The “Hiroshima Maidens” were a group of schoolgirls who survived the atomic blast and underwent reconstruction surgery in the United States

The city of Hiroshima was chosen as the target of the first atomic bombing because it was a city of great industrial and military significance for the empire of Japan.

However, the atomic blast obliterated not only the industry and the war machinery but many innocent lives. Those that survived were scarred for life, both physically and psychologically, and the remnants of the Hiroshima horror continues to be a part of the city’s reality.

Hiroshima in the aftermath of the bombing.

In Japan, the word “hibakusha” describes the people who survived the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The word is translated as “explosion-affected people”, and has been present in the Japanese language since the 1940’s. Currently, there are around 200 thousand hibakusha all over Japan who are still alive today.

Among the people who survived the explosion, was a group of around 30 schoolgirls, known as the “Hiroshima Maidens”. After the blast, the girls were severely injured; their faces were heavily scarred by the burns and their limbs were so damaged that they never properly healed.

The burns on this survivor took on her kimono pattern; the lighter areas of the cloth reflected the intense light from the bomb, causing little to no burns. The tighter fitting parts of clothing, such as the shoulders, are the most severe marks that were left. Loose fitting sections show no burning.

In the early 1950’s, hibakusha had numerous problems, as they were perceived as contagious and dangerous to their surroundings. The schoolgirls who survived the blast were growing up and couldn’t find partners or work, so they decided to undergo reconstructive surgeries in Japan. However, Japanese surgery standards at the time were obsolete and unable to repair the deformities of the girls’ bodies, so they decided to seek help in the United States.

Citizens of Hiroshima walk by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the closest building to Ground Zero to have survived the city’s atomic bombing. Photo Credit

A Japanese Christian, reverend Kyosh Tanimoto, created the Hiroshima Peace Centre Foundation; he was joined by many celebrities, including the famous novelist and activist Pearl S. Buck, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938. The foundation raised enough money so that the Hiroshima Maidens were able to go to the United States and undergo a series of reconstructive surgeries at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

The Maiden’s arrival to the United States was a widely publicized event. A reality TV program named “This is Your Life”, was hosted by reverend Tanimoto and some of the girls, who shared their experiences with the audience and advocated for nuclear disarmament. Many Americans joined their cause, including Captain Robert Lewis, who was the co-pilot of Enola Gay, the infamous plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.

A hibakusha, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, tells young people about his experience and shows pictures. United Nations building in Vienna, during the NPT PrepCom in 2007.

Most of the Hiroshima Maidens went on to lead successful and prolific lives after their reconstruction surgeries. One of them was Toyoko Morita, who attended the Parsons School of Design and became an acclaimed fashion designer.

Still, the Maidens were the lucky few who managed to leave the horrors of the Hiroshima bombing behind; countless other innocent people never had the chance to do that and became living reminders of the fact that the nuclear bombings of 1945 created unimaginable sorrow and grief.