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Tomoko Watanabe’s Interview

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Tomoko Watanabe is the founder of ANT (Asian Network of Trust)-Hiroshima, an organization dedicated to international cooperation, peacebuilding, and peace education around the world. Her parents, who lived in Hiroshima, were atomic bomb survivors. Watanabe herself was born eight years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this interview, she discusses her organization’s work and her dream of creating a nuclear-free and conflict-free world.

Date of Interview:
February 15, 2019
Location of the Interview:


Cindy Kelly:  I’m Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage Foundation, and it is February 15, 2019, in Hiroshima. I have with me a very special person. My first question is for her to tell us her name and spell it.

Tomoko Watanabe:  My name is Tomoko Watanabe. T-o-m-o-k-o W-a-t-a-b-a [misspoke: W-a-t-a-n-a-b-e]. I was born in Hiroshima, 1953.

Kelly:  Well, tell us about your family. How they had a very special history.

Watanabe: Yeah. My parents, my mother and my father, were A-bomb survivors. At that time, 1945, my father was 27 years old. At that time, he was at Hiroshima station in the train. He survived. My mother, at that time, she was 15 years old, student, Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital. She survived. Eight years after the bombing, I was born in Hiroshima. This is our history. I started to admire other A-bomb survivors. The history started.

[Background discussion]

Kelly: Okay. Good. That’s much better.

Watanabe: My mother was 15 years at that time, and eight years after, I was born in Hiroshima. Recently, my mother told me – I was so surprised, about 50 years after, finally, my mother told me  – when my mother had a pregnancy, me in her body, she [was] afraid. Two things: one, can I live after the birth, because at that time, so many A-bomb survivors had died. And so, after this baby, can I live or not? She [was] afraid.

Another: my baby, is it normal or not? Eight years after, so many babies are weak, or some [0:03:00] babies have some trouble. And my mother worried about, “My baby, my first baby, is it normal or not?” But she couldn’t [do] anything. So she only pray for Buddha. And she did. It was me. I’m a normal baby. My mother thought my presence—“My baby is my hope.” I was very moved. After 60 years, my mother told me this is her thought. In there deep, my mother’s heart, every time she worried about my health or my growth. I understand now.

When I was 20, I was grown up in Hiroshima. At this time, Hiroshima is so many A-bomb slums, or A-bomb survivors are living together. Very poor people. Most of the A-bomb survivors are very poor, lost their family and lost their houses. Very poor. Living [on] the riverside. This is A-bomb slums. My friends are living in here. But I grow up at 20. My life is like living together [with] A-bomb survivors, my normal life. But when I was 20, Hiroshima Shododai Yakushakujin [the school she attended], I was a student at the time. My last grandfather died in front of me, like brain blood is blast, and he died in front of me. I was very shocked. Why? Why now has my grandfather died? He passed away in front of me, and I started thinking, still now thinking, “What is the meaning of death? What is the meaning of life?”

And I suddenly noticed, I was born in Hiroshima, and my parents were A-bomb survivors. My parents had wartime experience at that time. For a long time, A-bomb survivors never talked about their own experience. [0:06:00] My father never talked. My mother never talked until my 20 years, 20 years old. I asked other people what happened in Hiroshima. I think I started to find, or I started to learn, or I started to research, about what happened in Hiroshima, especially under that mushroom cloud. Still now, I listen and find or learn or research what happened under the mushroom cloud. And I notice I have no knowledge. Sure, I have no experience about atomic bombing, but [also] no knowledge. I graduated university. I started to learn what happened in Hiroshima, 1945, August 6, and what [is the] meaning of the “Hiroshima.” I really want to know meaning. And still now, I’m learning. I’m listening. I’m thinking, “What is the meaning of the Hiroshima?”

I graduate and one year after, I married with my husband. At 24 years, I have one baby. I have one son and two daughters. And until 30, I was three kids’ mothers, and my husband is starting [his] own law office and working as a manager of this law office, very busy time. But still now, keep[ing in] my mind, “What [is the] meaning of the Hiroshima? What happened in Hiroshima?” I really want to know what happened, what meanings.

I was 33 years old. I decided. I founded a small grassroots NGO. Its name is, at the time, Ajia no tomo to te wo tsunagu Hiroshima shimi no kai. So long, long name. This is Friendship Association with Asian People. This is the first name. After, I changed [it to] ANT-Hiroshima. “Ant” meaning “little ants.” We are ants! And other meaning [0:09:00] is Asian Network of Trust. “Very important is the trust-building, people-to-people,” my thought. Especially Asian countries. During the Second World War, the Japanese Imperial Army occupied China, Korea, Philippines. So many people suffered. I really want to – like real friendship between Asian people and Japanese people.

