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Hibakusha (被爆者?) is the Japanese word for the surviving victims of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The word literally translates as "explosion-affected people" and is used, often derogatorily, to refer to people who were exposed to radiation from the bombings.


Official recognition

The Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law defines hibakusha as people who fall into one or more of the following categories: within a few kilometers of the hypocenters of the bombs; within 2 km of the hypocenters within two weeks of the bombings; exposed to radiation from fallout; or not yet born but carried by pregnant women in any of these categories. The Japanese government has recognized about 650,000 people as hibakusha. As of March 31, 2016, 174,080 are still alive, mostly in Japan. The government of Japan recognizes about 1% of these as having illnesses caused by radiation.

Hibakusha are entitled to government support. They receive a certain amount of allowance per month. About 1%, certified as suffering from bomb-related diseases, receive a special medical allowance.

The memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki contain lists of the names of the hibakusha who are known to have died since the bombings. Updated annually on the anniversaries of the bombings, as of August 2016 the memorials record the names of more than 475,000 hibakusha; 303,195 in Hiroshima and 172,230 in Nagasaki.

In 1957 the Japanese Parliament passed a law providing for free medical care for hibakusha. During the 1970s, non-Japanese hibakusha who suffered from those atomic attacks began to demand the right for free medical care and the right to stay in Japan for that purpose. In 1978 the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that such persons were entitled to free medical care while staying in Japan.

Korean survivors

During the war, Japan brought many Korean conscripts to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki to work as slaves. According to recent estimates, about 20,000 Koreans were killed in Hiroshima and about 2,000 died in Nagasaki. It is estimated that one in seven of the Hiroshima victims was of Korean ancestry. For many years, Koreans had a difficult time fighting for recognition as atomic bomb victims and were denied health benefits. However, most issues have been addressed in recent years through lawsuits.

Japanese American survivors

It was a common practice before the war for American Issei, or first-generation immigrants, to send their children on extended trips to Japan to study or visit relatives. More Japanese immigrated to the U.S. from Hiroshima than from any other prefecture, and Nagasaki also sent a high number of immigrants to Hawai'i and the mainland. There was, therefore, a sizable population of American-born Nisei and Kibei living in their parents' hometowns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time of the atomic bombings. The actual number of Japanese Americans affected by the bombings is unknown — although estimates put approximately 11,000 in Hiroshima city alone — but some 3,000 of them are known to have survived and returned to the U.S. after the war.

A second group of hibakusha counted among Japanese American survivors are those who came to the U.S. in a later wave of Japanese immigration during the 1950s and 1960s. Most in this group were born in Japan and migrated to the U.S. in search of educational and work opportunities that were scarce in post-war Japan. Many were "war brides," or Japanese women who had married American men related to the U.S. military's occupation of Japan.

As of 2014, there are about 1,000 recorded Japanese American hibakusha living in the United States. They receive monetary support from the Japanese government and biannual medical checkups with Hiroshima and Nagasaki doctors familiar with the particular concerns of atomic bomb survivors. The U.S. government provides no support to Japanese American hibakusha.

Other foreign survivors

While one British Commonwealth citizen and seven Dutch POWs (two names known) died in the Nagasaki bombing, at least two POWs reportedly died postwar from cancer thought to have been caused by the atomic bomb. One American POW, Joe Kieyoomia, was in Nagasaki at the time of the bombing but survived, reportedly having been shielded from the effects of the bomb by the concrete walls of his cell.

Double survivors

People who suffered the effects of both bombings are known as nijū hibakusha in Japan.

A documentary called Twice Survived: The Doubly Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was produced in 2006. The producers found 165 people who were victims of both bombings, and the production was screened at the United Nations.

On March 24, 2009, the Japanese government officially recognized Tsutomu Yamaguchi (1916–2010) as a double hibakusha. Tsutomu Yamaguchi was confirmed to be 3 kilometers from ground zero in Hiroshima on a business trip when the bomb was detonated. He was seriously burnt on his left side and spent the night in Hiroshima. He got back to his home city of Nagasaki on August 8, a day before the bomb in Nagasaki was dropped, and he was exposed to residual radiation while searching for his relatives. He was the first officially recognized survivor of both bombings. Tsutomu Yamaguchi died at the age of 93 on January 4, 2010 of stomach cancer.


Hibakusha and their children were (and still are) victims of severe discrimination when it comes to prospects of marriage or work due to public ignorance about the consequences of radiation sickness, with much of the public believing it to be hereditary or even contagious. This is despite the fact that no statistically demonstrable increase of birth defects/congenital malformations was found among the later conceived children born to survivors of the nuclear weapons used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or found in the later conceived children of cancer survivors who had previously received radiotherapy. The surviving women of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that could conceive, who were exposed to substantial amounts of radiation, went on and had children with no higher incidence of abnormalities/birth defects than the rate which is observed in the Japanese average.

Studs Terkel's book The Good War includes a conversation with two hibakusha. The postscript observes:

There is considerable discrimination in Japan against the hibakusha. It is frequently extended toward their children as well: socially as well as economically. "Not only hibakusha, but their children, are refused employment," says Mr. Kito. "There are many among them who do not want it known that they are hibakusha."

The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (日本被団協, Nihon Hidankyō) is a group formed by hibakusha in 1956 with the goals of pressuring the Japanese government to improve support of the victims and lobbying governments for the abolition of nuclear weapons.


  • Effects of nuclear explosions on human health
  • Radiation poisoning
  • People

  • Hiroshima Maidens - 25 young women who had surgery in the US after the war
  • Hubert Schiffer - Jesuit priest at Hiroshima
  • Isao Harimoto - ethnic Korean baseball player born in Hiroshima
  • Issey Miyake - clothing designer
  • Joe Kieyoomia – an American Navajo prisoner of war who survived both the Bataan Death March and the Nagasaki bombing
  • Keiji Nakazawa - author of Barefoot Gen
  • Koko Kondo - notable peace activist and daughter of Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto
  • Sadako Sasaki - well known for her attempt to fold a thousand origami cranes in order to cure herself of leukemia
  • Takashi Nagai - doctor and author of The Bells of Nagasaki
  • Terumi Tanaka - activist with Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations
  • Tsutomu Yamaguchi - the only person officially recognized to have survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings
  • Shigeaki Mori - a historian of allied prisoners of war
  • Sunao Tsuboi - teacher and activist with Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations
  • Representations

  • Children of Hiroshima (1952 film)
  • Black Rain (1965 novel)
  • Barefoot Gen (1973 manga series)
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (1977 non-fiction children's book)
  • No More Hiroshima (1984 documentary film)
  • Hiroshima Witness (1986 documentary film)
  • Black Rain (1989 Japanese film)
  • Rhapsody in August (1991 Japanese film)
  • Hiroshima (1995 film)
  • Letters from the End of the World (2001 book)
  • Hiroshima Diary (2005 novel)
  • Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (2003 manga, 2007 novel and film)
  • Hiroshima (2005 documentary/docudrama film)
  • White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (2007 documentary film)
  • Atomic Wounds (2008 documentary film)
  • Boushi (2008 TV drama)
  • Carl Randall (UK artist who met and painted portraits of Hibakusha in Hiroshima, 2006/09)
  • Burnt Shadows (2009 novel shortlisted for the Orange Prize)
  • Hibakusha (2012 animated short film)
  • Hibakusha (2015 short story)
  • Als die Sonne vom Himmel fiel (2015 documentary film by Japanese–Swiss filmmaker Aya Domenig)
  • References

    Hibakusha Wikipedia