Everyday Keiko would walk to school carrying anti-air raid gear. She lived about ten blocks away from the school, it seems- according to the satellite images she projected. When the air raid sirens would go off, she would have to walk home rather than take shelter in the school’s bunker.
On the day of the bombing, Keiko was absent from school. Her father had a sense that something was about to happen, and advised her to stay home. Months before August 1945, Keiko and her immediate family had moved to the outskirts of Hiroshima from central to suburban Hiroshima. Her father, seeing how the US Military spared Hiroshima of the heavy firebombing it brought upon many other Japanese cities, knew Hiroshima would suffer a worse attack.
On August 6th 1945, Keiko was outdoors. Suddenly, she saw a bright flash was thrown to the ground, and when she woke up, she noticed that the sky was dark. The bomb was dropped at 8:15 in the morning. She ran back to her house and saw that most of her family remained unhurt. Only her uncle was badly pierced by shards of glass. He had been standing in between glass windows at the time of the blast. As she detailed each of her family members’ whereabouts that morning, Keiko emphasized that no hibakusha’s testimony is the same, saying “that’s why when we (hibakusha) talk, we ask where were you at the time?”
I listened to Keiko speak on August 4th 2015, at the time of writing this I remain haunted by her testimony. She was not speaking for herself, the words she spoke resonated with a larger presence than a person could invocate. This piece of writing attempts to both discern the nature of Keiko’s polyvocal quality and serve as a medium for processing my fears towards an world wherein an inverse correlation exists between the presence of hibakusha and nuclear power.
In July 2015 I performed the role Mouth in Samuel Beckett’s Not I. Preparing for the role increasingly made me aware of the impossibility of testimony. I listened to Keiko with such a presence of mind. In Beckett’s ten to fifteen minute play, a Mouth emerging out of darkness ten feet above the ground speaks at the speed of thought. Its narrative is fragmented, one phrase at a time. The initial series of fragments is akin to a birthing account: “out… into this world…tiny little thing…before its time…in a godforsaken hole called”. While much of the speech is intelligible if spoken at a slower pace, the veracity at which it is delivered proposes the fact that complete comprehension is impossible. Yet because of the pace at which the play sets off from as well as the unstoppable outpouring of information never been told before, the audience’s need to interpret arises involuntarily. Obsessed with attempting the impossible, Beckett not only sets up the audience to make unconscious decisions as to how they respond to such an unnerving scene, but also reveals the impossibility of fully comprehending the revelations. While Keiko’s speech was delivered in full sentences and with a cadence that held its tension throughout the hour, I felt it acknowledged its inability to convey a full account. What was left unsaid had resonances as well as the material that was chosen. Like in Beckett, Keiko’s silences are as important as her speech. Inferred from her silences were the death of one of her family members when her family received news that there were no survivors from the downtown fire lane construction effort in which he had been at the time of the bombing. While parsing through Beckett’s Not I text can reveal moments of internal torment due to events out of the victim’s control, Keiko’s speech had no such script. Without the predetermined cues in Beckett’s theatre, Keiko’s became an unfolding narrative that charged ahead without needing the veracity of speech to indicate its urgency of revelation. The mode of communication was revelatory, later descriptions altering how earlier ones were interpreted. She would reveal the given circumstances only to later point out the absence of self-determination in the entire situation. The recently turned eight Keiko would see endless strewn bodies and zombies walking. Later, she would hear from her brother that the entire city was gone. He had seen it from the hill. After that, Keiko would make it a point to climb up the hill and watch the city.
The bomb brought a reality never before seen to humans. Inexplicable instant physical decimation and ensuing bodily decay. For months the US would keep outside eyes from entering the irradiated sites. However, they would heavily document the carnage. Many of the photos in museums depicting Fat Man’s aftermath were taken by the US Army as records of the first successful use of an atomic weapon on humans.
The legitimacy of testimony belies the fact that the most legitimate voices are no longer able to speak. In the paradox of surviving a catastrophe, the living few bear the burden of representing the dead, and with this burden the irreconcilable guilt of having survived when others died indiscriminately. The question of being able to convey the true effects of the bombing would lie outside survivors’ jurisdiction, but not the responsibility. Haunted by the dead, the obligation to speak about trauma arises. However, need does not enable the ability to deliver testimony. This is where I run away from writing further. Speaking about trauma will inadvertently trigger flashbacks, but remaining silent lodges the pain from the events themselves, nevertheless causing suffering.