But ANT-Hiroshima is a grown-up. Now, it’s a little bit changed. I really want to [do] trust-building all over the world, Asian peoples and American people, or other countries’ people, African people. Especially there are people, they have suffered from conflict or disaster or many poverties. We, especially me, I want to reach people-to-people. I start grassroots NGOs, but I have no knowledge. You know, my English is very poor, and I study English. I study how to make a project, how to manage project, how to fundraise, learning and learning. This is implementation. It’s like left foot and right foot. They’re walking, learning, learning. Small, step-by-step-by-step, and very small NGOs. But I think that small is beautiful, because usually, many big foundations are big money. And the project is a very short time. But our grassroots NGO is very small. No money, no power, only big heart, my friend said.

One project, this big foundation, is one year, but ANT-Hiroshima project, fifteen years, we need. But long time, we are between these peoples, Pakistan people or Nepal people, or Philippine people, American people, we make strong friendship or trust-building. I [am] working now 31 years, but I really want to work [0:12:00] until the end of my life. This is my mission.

I think Hiroshima, Nagasaki has five missions. Five missions. Number one is convey the reality of atomic bombing, because all over the world, most people know only the name of Hiroshima, Nagasaki. But most people don’t know what happened under the mushroom cloud. This is very important, not past. This is our near future. So I should, I must, convey the reality of the atomic bombing. Hiroshima, Nagasaki mission is ANT-Hiroshima’s mission, I think.

The second is a nuclear-free world. Many people think about nuclear-free world, “This is a dream.” I say, “Not dream. My reality. Our reality. We need the nuclear-free world for the children.”

Number three, peace-building activity, because I was born eight years after atomic bombing, Hiroshima. Now Hiroshima is a peaceful city and enough clothes, enough food, enough education. But still now, all over the world, people suffer conflict, disaster, or poverty or no water. And this is a similar situation, 1945, after the bombing of Hiroshima. At the time, all over the world, people support us, help us. So I could grow up. [With] no support, no help, Hiroshima citizens, I think, couldn’t live. My mission in the second generation of A-bomb survivors is I really want to support these people. This is Hiroshima, Nagasaki, is like maybe this is a good–

Kelly:  We can show those slides.

Watanabe: Yeah? 1945, Hiroshima, okay. And this is Hiroshima.

Kelly:  Right.

Watanabe: Now so many countries, Afghanistan or Rwanda, [0:15:00] or Philippines’ Mindanao Island or Syria, like this. The res, t are not like this. But now is Hiroshima, so I really want Hiroshima people [to] support, help these [places].

Number four is a peace culture. And peace education is important for the children, for young people. Most of the children think about violence, or power is right. So many terrorists, especially suicide bombers. No. Peace, love, or compassion is very important, or cooperation is very important. I really want to teach or talk to the children.

The number five mission is grow up the peace builders, the next generation. And this is ANT-Hiroshima’s mission. Under the fifth mission, I worked on a very small project in Hiroshima or out of Hiroshima. Continue to, every day, I think. Mainly I have a children’s book project, Paper Crane Journey. This children’s book is two parts. One is about Sadako Sasaki. This is a very sad story. Sadako’s story is a very sad story of Hiroshima. Not [just] Sadako, so many children died by effects of radiation. This is a very sad thing. This children’s book is a mission about Sadako’s friends [who] started [to] fundraise. Junior high school students, three years fundraise. And finally, they’re established. This is a Children Peace Monument. This is our pride. This is our prayer for building peace in the world. Strong wish.

This fact inspires [us] as a country, the children. Children have little power, but we have power. We can change. This is the ANT philosophy. We are small but gathering. We can do something for a better future. [0:18:00] And so, now it’s in 31 countries’ language translated.

I provide the children with some things. I go to the countries. I talk to children or students or young people. For example, five [misspoke: four] years ago, the big earthquake hit Nepal. I went to Nepal. Children had deep trauma. So we support the children, used this book. We are very small but we can do something.

So I believe – I continue to more and more – in my dream. I have so many young friends or senior friends all over the world, and we trust them. I continue to cooperate [with] these people to [make a] little change for the society. And finally, [the] dream come[s] true. Nuclear-free world, our people’s peaceful world. A dream doing, doing, doing, working, working, working. This is my mission. This is my story.

[End of audio]

Copyright 2019 The Atomic Heritage Foundation. This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced, or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the Atomic Heritage Foundation.