha "person") has been used before in Japanese to designate any victim of bombs, its worldwide democratization led to a definition concerning the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped in Japan by the United States Army Air Forces on the 6 and 9 August 1945.

Anti-nuclear movements and associations, among others of hibakusha, spread the term to designate any direct victim of nuclear disaster, including the ones of the nuclear plant in Fukushima.[1] They, therefore, prefer the writing 被曝者 (replacing baku "bomb" with the homophonous "exposure") or "person affected by the exposure", implying "person affected by nuclear exposure".[2] This definition tends to be adopted since 2011.[3]

The juridic status of hibakusha is allocated to certain people, mainly by the Japanese government.

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.[4] The Japanese government has recognized about 650,000 people as hibakusha. As of March 31, 2023, 113,649 were still alive, mostly in Japan,[5] and in 2024 are expected to surpass the number of surviving US World War veterans.[6] The government of Japan recognizes about 1% of these as having illnesses caused by radiation.[7] 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.[8]

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 2023, the memorials record the names of 535,000 hibakusha; 339,227 in Hiroshima[9] and 195,607 in Nagasaki.[10]

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 not to have collapsed from "Little Boy".
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 free medical care for hibakusha. During the 1970s, non-Japanese hibakusha who suffered from those atomic attacks began to demand the right to 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.[11][12]

Korean survivors[edit]

During the war, Korea had been under Japanese imperial rule, and many Koreans were forced to go to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a labor force. 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.[13] 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.[14]

Japanese-American survivors[edit]

The Boy Standing by the Crematory, a historic photograph taken in Nagasaki, Japan, in September 1945, shortly after the atomic bombing of that city on August 9, 1945. The photograph is of a boy of about 10-years-old with his dead baby brother strapped to his back, waiting for his turn at the crematorium.

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 any other prefecture, and Nagasaki also sent many 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.[15]

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.[15]

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.[15]

Other foreign survivors[edit]

While one British Commonwealth citizen[16][17][18][19][20] and seven Dutch POWs (two names known)[21] died in the Nagasaki bombing, at least two POWs reportedly died postwar from cancer thought to have been caused by the atomic bomb.[22][23] One American POW, the Navajo 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.[24]

Double survivors[edit]

People who suffered the effects of both bombings are known as nijū hibakusha in Japan. These people were in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and within two days managed to reach Nagasaki.

A documentary called Twice Bombed, 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.[25]

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.[26] Tsutomu Yamaguchi died at the age of 93 on January 4, 2010, of stomach cancer.[27]


Terumi Tanaka, Hibakusha of Nagasaki, tells young people about his experience and shows pictures. United Nations's International Atomic Energy Agency 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[28] due to public ignorance about the consequences of radiation sickness, with much of the public believing it to be hereditary or even contagious.[29][30] 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.[31][32][33] The surviving women of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who could conceive, and 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.[34][35]

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.[36]

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.[37]

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 (ABCC) 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.[38][39]

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 there is no danger. 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.[40][41]

In a 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.[42]

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.[43]


Notable hibakusha[edit]

Sadako Sasaki, the young girl who died of leukemia after completing her 1,000 crane origamis, 1955
Isao Harimoto, ethnic Korean former Nippon Professional Baseball player and holder of the record for most hits in the Japanese professional leagues. Inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.
Setsuko Thurlow, Japanese-Canadian anti-nuclear peace activist and ambassador and keynote speaker for the reception of the Nobel Peace Prize of ICAN, 27 October 2017


Tamiki Hara, poet, writer and literature professor
  • Tamiki Harahibakusha of Hiroshima at 39 years old, poet, writer, and University professor
  • Tomotaka Tasakahibakusha of Hiroshima at 43 years old, film director and scriptwriter
  • Yoko Otahibakusha of Hiroshima at 38 years old, writer
  • Yoshito Matsushigehibakusha of Hiroshima at 32 years old, has taken the only 5 pictures known the day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima
  • Shigeru Nakamurahibakusha of Hiroshima at 34 years old, supercentenarian, former oldest living Japanese man (September 9 - November 15, 2022).[45]


Hiroshima and Nagasaki[edit]

  • Tsutomu Yamaguchi – the first person officially recognized to have survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.