In the Japanese context, not only do hibakusha feel that it is not their right to speak about the events that befell the victims, but also revealing their identities as such would invite discrimination across marital, career, and personal ties. For decades after 1945, and even now, A-bomb survivors would rather remain silent than face social prejudices related to radiation exposure. According to a July 30th 2015 Japan Times article, there are 183,519 hibakusha in Japan. However, this number is rapidly declining, in 2007, the figure was stated as 260,000. Many would keep their status as hibakusha a secret even from their spouses and children, while anxiety surrounding health conditions is common amongst second generation hibakusha. For decades survivors would be denied receiving coverage for the effects of radiation. Only in 1974 did the Health and Welfare Ministry issue the A-Bomb Victims Relief Law, covering medical costs albeit with much red tape in ascertaining hibakusha status. 
As the hour passed by, Keiko conveyed the generational implications of a nuclear strike. To deliver such a multifaceted account, she gave generous importance to not only the dead, but both the living and those yet born. Her stories are her own but in order to tell them at times she must make her current identity absent. Sole focus on her own survival over the years would betray the complexity of a nuclear bomb aftermath. Only by making her story about the experiences of many, can she carry out her task unimpeded. As she accounted for her family’s whereabouts that day, she became polyvocal. Uncannily, the words emanating from Keiko’s body seemed to act as thought engulfing her physical presence, transforming her 78 year old self into a conduit for others’ stories, a medium for the restless souls demanding a voice among the living.
Between the general category of hibakusha and those Keiko described, I felt that I empathized with the latter, whose stories were intertwined through Keiko’s life. The listener was being thrust into a web of relations that would be difficult for any photograph or text to convey. She speculated what her brothers went through at the moment of the blast. One was working as a mobilized student clearing debris to create fire lanes in the event of firebombing, and the other had been evacuated from school. She accounted for her uncle’s glass-pierced body and his withering away. One moment she would point to her childhood house on a map, and the next she would recount how she came to speak about her past anguish. The nature of traumatic memory defies chronology. This is what made listening to Keiko hauntingly painful, a feature that John Hersey’s 1946 landmark essay, Hiroshima, that delivered the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons to the western world, would only hint at.
Over thirty years passed before Keiko felt relieved of the voices occupying her consciousness. The act of revealing internal torment to listening ears stops personal thoughts from circulating boundlessly in private space. “I told [the] mystery to someone else then the nightmares stopped,” mentioned Keiko. She would emphasize the importance of sharing difficult events with others as a way to prevent being held hostage to the thoughts. Like many other hibakusha, sharing their experiences surrounding the atomic blast has enabled them to overcome past anguish. Keiko would become, like many others who refused to suffer in silence, storytellers.
The medium of testimony encompasses the art of storytelling. Whether in private or to a larger audience, conveying personal trauma to another is a vulnerable act.
The internal conflict caused by such a responsibility can be tremendous. Even amidst having suffered through the traumatic event itself, the survivor has to overcome her own post-traumatic stress in order to fulfil the duties of speaking for those who did not make it. Keiko spoke about the time, decades later, when she served as an interpreter at the Enola Gay unveiling ceremony in Washington DC. Upon seeing the B-29 plane that dropped the bomb, she had a flashback. Instantly, the media swarmed around her and her photo made the Japanese press the following day. Many hibakusha would avoid revealing such emotion in a public way, but like the sudden and indiscriminate nature of the bombing, Keiko could not do much to curb the terror she felt. Such post-traumatic stress continues to torment survivors, and because the triggers are not limited to life threatening situations, can overcome victims in places bearing little resemblance to war-torn destruction. The fear that gripped Keiko unassumingly that day is a residue of war-time trauma. One that unless addressed publically, the affected will continue suffering in silence. It is important to acknowledge the indiscriminate and visceral nature of a body undergoing a traumatic flashback. Such an occurrence is not only involuntary, but is also experienced as though the body is reliving the threatening situation with the same intensity as it first occurred. That day, after her attack, Keiko said she chose not to work.
