On 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945, 15-year-old Misako Tachibana looked up and saw a silver airplane leaving a billowy contrail in the sky above Hiroshima. Moments later, there was a searing flash of light and a
blast that threw her 100 feet into a riverbank. Her school uniform ignited and she suffered serious burns. "For a few minutes, the city was completely black," she remembers. "Children were jumping into the river to stop the flames. It was like hell." Now living in Calgary, Tachibana still bears the scars of that morning, but says she is not bitter that the Americans dropped the bomb. "If they hadn't, the war wouldn't have ended so soon and more Japanese would have been killed," she says. "It saved a lot of lives." The intense heat of the blast charred Tachibana's face and left burnt skin hanging loosely from her limbs. Amid the chaos, her parents cared for her in a makeshift infirmary, applying ground cucumber and saltwa ter to her wounds. Eventually, Tachibana had four operations, but her
psychological injuries lingered. “I wanted to die,” she says. “I thought about suicide many times, but didn’t have the courage to kill myself." In 1955, Tachibana and 24 other bomb-disfigured women travelled to New York City under what became known as the “Hiroshima maidens project,” a charitable effort organized partly by the Quakers. After nine more operations—skin was transferred from her stomach to her face—she was sent to recuperate with families in New York and Connecticut. “It didn’t improve my looks," she says. “But the experience changed me emotionally and spiritually. They treated me as a human, with love and warmth. Americans did this to me—but then they brought me back to life.”
With $300 donated by the Quakers, Tachibana returned to Japan with the dream of enrolling in a beautician’s school. But she was rejected because of her appearance. “They said you had to look normal with the customers,” she recalls. Then, in 1966, she saw an advertisement inviting workers to come to Canada. She moved to Winnipeg and became a hairdresser. A year later, she met her husband-to-be, Hiroshi, an administrator with the local Japanese consulate. After 38 years in Winnipeg, 21 of them as proprietor of her own shop, Tachibana and her husband retired last year in Calgary. Childless—because of the radiation, she suspects— she fills her days gardening, sewing and making crafts. Canada, she says, has helped her to put some of the horror behind her. “I don’t know why that one second affected my life so much,” says Tachibana. “But I'm very happy now.”
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