Close-up of Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto

early life

Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto was born to a Buddhist family in 1909. Kiyoshi became a Christian when he was 17, but his father disapproved and denied him as his son.

His elder brother forgave Kiyoshi and invited him to stay with him in Seoul, Korea. He returned to Japan one year later and entering Kansai University, where he studied theology, graduated in 1934. After graduation, Kiyoshi trained to become a minister for two years, and in 1936, became a minister in Kagoshima.

Kiyoshi went to the United States to study at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia on an international Methodist scholarship. He came back to Japan in 1941 and was minister in Naha, Okinawa until 1943. During this time, Kiyoshi married Chisa, who he had met in Kobe thanks to a missionary. From Naha, he came to the Nagarekawa Church in Hiroshima in 1943, and Kiyoshi’s first daughter, Koko, was born in 1944. Because of wartime, Kiyoshi and his sermons were checked every week by the Military Police.

August 6, 8:15 a.m.

The morning of the bombing, Kiyoshi was helping a friend outside of the city, about two miles away (three kilometers) from the epicenter of the bombing, but Kiyoshi’s wife and daughter were still in Hiroshima. The building they were in collapsed, but they survived with minor wounds.

When Kiyoshi came back into the city to search for his family, he was sorry he could not help everyone he passed. At that time, he resolved that it was his duty to do something to share the horrors he witnessed. Because of his work after the bombing, Kiyoshi was one of the six Hiroshima survivors whose experiences of the bombing were portrayed in John Hersey’s book, Hiroshima, published in 1946.

American Connections and Activities

Reverend Marvin Green, an Emory University classmate, arranged for Kiyoshi to visit the United States to raise money for Hiroshima. 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. Because of his work, he was called an “anti-nuke troublemaker” abroad and “A-bomb Minister” at home. .

On the sea voyage, he drafted a memorandum for a Peace Center in Hiroshima, 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.

On a visit to New York, he was taken by a Japanese friend to meet Pearl Buck, the Nobel Prize-winning author. Buck, in turn, introduced him to Norman Cousins, the editor of The Saturday Review of Literature. On March 5, 1949, the memorandum, “Hiroshima’s Idea,” appeared in the magazine.

In 1950, Cousins invited Tanimoto to return to the United States for a second tour, to raise money for the World Federalists, for Cousins’ Moral Adoption project, and for his Peace Center.

Hiroshima Peace Center

Back home, Tanimoto called on Mayor Hamai and the Prefectural Governor, Tsunei Kusunose, asking for their official support for his Peace Center idea.

But because of the strictly prohibited dissemination of any reports on the consequences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, they reluctantly turned him down. Kiyoshi persevered, and after Norman Cousins had set up a Hiroshima Peace Center Foundation in New York to receive American funds, he established the Peace Center in Hiroshima, with Nagarekawa Church as its base.

The Hiroshima
Maidens Project

One project of his Peace Center was a Bible class for about a dozen high school girls disfigured by the bombing, which he called the Society of Keloid Girls.

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.

Around that time, Shizue Masugi, a journalist for the Tokyo newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, suggested plastic surgery for his Keloid Girls and started a campaign for funds in the Yomiuri. As a result, nine girls were taken to Tokyo and twelve more were taken to Osaka for surgery.

Unfortunately, the Tokyo and Osaka operations were not altogether successful. When Cousins arrived in Hiroshima with his wife to deliver some Moral Adoption funds, Kiyoshi introduced them to a few of the Keloid Girls and they decided to support the project, the Hiroshima Maidens.

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 at Mount Sinai, 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 43 presented themselves to be examined, and the doctors chose 25 and Kiyoshi and his family accompanied them to New York in mid-1955.

As the girls were being settled in host homes around New York, Kiyoshi continued fundraising and 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, co-pilot of the Enola Gay.

The Moral Adoption Program and final years

Kiyoshi raised funds in the U.S. to build orphanages in Hiroshima for war orphans

Kiyoshi also worked with the Norman Cousins’ Moral Adoption Project, which raised funds in the U.S. to build orphanages in Hiroshima for war orphans. 

By 1961, the adopted children had grown up and the campaign, which had begun in 1950, ended.

Kiyoshi continued to work to arrange adoptions of orphans and abandoned Japanese babies to parents in Hawaii and the mainland United States. He had made three more speaking trips in 1961, 1976 and 1982. He retired from his church position in 1982, and this tireless servant for peace died in Hiroshima in 1986.