Speaking about her flashback, Keiko could laugh at the fact that her daughter called her and said: “Mother, your crying face is on the newspaper.” Laughter made it clear that the demons of the past no longer plagued her the way that did that day. However, the fact remained that she was not hopeful for the direction nuclear power has taken. Very much aware of the recent passage of security bills through the lower house in Japan, Keiko decried the country’s leaders for their disrespect towards Japan’s Article 9 that has since prevented it from taking military action as a means of resolving international relations.
Listening to Keiko undid my mistrust of testimony as a medium of oral history. I had been weary of how words could potentially dilute the unspeakable nature of trauma. In my mind, no written account of what happened can encapsulate the injustice atomic bombed victims faced. The effects of nuclear weapons are simply too complex and individualized for a homogenous and transhistorical account of the first use of atomic power against humans. However, Keiko’s account was efficacious because it was delivered in her own aesthetic. Straight forward and in a matter of fact, no nonsense way, her words were her own. Like Mouth in Samuel Beckett’s Not I being both unstoppable and not able to stop itself from speaking about its past, Keiko’s words simultaneously carried the agency and burden of testimony. Her performance served primarily to communicate her experience, and by proxy and the irony of silence, it would convey the ominous presence of those whose voices can no longer be heard. What she did was something more ordinary than channelling a historical account, her presence reminded listeners that flesh and blood wither away, but not Keiko’s spirit. Like the indomitable samurai spirit, or bushido, not assume authority over representing those not present anymore, but channelled their haunting presence through her words. While the responsibility to represent spirits hovering around Hiroshima is a burden too big for any one person to carry out, using testimony to inculcate an awareness towards trauma’s ephemeral yet permanent nature in those listening is a gift. Keiko arrived, spent time sharing, took questions, then sent everyone on their various ways. Her matter of fact personality, and sense of duty towards delivering testimony made the event an intimate conversation. I am tempted to say that Keiko did a great job, but such praise is hollow unless her words made me understand why humans and the threat of nuclear disaster should not coexist. To get an understanding of the harrowing scenes following August 6th and 9th 1945, it is necessary to physically visit the city and listen to a survivor’s voice recount her experiences. One of my biggest regrets is not having taped Keiko that day. Afterwards, I felt I had a better understanding of the trauma’s hidden presence following the bombing. Any world leader ought to take into consideration the irreparable psychological damage loss of human life can inflict upon individuals. The loss of human capital takes decades to mend. When I was walking around the city, I could not fathom it being completely decimated. Signs of wartime residue were rare, and if present, they remained highlighted as relics of the past within protective areas or museum exhibits. Listening to Keiko was a direct means of comprehending both the physical and the psychological damage over time. It was not only important for me to feel disgust at the decision to obliterate indiscriminately, but also acknowledge current civilization as under ongoing threat from nuclear power and weapons. The hope may be for such an excursion to Hiroshima to provide answers to political decisions regarding nuclear power and weaponry, but the effect is far from that kind of decisive ability. What is certain is that the viewer is thrust into a reality where the implications of nuclear power and weapons percolate unconsciously, a reality where they are no longer able to remain passive subjects.
 Jungk’s visit to Hiroshima was in conjunction with his recently published book on the personal lives of the scientists who worked with Robert Oppenheimer to develop the nuclear bomb. Later, Keiko would assist in publishing the book Children of the Ashes, a book that details Hiroshima’s reconstruction process as well as the hardship and difficulties of hibakusha.
 In a recent survey, the Tokyo Federation of A-Bomb Sufferers’ Organizations (Toyukai) found that 60 percent of second generation hibakusha live in “some sort of fear” towards possible genetic effects of radiation. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/08/11/national/social-issues/offspring-hard-time-relating-hibakusha-experience-health-fears/#.VdZqU25C8sR
 However, this initial bill only covered Japanese hibakusha, leaving out overseas survivors until 2002 following Osaka High Court’s ruling that the Japanese government pay medical allowances to South Korean survivors.