Early Life

Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto was born to a Buddhist family in 1909. Kiyoshi was the 7th child of 8 children.

Kiyoshi became a Christian Methodist when he was about 17. After becoming a Christian, Kiyoshi’s father denied him as his son.

His elder brother forgave Kiyoshi. At the age of 17, Kiyoshi went to stay at his elder brother’s house in Seoul (Korea).Kiyoshi stayed there for 1 year.

Kiyoshi sent to the Kansai University and studied Theology for 4 years (1929-34).

From 1934 to 1936, after becoming a reverend, Kiyoshi was sent to a church in Kagoshima to take care of 2 churches: Kokubu and Kaijiki.

After receiving a scholarship, Kiyoshi went to the US to study at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia) from 1937 to 1940. After graduation, Kiyoshi was a pastor at the Hollywood Japanese Church for 6 months.

Kiyoshi came back to Japan in 1941 and was sent to Okinawa (Naha) and was the reverend there from 1941 to 1943. Kiyoshi got married to Chisa on 18 January 1942. They had met in Kobe in 1941 thanks to a missionary.

In 1942, he went to Kobe and he met with  the Reverend in charge of Nagarekawa Church in Hiroshima. Since the reverend had to go to Fukuoka, Kiyoshi replaced him starting from 1943.

At the time, there were about 15 Christian churches in Hiroshima. At the time all Christians were grouped under the United Church of Christ.

Kiyoshi was checked by the Military Police every week and his sermons were checked.

Kiyoshi had his first daughter, Koko, on November 20, 1944.

 Hiroshima Bombing

On August 6 1945 at 8:16am Kiyoshi was outside Hiroshima when the bombing happened. The morning of the bombing, Kiyoshi was asked by his friend to help him bring some of his daughter’s belongings to a house outside of the city center, to an area called Koi. Kiyoshi and his friends were about two miles away from where the bomb had dropped.

Kiyoshi’s wife and daughter were in Hiroshima but were not hit by the bomb. The building where they stayed collapsed and protected them from deadly radiation without hurting them.

Kiyoshi, who could understand that there was a terrible bombing of Hiroshima decided to go and search for his family. On the way Kiyoshi could see horrors and was so sorry not to be able to help everyone. But at the same time he felt that it was his duty to act since he was not wounded.

Kiyoshi was one of the six Hiroshima survivors whose experiences of the bomb and later life are portrayed in John Hersey’s book Hiroshima.

American Connections and Actions

In correspondence with an Emory University classmate, the Reverend Mr. Marvin Green, who was then pastor of the Park Church in Weehawken, New Jersey, Kiyoshi told of his difficulties in restoring his church. Green arranged with the Methodist Board of Missions an invitation to Kiyoshi to visit the United States to raise money, and in October, 1948, Kiyoshi, leaving his family behind, embarked for San Francisco on an American transport, the U.S.S. Gordon.

On the sea voyage, an ambitious idea grew in his mind. Kiyoshi would spend his life working for peace. He was becoming convinced that the collective memory of  the hibakusha would be a potent force for peace in the world, and that there ought to be in Hiroshima a center where the experience of the bombing could become the focus of international studies of means to assure that atomic weapons would never be used again. Eventually, in the States, without thinking to check with Mayor  Shinzo Hamai or anyone else in Hiroshima, Kiyoshi drafted a memorandum sketching this idea.

On and between trips, Tanimoto began submitting his peace-center memorandum to people he hoped might be influential. On one visit to New York from Weehawken, he was taken by a Japanese friend of his to meet Pearl Buck, in the office of her husband’s publishing firm.

She read, and he explained, his memorandum. She said she was impressed by the proposal, but she felt she was too old and too busy to help him.  She thought, however, that she knew just the person who might: Norman Cousins, the editor of The Saturday Review of Literature. Mr. Tanimoto should send his memo to Mr. Cousins, and she would speak to him about it.

On March 5, 1949, the memorandum appeared in the magazine, under the title “Hiroshima’s Idea” — an idea  that, Cousins’ introductory note said, “the editors enthusiastically endorse and with which they will associate themselves”

Kiyoshi Tanimoto’s idea had been pushed aside in Cousins’ mind by a new one, of his own: that an international petition in support of the United World Federalists — a group urging world government — should be submitted to President Truman, who had ordered the dropping of the bomb. Within a short time, 107,854 signatures had been gathered in the city. After a visit to an orphanage, Cousins returned to the States with yet another idea — for “moral adoption” of Hiroshima orphans by Americans, who would send financial support for the children. Signatures for the World Federalist petition were being gathered in the United States as well, and Cousins thrilled Tanimoto, who until then had known very little about the organization, by inviting him to be in the delegation that would present the petition to President Truman.

