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A hibakusha of Hiroshima, symptomatic nuclear burns; the pattern on her skin is from the kimono she was wearing at the moment of the flash.

Hibakusha (pronounced [çibaꜜkɯ̥ɕa] or [çibakɯ̥ꜜɕa]; Japanese: 被爆者 or 被曝者; lit. "person affected by a bomb" or "person affected by exposure [to radioactivity]") is a word of Japanese origin generally designating the people affected by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.


The word hibakusha is Japanese, originally written in kanji. While the term Hibakusha 被爆者 (hi "affected" + baku "bomb" + sha "person") has been used before in Japanese to designate any victim of bombs, its worldwide democratisation led to a definition concerning the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped in Japan by the United States Army Air Forces on the 6 and 9 August 1945.

Anti-nuclear movements and associations, among others of hibakusha, spread the term to designate any direct victim of nuclear disaster, including the ones of the nuclear plant in Fukushima. They therefore prefer the writing 被曝者 (substituting baku with the homophonous "exposition") or "person affected by the exposition", implying "person affected by nuclear exposure". This definition tends to be adopted since 2011.

The juridic status of hibakusha is allocated to certain people, mainly by the Japanese government.

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, 2021, 127,755 were 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, and the ones 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 2021, the memorials record the names of almost 520,000 hibakusha; 328,929 in Hiroshima and 189,163 in Nagasaki.

Panoramic view of the monument marking the hypocenter, or ground zero, of the atomic bomb explosion over Nagasaki
Citizens of Hiroshima walk by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the closest building to Ground Zero not to have collapsed from "Little Boy".
A photograph of Sumiteru Taniguchi's back injuries taken in January 1946 by a U.S. Marine photographer

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, many Korean people were forced to go to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki to work by Japanese imperialists. 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 a Navajo 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.


Terumi Tanaka, hibakusha of Nagasaki, tells young people about his experience and shows pictures. United Nations's International Atomic Energy Agency building in Vienna, during the NPT PrepCom 2007.

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."

— Studs Terkel (1984), The Good War.

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.

Some estimates are that 140,000 people in Hiroshima (38.9% of the population) and 70,000 people in Nagasaki (28.0% of the population) died in 1945, but how many died immediately as a result of exposure to the blast, heat, or due to radiation, is unknown. One Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) report discusses 6,882 people examined in Hiroshima, and 6,621 people examined in Nagasaki, who were largely within 2000 meters from the hypocenter, who suffered injuries from the blast and heat but died from complications frequently compounded by acute radiation syndrome (ARS), all within about 20–30 days.

In the rare cases of survival for individuals who were in utero at the time of the bombing and yet who still were close enough to be exposed to less than or equal to 0.57 Gy, no difference in their cognitive abilities was found, suggesting a threshold dose for pregnancies below which, no life-limiting issues arise. In 50 or so children who survived the gestational process and were exposed to more than this dose, putting them within about 1000 meters from the hypocenter, microcephaly was observed; this is the only elevated birth defect issue observed in the Hibakusha, occurring in approximately 50 in-utero individuals who were situated less than 1000 meters from the bombings.

In a manner dependent on their distance from the hypocenter, in the 1987 Life Span Study, conducted by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, a statistical excess of 507 cancers, of undefined lethality, were observed in 79,972 hibakusha who had still been living between 1958–1987 and who took part in the study.

An epidemiology study by the RERF estimates that from 1950 to 2000, 46% of leukemia deaths and 11% of solid cancers, of unspecified lethality, could be due to radiation from the bombs, with the statistical excess being estimated at 200 leukemia deaths and 1,700 solid cancers of undeclared lethality.


Notable hibakusha

Sadako Sasaki, the young girl who died of leukemia after completing her 1,000 crane origamis, 1955
Isao Harimoto, ethnic Korean former Nippon Professional Baseball player and holder of the record for most hits in the Japanese professional leagues. Inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.
Setsuko Thurlow, Japanese-Canadian anti-nuclear peace activist and ambassador and keynote speaker for the reception of the Nobel Peace Prize of ICAN, 27 October 2017


Tamiki Hara, poet, writer and literature professor
  • Tamiki Harahibakusha of Hiroshima at 39 years old, poet, writer and University professor
  • Tomotaka Tasakahibakusha of Hiroshima at 43 years old, film director and script writer
  • Yoko Otahibakusha of Hiroshima at 38 years old, writer
  • Yoshito Matsushigehibakusha of Hiroshima at 32 years old, has taken the only 5 pictures known the day of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima


Hiroshima and Nagasaki

  • Tsutomu Yamaguchi – the first person officially recognized to have survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings.

Artistic representations and documentaries

Literature (原爆文学 Genbaku bungaku)

Hibakusha literature

  • Summer Flowers (夏の花 Natsu no hana), Tamiki Hara, 1946
  • From the Ruins (廃墟から Haikyo kara), Tamiki Hara, 1947
  • Prelude to Annihilation (壊滅の序曲 Kaimetsu no jokyoku), Tamiki Hara, 1949
  • City of Corpses (屍の街 Shikabane no machi), Yōko Ōta, 1948
  • Human Rags (人間襤褸 Ningen Ranru), Yōko Ōta, 1951
  • Penitence (さんげ Sange), Shinoe Shōda, 1947 - collection of tanka poems
  • Bringing Forth New Life (生ましめんかな Umashimenkana), Sadako Kurihara, 1946
  • I, A Hiroshima Witness (私は広島を証言する Watashi wa Hiroshima wo shogen suru), Sadako Kurihara, 1967
  • Documents about Hiroshima Twenty-Four Years Later (Dokyumento Hiroshima 24 nen), Sadako Kurihara, 1970
  • Ritual of Death (祭りの場 Matsuri no ba), Kyōko Hayashi, 1975
  • Poems of the Atomic Bomb (原爆詩集 Genbaku shishu), Sankichi Tōge, 1951
  • The bells of Nagasaki (長崎の鐘, Nagasaki no Kane), Takashi Nagai, 1949
  • Little boy: stories of days in Hiroshima, Shuntaro Hida, 1984
  • Letters from the end of the world : a firsthand account of the bombing of Hiroshima, Toyofumi Ogura, 1997
  • The day the sun fell - I was 14 years old in Hiroshima, Hashizume Bun, 2007
  • Yoko’s Diary: The Life of a Young Girl in Hiroshima During World War II, Yoko Hosokawa
  • Hiroshima Diary, Michihiko Hachiya, 1955
  • One year ago Hiroshima (Genshi bakudan kaiko), Hisashi Tohara, 1946

Non-Hibakusha literature

Manga and anime



Fine Art Painting

  • Hiroshima shohenzu (広島生変図 Hiroshima's holocaust), Ikuo Hirayama
  • Carl Randall (UK artist who met and painted portraits of Hibakusha in Hiroshima, 2006/09)

Performing arts

  • Hibakusha characters are featured in several Japanese plays including The Elephant by Betsuyaku Minoru


See also

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