In 1945, Keiko Ogura was an eight-year old girl living in Hiroshima, Japan. At the time, her home city was one of the largest supply depots to the Japanese army, fueling them in the Second World War.
Although young Keiko was not aware, World War II would soon define her entire life… On August 6th 1945, the United States dropped the largest atomic bomb in history named “Little Boy” on the center of her city in desperate hopes of Japanese surrender. She was at home , only 1.5 miles (2.4km) away from the epicenter.
Unlike 118,661 of her fellow townsman, Keiko Ogura survived the bombing on that day.
In fact, she is still going strong today at age 77. I had the pleasure of meeting Keiko during my last trip to Hiroshima where we sat down to chat at the Peace Memorial Museum.
I remember our meeting vividly. She had warm eyes and an inviting smile. She was calm, yet passionate about her story.
Memories of Little Boy
I recall her sharing the dark memories of August 6th with me, as she described the blast, which threw her to the ground; the black rain that fell on the city, staining her white shirt; the smell of melting skin and burnt hair; and how she watch people die as she tried to give them water from her household well… all at the age of six.
You would think that Mrs. Ogura would be filled with anger as she spoke to me because of that day, or at least be emotionally wounded from those intense scenes. Yet, Keiko surprised me. Unlike most Japanese survivors who remain silent about the tragedy, she spoke with matter of factness, telling me about the blast as if it happened yesterday. She did not shy away from being honest about her curious reaction to it as a young girl either, which first caused her to climb to the top of her hometown hill each day to look upon the flattened city after the explosion. This same curiousness, led her to learn English as a young child through her interaction with Americans during the war recovery efforts.
Despite the devastation her city endured, this curiosity is what pushed Keiko onward into a life full of compassion as she grew up in post World War II Japan.
A Life of Purpose
After Kieko graduated from Hiroshima Jogakuin University in 1959, she married Mr. Kaoru Ogura, who was the director of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the secretary general of Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation.
Together they lived a life full of peace education until his death in 1979. Soon after, Mrs. Ogura established the Hiroshima Interpreters for Peace Foundation on her own to keep her husband’s spirit alive. Starting with only 20 members, it now has 90 members who are dedicated to telling the youth of the world their stories in an effort to educate others on atomic bomb destruction.
One of Keiko’s main projects at the age of 77, is working with the few remaining survivors to preserve their individual stories after death. The foundation matches a young volunteer with each survivor who will learn their story intimately, and study how to tell their story orally in a similar way of the survivor. They hope to preserve the memories of the blast with future generations in this way.
As Keiko told me about this project, I was awestruck – not only because of her age and zest for life! I was also shocked by her compassion, specifically toward Americans after all she has been through. Her life of atomic bomb education led her to interact with thousands of foreigners who allowed Keiko to connect with them on a personal level. With this compassion, she keeps her renewed energy alive for her peace initiatives, always with respect for others.
A Lesson from Keiko
As we said goodbye on that day, I will never forget her farewell as she bowed and warmly smiled. Little to my surprise, Mrs. Ogura even came by my hotel that later evening to give me a gift – a interpreter tool for English speakers to use while traveling in Japan. A new invention she created in her 70’s. I was touched and inspired to say the least!
Keiko Ogura is a prime example of how cultural exchange can lead to great understanding. As you go on in your worldwide travels, remember that despite the tragedies of war, there is rebuilding when people have compassion for each other.
I hope that as you journey, you will take the time to learn the history of the destination you are traveling to and connect with the locals to learn of their story. Through this act of curiosity, you represent your country with great measure! One pleasant meeting can shape their ideals about your entire country – what a powerful tool that is!
Let’s all strive to be like Mrs. Keiko Ogura – full of compassion and curiosity as we travel.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
1 Peter 3:8
Pictured: Peace Memorial – Hiroshima, Japan