Artistic representations and documentaries[edit]

Literature (原爆文学 Genbaku bungaku)[edit]

Hibakusha literature[edit]

  • Summer Flowers (夏の花 Natsu no hana), Tamiki Hara, 1946
  • From the Ruins (廃墟から Haikyo kara), Tamiki Hara, 1947
  • Prelude to Annihilation (壊滅の序曲 Kaimetsu no jokyoku), Tamiki Hara, 1949
  • City of Corpses (屍の街 Shikabane no machi), Yōko Ōta, 1948
  • Human Rags (人間襤褸 Ningen Ranru), Yōko Ōta, 1951
  • Penitence (さんげ Sange), Shinoe Shōda, 1947 - collection of tanka poems
  • Bringing Forth New Life (生ましめんかな Umashimenkana), Sadako Kurihara, 1946
  • I, A Hiroshima Witness (私は広島を証言する Watashi wa Hiroshima wo shogen suru), Sadako Kurihara, 1967
  • Documents about Hiroshima Twenty-Four Years Later (Dokyumento Hiroshima 24 nen), Sadako Kurihara, 1970
  • Ritual of Death (祭りの場 Matsuri no ba), Kyōko Hayashi, 1975
  • Poems of the Atomic Bomb (原爆詩集 Genbaku shishu), Sankichi Tōge, 1951
  • The bells of Nagasaki (長崎の鐘, Nagasaki no Kane), Takashi Nagai, 1949
  • Little boy: stories of days in Hiroshima, Shuntaro Hida, 1984
  • Letters from the end of the world: a firsthand account of the bombing of Hiroshima, Toyofumi Ogura, 1997
  • The day the sun fell - I was 14 years old in Hiroshima, Hashizume Bun, 2007
  • Yoko’s Diary: The Life of a Young Girl in Hiroshima During World War II, Yoko Hosokawa
  • Hiroshima Diary, Michihiko Hachiya, 1955
  • One year ago Hiroshima (Genshi bakudan kaiko), Hisashi Tohara, 1946

Non-Hibakusha literature[edit]

Manga and anime[edit]



Fine art painting[edit]

  • Hiroshima shohenzu (広島生変図 Hiroshima's holocaust), Ikuo Hirayama
  • Carl Randall (UK artist who met and painted portraits of Hibakusha in Hiroshima, 2006/09)[52][53]

Performing arts[edit]

  • Hibakusha characters are featured in several Japanese plays including The Elephant by Betsuyaku Minoru


