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A-BOMB MAN J) On Being a Hibakusha Exposure to the atomic bomb changed the survivor's status as a human being, in his own eyes as well as in others'. He became a member of a new group: he assumed the identity of the hibakusha. Nor is this identity of significance only for atomic bomb victims. One of the methods I used to explore the nature of this identity was to encourage survivors to associate freely to the word hibakusha. In doing so, they inevitably conveyed to me the sense of having been compelled to take on a special category of existence by which they felt permanently bound, however they might wish to free themselves from it—as in the case of the shopkeeper's assistant: Well . . . because I am a hibakusha . . . how shall I say it—I wish others would not look at me with special eyes. . . . Perhaps hibakusha are mentally—or both physically and mentally—different from others. . . . But I myself do not want to be treated in any special way because I am a hibakusha. . . . He went on to complain that he was frequently asked to appear on television and then interviewed in a way that brought out "the darker side of the problem/' which, he felt, created "a burden for me," since D E A T H I N L I F E "if I am ill in bed I don't want people to know about it." He was thus protesting general imagery of the hibakusha as victim, and the internalization of this imagery in a form spoken of as "victim-consciousness." Not only is this kind of self-image humiliating to the hibakusha, but it separates him in his own eyes from the rest of mankind. Some, like the mathematician, associate hibakusha with physical vulnerability and poverty, with an overall image of the downtrodden: I use the word for those with a hard life—those with financial difficulty— or those people who seem to suffer most from aftereffects. The financially well-to-do can rest if they are tired and can eat nourishing food. The poor people cannot, and they easily become sick. . . . Others simply make the familiar equation: hibakusha equals fatal A-bomb disease—as in the case of one man whose associations went from "people in the hospital who die, even nowadays" to "I might suffer from some form of atomic bomb disease." But there are also protests against this image of debilitation—such as that put forth articulately by a souvenirvendor: When August 6 approaches, all of the newspapers begin to print articles on the atomic bomb. I hate that. . . . If they would write on some of the brighter aspects, that would be all right. But they always write about such dark, melancholy things which I do not like. Up till now journalism has made one specific frame for hibakusha and has treated us as if it were most appropriate for hibakusha to live within such a frame. The hibakusha themselves also believe that this shrunken life inside of this shell is the way of life of a hibakusha. I always tell them that they should cast off the shell, that seventeen years have gone by, that a shut-in life within such a shell is not the hibakusha way of life . . . that the idea itself of having to live that way makes them unhappy, and they ought to ... have morefighting spirit toward life. I myself got out of that shell and graduated from that stage a long time ago. . . . I am the kind of hibakusha who often goes to see movies, I frequently go to coffee shops when I have the time, I go out to drink sake. But then people ask, "How is it you . . . go out drinking?" I protest to them: "You talk so foolishly— why shouldn't hibakusha go out drinking? . . . What does it mean to be like a hibakusha or not like a hibakusha? I am a hibakusha, but at the same time, before being a hibakusha, I am a human being." 166 A-Bomb Man , . . I joke with girls and tell them, "Even though you are a hibakasha go ahead and fall in love with a boy." Then these girls say, "Why, I can't do that." I want to tell them there is no reason that they should not. . . . More than just conversations with other hibakusha, his words represent his own interior dialogue between the normally vigorous human being he aspires to be...


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MARC Record
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