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Rising From The Ashes: Miraculous Tale Of Man Who Survived Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb A Mile From Explosion

As we commemorate the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, AlterNet interviews Japanese-American author who writes of family’s heartfelt story and offers message of hope.

It was 1945 and 19-year-old Shinji Mikamo was on the rooftop of his Hiroshima house helping his father just like any other day when there was a blinding flash.  As Shinji turned toward the noise, a fireball sent him into darkness. An atomic bomb less than a mile away had just shattered Hiroshima, instantly killing 140,000 people.  Yet, Shinji miraculously managed to survive. 

While he experienced severe burns and wounds and watched his city crumble around him, Shinji managed to overcome extensive physical injuries and extreme hardships that plagued him for decades to come, by adopting a philosophy that allowed him to see past the cruelties to which he was exposed.

Much like many Americans felt following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were filled with resentment and bitterness which prevented many from moving forward from the disaster. Yet, Shinji managed to rise above the hate and forgive those who were accountable, offering a perspective that went against his strictly controlled military regime. 

Rising from the Ashes’ is Shinji’s personal story of survival and forgiveness, written by his daughter, Dr. Mikamo Akiko, in a bid to carry on his message of peace and humanity. On the anniversary weekend of Pearl Harbor, AlterNet sat down with Akiko to talk about the book, Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima and the psychological impact of forgiveness. 

JODIE GUMMOW: Take us through the journey of writing this book. What compelled you to tell this story?

AKIKO MIKAMO: I grew up listening to my father’s stories.  Since I was a child, I always wanted to re-tell the narrative of how my father survived his ordeal.  My father offered a unique perspective in that he was less than a mile away from the explosion and yet survived.  My father always raised me to believe it was wrong to hate America or any other nation who commits war atrocities.  He would say, ‘You have to understand the bigger picture of what was happening in the world at that time.  Blame the war on people’s unwillingness to understand another person’s perspective, not on the individual.’ He wanted me to learn English and about foreign culture to act as a bridge across oceans to help people from other premises with different values understand and empathize with one another so that no one would ever suffer from a nuclear bombing again.   So I grew up thinking I am going to write this book and tell the world the story of my family and how they survived. If we have to go through such a terrible tragedy, what can we learn from this? First and foremost, we can hold hands in unity and never allow this to happen again. Our worst enemy of yesterday can be our best friend of tomorrow. It was because of my father’s words that I moved to the United States twenty-five years ago and studied multicultural psychology. It took me three years of comprehensive research before the book came together.

JG: The book is written in the first person as though you are your father telling the story yourself.  Why did you write this book from Shinji’s perspective and not your own?

AK:  I wanted Shinji to talk to the readers and talk to everybody in the world.  I knew that this would ultimately have the strongest impact on the readers. This is a person who went through unbelievable physical pain, underwent numerous surgeries without anesthesia, suffered radiation poisoning, lost his entire family to the war and endured extreme poverty and hardships in a tightly controlled strict societal structure where he was considered an orphan, street rat and discriminated against by the Japanese Hiroshima survivors.  Yet, he still had hope and managed to build a family.  He never hated Americans like so many others around him and instead tried to teach people about the power of forgiveness. He got bashed for doing so and for not expressing hate towards the United States. He would say that the events in history, what happened in China and Pearl Harbor, were not because one person was wrong and the other right. Rather, humans have a tendency and weakness to lash out and retaliate against others because we believe in our righteousness. But the paradox is that this is what got us into the disaster in the first place.

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