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sink, Bob. "Who Are The Hibakusha?". Hibakusha Stories. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  2. ^ Romei, Sayuri (2017-03-11). "6 years after the Fukushima disaster, its victims are still suffering". Revista de Prensa (in European Spanish). Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  3. ^ "NUCLEAR-RISKS | Home". www.nuclear-risks.org. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ Masheter, Peter (August 6, 2023). "Hiroshima mayor calls nuke deterrence a "folly" at 78th A-bomb anniv". Kyodo News. Retrieved 2023-08-09.
  6. ^ McEvoy, Olan (June 1, 2023). "Annual projected number of living WWII United States military veterans from 2021 until 2036," Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1333701/us-military-ww2-veterans-living-estimate/
  7. ^ "Relief for A-bomb victims". The Japan Times. 2007-08-15. Archived from the original on 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2007-10-02.
  8. ^ "30 A-bomb survivors apply for radiation illness benefits". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
  9. ^ "Hiroshima atomic bomb victims remembered 78 years on". NHK World-Japan. August 5, 2023. Retrieved 2023-08-09.
  10. ^ Masheter, Peter (August 9, 2023). "Nagasaki urges break from nuke deterrence at scaled-down A-bomb event". Kyodo News. Retrieved 2023-08-09.
  11. ^ "US diplomatic cable reporting the ruling".
  12. ^ My Life: Interview with former Hiroshima Mayor Takashi Hiraoka, Part 10, Chugoku Shimbun
  13. ^ Mikiso Hane (2001). Modern Japan: A Historical Survey. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3756-9.
  14. ^ Hibakusha: A Korean's fight to end discrimination toward foreign A-bomb victims Archived 2013-02-19 at archive.today, Mainichi Daily News. May 9, 2008.
  15. ^ a b c Wake, Naoko. "Japanese American Hibakusha", Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved Aug 5, 2014.
  16. ^ "Nagasaki memorial adds British POW as A-bomb victim". The Japan Times. August 9, 1945. Retrieved Jan 9, 2009.
  17. ^ "Casualty". www.cwgc.org.
  18. ^ "CWGC: Casualty Details". Cwgc.org. Retrieved Jan 9, 2009.
  19. ^ "CWGC: Casualty Details". Cwgc.org. Retrieved Jan 9, 2009.
  20. ^ "Casualty". www.cwgc.org.
  21. ^ "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.
  22. ^ "Flack Genealogy - Norman Charles Flack". 12 March 2007. Archived from the original on 12 March 2007.
  23. ^ It Gave Him Life – It Took It, Too Archived 2017-08-16 at the Wayback Machine United States Merchant Marine.org website]
  24. ^ "How Effective Was Navajo Code? One Former Captive Knows", News from Indian Country, August 1997.
  25. ^ "Twice Bombed, Twice Survived: Film Explores Untold Stories from Hiroshima & Nagasaki". Columbia University. August 2, 2006. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
  26. ^ "Japan Confirms First Double A-Bomb Survivor".
  27. ^ "Man who survived two atom bombs dies". CNN. January 8, 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-08.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ "Prejudice haunts atomic bomb survivors". Japan Times. Archived from the original on 2007-08-10. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
  30. ^ "The survivors of the atomic bomb attacks in Japan". 2 August 1995.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ World Health Organization report. page 23 & 24 internal]
  33. ^ 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.
  34. ^ http://www.rerf.jp/radefx/genetics_e/birthdef.html (RERF)Radiation Effects Research Foundation. Formerly known as the (ABCC)Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.
  35. ^ "NUCLEAR CRISIS: Hiroshima and Nagasaki cast long shadows over radiation science". Archived from the original on 2012-04-05. Retrieved 2013-03-04.
  36. ^ Terkel, Studs (1984). The Good War. Random House. p. 542.
  37. ^ "Welcome to HIDANKYO". Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization (Nihon Hidankyo) website. Retrieved 2007-08-31.
  38. ^ Latest Knowledge on Radiological Effects: Radiation Health Effects of Atomic Bomb Explosions and Nuclear Power Plant Accidents
  39. ^ Oughterson, A. W.; LeRoy, G. V.; Liebow, A. A.; Hammond, E. C.; Barnett, H. L.; Rosenbaum, J. D.; Schneider, B. A. (19 April 1951). "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". doi:10.2172/4421057. OSTI 4421057. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  40. ^ Kalter, Harold (28 July 2010). Teratology in the Twentieth Century Plus Ten. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9789048188208 – via Google Books.
  41. ^ National Research Council (1956). Effect of Exposure to the Atomic Bombs on Pregnancy Termination in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. doi:10.17226/18776. hdl:2027/mdp.39015003401224. ISBN 978-0-309-30440-5 – via www.nap.edu.
  42. ^ Peterson, Leif E.; Abrahamson, Seymour (6 July 1998). Effects of Ionizing Radiation: Atomic Bomb Survivors and Their Children (1945-1995). Joseph Henry Press. ISBN 9780309556996 – via Google Books.
  43. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions #2". Radiation Effects Research Foundation. Archived from the original on November 28, 2010. Retrieved March 2, 2014.
  44. ^ "Hiroshima Diary | Michihiko Hachiya, M.D." University of North Carolina Press. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  45. ^ "国内最高齢111歳の男性亡くなる 神石高原町の中村茂さん" [Japan's oldest 111-year-old man passes away: Shigeru Nakamura of Jinseki Kogen Town] (in Japanese). Chugoku Shimbun. 15 November 2022. Archived from the original on 15 November 2022. Retrieved 15 November 2022.
  46. ^ "Bloomsbury - Burnt Shadows". Archived from the original on 2012-08-28.
  47. ^ "Nagasaki". www.goodreads.com.
  48. ^ Hibakusha, Eastlit, 2015
  49. ^ Hiroshima's Walking Ghosts, Groove Magazine, Korea, p. 53, 2015
  50. ^ Patricio Apaez (4 July 2009). "Penderecki: Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" – via YouTube.
  51. ^ milanomusicafestival (24 June 2014). "Toshio Hosokawa - Voiceless Voice in Hiroshima" – via YouTube.
  52. ^ Hibakusha Portraits, The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, London, 2012
  53. ^ Carl Randall Bio, www.carlrandall.com, London, 2012
  54. ^ "YouTube". www.youtube.com.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Casualties of atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at Wikimedia Commons