Heartrending Portraits of Atomic Bomb Survivors

August 6th and 9th, 1945, tragedy hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki when the U.S. decided to drop two atomic bombs. This massacre killed between 129,000 to 226,000 by the end of that year. The bomb detonated 600km above ground level, immediately destroying 12 square kilometers of the city.This is event that we will never forget. But there are those who certainly have it implemented into their minds due to the symptoms still affecting them today. Many survivors still suffer from debilitating diseases and stigmatization.  

There are survivors still here to tell their story, although it’s hard to listen to the devastation and grief. Photographer Haruka Sakaguchi was first propelled to create work about Japanese hibakusha, the atomic bomb survivors, after a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in 2005. She places the victims with a black background, takes intimate yet private portraits in order to grasp their emotions. Some have come to peace with what has happened, others are plagued with pain which we can see clearly through their facial lines and expressions. It proves that everyone endures tragedy in different shapes, ways or forms.

She had the survivors write on a piece of paper with what they incredible outcome came from those statements. Some of the hibakusha covered the pages with bold, broad strokes, ignoring the guiding lines, while others carefully printed small, composed words about their experience. The effect of this variation is humanizing; the viewer is gifted a small glimpse into each person’s personality and means of expression. Coupled with the portraits, these tiny signs of nature and disposition breathe life into the testimonies.The generation of survivors is coming to an end and Sakaguchi wants to make sure their testimonials have all been documented before their disappearance.

Here are some of the incredible survivors from Haruka Sakaguchi’s 1945Project!


Age 82, Hiroshima, 1.5km from hypocenter

“We will never come together as long as we hang onto nationalistic sentiments. We must instill in our future generations the importance of taking responsibility for our own actions. Only then can we speak as equals and contemplate the possibility of a world free of nuclear weapons.”


Age: 99, Nagasaki, 1.5km from hypocenter 

“I often think that humans go into war to satisfy their greed.
If we rid ourselves of greed and help each other instead, I believe that we will be able to coexist without war. I hope to live on with everyone else, informed by this logic. This is just a thought of mine – each person has differing thoughts and ideologies, which is what makes things challenging.”


Age 88, Hiroshima, 550m from hypocenter. 

“75 years since the bombing! Though I am a hibakusha who was exposed to the bomb 550m from the hypocenter, I did not become the hibakusha that I feared for the most. Instead, I became a mother blessed with healthy children, a mother blessed with a happy life, and I am currently living happily with my children. I hope to continue living a life brimming with health and happiness, along with my children. In the past, I have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, thyroid cancer, and breast cancer. But I hope to live a healthful life.”

Ms. Shigeko Matsumoto

Age 77, Nagasaki, 800m from hypocenter.

“I pray that every human being finds peace. - Matsumoto Shigeko”


Age 75, Nagasaki, 3.4km from hypocenter

“You are only given
One life
So cherish this moment
Cherish this day
Be kind to others
Be kind to yourself”


Age 83, Nagasaki, 2.2km from hypocenter 

“The atom bomb killed victims three times,’ a college professor once said. Indeed, the nuclear blast has three components – heat, pressure wave, and radiation – and was unprecedented in its ability to kill en masse. The bomb, which detonated 500m above ground level, created a bolide 200-250m in diameter and implicated tens of thousands of homes and families underneath. The pressure wave created a draft up to 70m/sec – twice that of a typhoon – which instantly destroyed homes 2km in radius from the hypocenter. The radiation continues to affect survivors to this day, who struggle with cancer and other debilitating diseases. I was 11 years old when the bomb was dropped, 2km from where I lived. In recent years, I have been diagnosed with stomach cancer, and have undergone surgery in 2008 and 2010. The atomic bomb has also implicated our children and grandchildren. One can understand the horrors of nuclear warfare by visiting the atomic bomb museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, listening to first-hand accounts of hibakusha survivors, and reading archival documents from that period. Nuclear weapons should, under no circumstances, be used against humans. However, nuclear powers such as the US and Russia own stockpiles of well over 15,000 nuclear weapons. Not only that, technological advances have given way to a new kind of bomb that can deliver a blast over 1,000 times that of the Hiroshima bombing. Weapons of this capacity must be abolished from the earth. However, in our current political climate we struggle to come to a consensus, and have yet to implement a ban on nuclear weapons. This is largely because nuclear powers are boycotting the agreement. I have resigned to the fact that nuclear weapons will not be abolished during the lifetime of us first-generation hibakusha survivors. I pray that younger generations will come together to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

April 19, 2017

Yoshiro Yamawaki”


Age: 72, Hiroshima, 1.7km from hypocenter 

“‘Why couldn’t I save them? Why did I get to survive?’ Those who were afflicted by the atomic bomb carry these sentiments with them for the rest of their lives. I may be the youngest hibakusha in the world; I was 24 days old at the time of the bombing. Still, my entire family was implicated by the atomic bomb. My older brother was afflicted as a student laborer; my aunt incurred severe burns and insisted on wearing long sleeved shirts during the summer. Even at 2.4km from the hypocenter, she lost part of the flesh on her arm due to radiation. Hydrogen bombs today are several hundred times more powerful than weapons we had back then. Russia has successfully conducted experiments with nuclear weapons that are 3,000 times more powerful than the ones we had back then. The earth is on the verge of utter destruction, yet only the power of people can prevent it.”


Age 86, Hiroshima, 2.0km from hypocenter

“Life is a curious treasure.”


Age 92, Nagasaki,  2.9km from hypocenter

Ms. Arakawa has very little recollection of how she survived the bombing after August 9, having lost both of her parents and four siblings to the atomic bomb attack. When asked to write a message for future generations, she replied, “Nani mo omoitsukanai (I can’t think of anything).”


Age 78, Nagasaki, 3.3km from the hypocenter

“The site of the bombing – Matsuyama-machi – is now a pristine park. Back then, however, it was a bustling town where many people lived and worked. A single atomic bomb detonated 500m above this town, destroying everything underneath it. Homes and families disappeared in an instant. Humans cause war. Thus, only humans can prevent it. I long for a peaceful society where everyone can live with dignity, and die with dignity. Peace is not something that we passively wait for. Peace is something that we must seek out and cultivate. Dear reader – please make Nagasaki the last atomic bomb site. - Yagi Michiko”


Age 89, Hiroshima, 3.0km from hypocenter 

“The other day, I shared my hibakusha experience with a group of energetic sixth graders. When I was finished, some fifteen or so students came up to me. “Was that a true story?” one of them asked. I was shocked – I had to catch my breath. These children who grew up knowing only peace, these people who have never experienced war – for them, my experience sounds like fiction. I strongly believe that we must continue to communicate to future generations the horrors of nuclear weapons and warfare. - Takeoka Chisako”

04 May 2018 by Lisa Scarpa

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