Harry Truman declined to receive the petitioners and refused to accept the petition

In midsummer of 1950, Cousins invited Tanimoto to return to the United States for a second tour, to raise money for the World Federalists, for moral adoption, and for the peace center, and late in August Tanimoto was off again. Marvin Green arranged things, as before. This time, Tanimoto visited two hundred and one cities, in twenty-four states

The high point of the trip (and possibly his life) was a visit to Washington, arranged by Cousins, where on February 5, 1951, after having lunch with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he gave the opening prayer for the afternoon session of the Senate:

“Our Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for the great blessing Thou hast granted America in enabling her to build in this last decade the greatest civilization in human history … We thank Thee, God, that Japan has been permitted to be one of the fortunate recipients of American generosity. We thank Thee that our people have been given the gift of freedom, enabling them to rise from the ashes of ruin and be reborn …. God bless all members of  his Senate. ..”

Hiroshima Peace Endeavors

Back home at the beginning of 1950, Tanimoto called on Mayor Hamai and the Prefectural Governor, Tsunei Kusunose, asking their official support for his peace-center idea. They turned him down.

Through a press code and other measures, General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of the occupying forces, had strictly prohibited dissemination of or agitation for any reports on the consequences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings — including the consequence of a desire for peace — and the officials evidently thought that Tanimoto’s peace center might get the local governments in trouble.

Tanimoto persevered, calling together a number of leading citizens and, after Norman Cousins had set up a Hiroshima Peace Center Foundation in New York to receive American funds, and these people established the center in Hiroshima, with Tanimoto’s church as its base

Only years later, when a Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Memorial Hall had been built in the park, and lively and sometimes turbulent, annual international conferences on peace issues were taking place in the city, could  Kiyoshi Tanimoto’s early planting of seeds for these things, and his courage in ignoring the MacArthur restraints, be acknowledged by at least some people in Hiroshima..

Hiroshima Keloid Girls (or the The Hiroshima Hibakusha (“explosion-affected people.”) Maidens Project)

THE DAY before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the city, in fear of incendiary raids, had put hundreds of schoolgirls to work helping to tear down houses and clear fire lanes. They were out in the open when the bomb exploded. Few survived. Of those who did, many suffered bad burns and later developed ugly keloids on their faces, arms, and hands. A month after Tanimoto returned from his second trip to the States, he started, as a project of his peace center, a Bible class for about a dozen of them — the Society of Keloid Girls, he called them.

He bought three sewing machines and put the girls to work in a dressmaking workshop on the second floor of another of his projects, a war widows’ home he had founded.

He asked the city government for funds for plastic surgery for the Keloid Girls. It turned him down. He then applied to the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, which had been set up to study the radiation aftereffects of the bomb — aftereffects that those who made the decision to drop the bomb had utterly failed to foresee. The A.B.C.C. reminded him that it carried on research, not treatment. (The A.B.C.C. was keenly resented for this reason by hibakusha; they said that the Americans regarded them as laboratory guinea pigs or rats.)

A woman named Shizue Masugi now visited Hiroshima from Tokyo. She had led a wildly unconventional life for a Japanese woman of her time. A journalist, married and divorced while young, she had later been the mistress, in turn, of two famous novelists and, later still, had married again. She had written short stories about the bitter loves and bitter solitude of women and was now writing a column for lovelorn women in the big Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun.

She would become a Catholic before she died, but she would choose to be buried in the Tokeiji Temple, a Zen center founded in 1285 by a monk who felt sorry for women with cruel husbands and decreed that any of them who took asylum in his temple as nuns could consider themselves divorced. On her trip to Hiroshima, she asked Kiyoshi Tanimoto what most needed to be done for women who were hibakusha. He suggested plastic surgery for the Keloid Girls. She started a campaign for funds in the  Yomiuri, and soon nine girls were taken to Tokyo for surgery.

Later, twelve more were taken to Osaka. Newspapers called them, to their chagrin, Genbaku Otome, a phrase that was translated into English, literally, as A-Bomb Maidens

THE Tokyo and Osaka operations on the girls were not altogether successful, and, on a visit to Hiroshima, Kiyoshi Tanimoto’s friend Marvin Green wondered whether it might be possible for some of them to be taken to America, where the techniques of plastic surgery were more advanced.

The focal point of the Hibakusha Maidens project was the treatment of young girls who had been disfigured or crippled by the bombing.

The Saturday Review was an American weekly magazine established in 1924. Norman Cousins was the editor from 1940 to 1971. It funded the project that started in 1953 and continued for four years.

Tanimoto-san had sent letters to Norman Cousins and in September 1953, Norman Cousins arrived in Hiroshima with his wife to deliver some moral-adoption funds. Tanimoto introduced them to a few of the girls, and spoke of Marvin Green’s idea.  They liked it.

