Kiyoshi Tanimoto: The Hibakusha Who Got here Face-to-Face With the Man Who Bombed Hiroshima

In our newest Highlight article we concentrate on Kiyoshi Tanimoto, who handed away on today in 1986. An American-educated Methodist minister, he survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 after which spent a lot of his life devoted to supporting A-Bomb victims. He was most well-known as one of many six central characters in “Hiroshima,” John Hersey’s highly effective and groundbreaking article for The New Yorker that was later printed as a e book.

The celebrity he garnered from Hersey’s story, plus his hyperlinks to the US, made him the best individual to assist organize for the so-called “Hiroshima Maidens,” (25 girls disfigured within the blast) to get reconstructive surgical procedure in America. This additionally led to him being invited as a visitor on the NBC actuality documentary sequence This Is Your Life, the place he got here face-to-face with Robert A. Lewis, co-pilot of the airplane that dropped the bomb on town the place he was dwelling. It was arguably some of the awkward encounters in tv historical past.


Born in Sakaide Metropolis, Kagawa Prefecture on June 27, 1909, Tanimoto was the youngest of eight kids. Introduced up a Buddhist, he was launched to Methodism by American missionary Bertha Starkey throughout a post-high college journey to Korea the place he was visiting his older brother. Not lengthy after his return to Japan, his mom died unexpectedly.

Her passing had an enormous impact on Tanimoto and was one of many the explanation why he determined to grow to be a Methodist minister. He went on to check Christianity at Kwansei Gakuin College in Nishinomiya. It was a transfer that his father fiercely opposed. Actually, he was so in opposition to it, he even struck his son’s identify off the household register.

Hoping to work issues out, Tanimoto invited his father to his commencement. The invitation was returned with a notice saying, “I have no idea this individual.” Via his sister, Tanimoto was ultimately reconciled along with his dad shortly earlier than flying out to Atlanta, Georgia to enroll on an Worldwide Methodist Scholarship on the Candler College of Theology in 1937. Three years later, he was ordained as a minister, earlier than occurring to serve at church buildings in California and Okinawa.

Tanimoto married Chisa in 1942 and relocated to Hiroshima a 12 months later, the place he stayed for the rest of World Battle II. It was a metropolis that, for a lot of the battle, had been left comparatively unscathed. This, nevertheless, left Tanimoto feeling uneasy, like one thing large was about to occur. The common air raid sirens did not assist along with his nervousness.

The Bombing

At round 8:15am on August 6, 1945, his worst concern was realized. A small object connected to 2 parachutes was dropped out of a B-29 bomber. On the time the reverend was serving to a good friend transfer furnishings. The pair had been within the backyard after they observed a shiny flash of sunshine within the sky. Regardless of listening to no sound, Tanimoto dove between two rocks. Thankfully, he wasn’t significantly injured.

Getting up, Tanimoto frantically ran out of the property and instantly helped an outdated girl and an injured baby. His metropolis was on fireplace. “He had considered his spouse and child, his church, his residence, his parishioners, all of them down in that terrible murk,” wrote Hersey in Hiroshima. “As soon as extra he started to run in concern — towards town.”

What Tanimoto witnessed alongside the best way was horrific. There have been folks in agony with pores and skin falling off, whereas many had been vomiting as they walked. He felt responsible as he’d been left largely unscathed and could not assist everybody. After being reunited along with his spouse and baby, the reverend then tried to assist others in any means he might. He took out a ship to assist injured folks in and across the river, rescued those that had been trapped and introduced water to survivors.

Following Hersey’s seminal article in 1946, Tanimoto grew to become identified all through the world. Two years after it was launched, he was invited again to America the place he went on a 15-month tour, giving speeches in 31 states. Throughout his time there, he met outstanding figures comparable to Nobel Prize-winning writer Pearl S. Buck and political journalist Norman Cousins. These conferences led to the institution of the Ethical Adoption Program, by which American “adoptive dad and mom” supplied monetary assist and despatched presents to A-bomb orphans.

That is Your Life

Cousins ​​and Tanimoto continued to work collectively to assist hibakusha within the Fifties, most notably the Hiroshima Maidens: a bunch of girls disfigured by the thermal flash of the fission bomb. Tanimoto helped to lift funds for a few of them to get remedy in Japan, however again then cosmetic surgery wasn’t as superior right here because it was within the US. So, on Could 5, 1955, 25 of the Maidens had been transported to America to bear reconstructive surgical procedures.

Whereas accompanying them on the journey, Tanimoto was invited on This Is Your Life, a program by which presenter Ralph Edwards stunned friends earlier than taking them by a retrospective of their lives in entrance of a studio viewers. Tanimoto was delighted to be joined on the present by his household and two Hiroshima Maidens in addition to Starkey, the missionary who launched Christianity to him and Marvin Inexperienced, an outdated good friend from college. There was one different visitor that he’d by no means met earlier than.

“Wanting down from hundreds of toes over Hiroshima, all I might consider was my god what have we accomplished,” stated a voice from behind the display screen. It got here from Robert A. Lewis, the co-pilot and plane commander of the Enola Homosexual, the primary plane to drop an atomic bomb in warfare. Tanimoto had no thought he can be showing. Although courteous to one another, the 2 males clearly felt uncomfortable. Critiques of the present had been combined. “That is Your Life Hits New Low in Poor Style,” was the headlines within the New York Herald Tribune.

Tanimoto’s Demise and Legacy

The reverend went on to look in different abroad’ applications, resulting in some labeling him as a “fame seeker.” Authorities within the US and Japan additionally considered him as a possible anti-nuke troublemaker. This did not deter his mission, although. For the following three a long time, he remained decided to assist those that’d been affected by the atomic bomb, notably those that misplaced dad and mom within the assault. He served a number of church buildings as minister till his retirement in 1982.

4 years later, Tanimoto handed away. He died of pneumonia difficult by liver failure on September 29, 1986. He was 77. The reverend was survived by his spouse, two sons and three daughters. His elder baby, Koko Kondo, continued her father’s work, espousing international peace in nations comparable to Iraq. She nonetheless provides lectures and accompaniments nuclear research undergraduates from American College in Washington on their annual examine overseas journey to Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kyoto.

In 1987, the Hiroshima Peace Middle was established the Kiyoshi Tanimoto Peace Prize. It’s bestowed on people which can be making efforts to advertise a peaceable world. The primary recipient was Cousins, who was so instrumental in bringing the Hiroshima Maidens to the US. Different laureates embrace 2008 World Mayor nominee Tadatoshi Akiba, anti-nuclear weapons activist Akira Kawasaki and Sunao Tsuboi, the late hibakusha who met Barack Obama in 2016.