The girls, some sixty in number, had drifted together out of common experience and common loneliness. All were survivors of the experience in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. All were badly disfigured or crippled by the heat and blast of the bomb. Most had been young schoolgirls at the time. As they grew older, they became separated from the kind of expectations that light up the world of teenage girls. The prospect of marriage and children was almost nonexistent.

Kiyoshi Tanimoto became their crusader and benefactor. He brought them together, gave them things to do, individually and collectively, and provided focus for their lives. Plastic surgery as a disciplined branch of surgery had yet to be developed in Japan.

Tanimoto had lately been getting used to criticism. His long absences from his church for trips to America had earned him the nickname of A-bomb minister.  Hiroshima doctors had wanted to know why the Maidens were not operated on in Hiroshima. And why just girls? Why not boys? Some people thought they saw the Reverend Mr. Tanimoto’s name in the paper too often.

NORMAN COUSINS had gone to work in New York on the Maidens idea, and in late 1954 Dr. Arthur Barsky, the chief of plastic surgery at both Mount Sinai and Beth Israel hospitals, and Dr. William Hitzig, an internist on the Mount Sinai staff and Cousins’ personal physician, arrived in Hiroshima to cull from among the Maidens those whose prospects for transformation by surgery were best. Of the many disfigured girls in the city, only forty-three presented themselves to be examined. The doctors chose twenty-five.

On May 5, 1955, Kiyoshi Tanimoto took off with the girls from Iwakuni Airport in a United States Military Air Transport plane. As the girls were being settled in host homes around New York, he was hustled off to the West Coast for the start of yet another fund-raising tour.  Among other appointments on his itinerary was one for the evening of Wednesday, May 11th, at the NBC studios in Los Angeles, for what Cousins gave him to understand would be a local television interview that would be helpful to the project.

In 1955, he appeared on the popular television program “This Is Your Life” where he and his family were placed in the uncomfortable position of meeting with Captain Robert A. Lewis, copilot of the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Showing his sense of dignity and silencing his rage, Mr. Tanimoto faces the drunken pilot with a sense of calm and indifference. Mr. Tanimoto’s civilized demeanor mitigates what could have been a terrible scene.

THE whole Tanimoto family remained in the United States through the rest of Kiyoshi’s speaking tour, which took him to a total of a hundred and ninety-five cities, in twenty -six states. The television show had brought in about fifty thousand dollars, and he raised ten thousand more. Chisa Tanimoto and the children stayed through a glorious summer in a guesthouse on Pearl Buck’s farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

On May 9, 1956, twenty-five Maidens arrived in New York. Tomoko Nakabayashi, one of the Maidens, died in June, 1956. Her heart stopped following a surgical operation.

The other maidens went back to Japan happier than when they first arrived. They had studied English and developed other skills. A job was waiting for them in Japan. But the most important thing was that they had regained self-confidence.

The Moral Adoption Program

At a time when the situation of the hibakusha was barely known in Japan the American journalist John Hersey interviewed six Hiroshima survivors. These interviews became a long article that filled The New Yorker magazine on August 31, 1946. The plights of the six survivors were described in detail, and this description struck a nerve in the US.

Many Americans were stunned to hear for the first time an eyewitness description of the A-bomb and his thoughts regarding peace. His speech at Emory University, Tanimoto’s alma mater, was especially moving, inspiring the founding of a program to provide support for Hiroshima. Tanimoto returned to the United States many times afterwards in his lifelong efforts in appealing for support for Hiroshima and the importance of peace.

In these notebooks Pastor Kiyoshi Tanimoto of Hiroshima Nagarekawa Church kept a journal of his lectures and other experiences traveling in the United States. During his first trip, from October 1948 to December 1949, he visited 256 cities in 31 states and gave more than 500 lectures in churches, schools, and other venues.

Tanimoto-san worked with the Moral Adoption Project, which raised funds in the U.S. to build orphanages in Hiroshima for war orphans.

The money for supporting the children, which was collected by the U.S. Hiroshima Peace Center Association, a contact point for the moral adoption campaign in the United States, tended to be left unpaid. In 1961, there were 124 moral parents in total. As the adopted children grew, the moral parents became less interested in the campaign. In April 1959, the association announced its intention to stop sending the donations. The moral adoption campaign, which had begun in 1950, was virtually over.

Revered Tanimoto’s principal project in the seventies had been to arrange a series of adoptions of orphans and abandoned Japanese babies, who had nothing particularly to do with the atomic bomb. The adoptive parents were in Hawaii and the mainland United States. Tanimoto had made three more speaking trips, in the mainland States in 1976 and 1982, and in  Hawaii in 1981. He had retired from his pulpit in 1982.