Koko Kondo was only eight months old when her city was destroyed by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, but the bombing had profound implications over the course of her life. She and her mother survived the blast when their home collapsed on top of them. One of her first memories of the aftermath, she said, was that as a child she was comforted by a group of teenage girls."I could not see their faces. Their lips were seared to their chins. Their eyes would not close because of the burns," she said.
Her father, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Methodist minister, was featured in John Hershey’s seminal work Hiroshima, and ran an effort called Hiroshima Maidens to allow Japanese girls altered by the bombing to have corrective plastic surgery. Reverend Tanimoto went to the U.S. to promote peace and collect money for the wounded in Hiroshima after the bombing. He never stopped fighting for peace until his death in 1987. His work led him to be interviewed on the This is Your Life show in 1955, where he was joined by his family, including Koko, and interviewed alongside Robert Lewis, the co-pilot of the Engola Gay plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
As a child, Koko described hating the people who had destroyed her city, but upon witnessing the deep remorse and regret from Lewis first-hand, she realised that “that hating people was not the way; it’s war itself that’s evil.”
“I was officially recognized as a bomb victim and had to undergo annual examinations so that doctors and scientists could study the effects of radiation on the human body,” Koko told an interviewer in 1991. “As I reached puberty, I began to feel like a guinea pig and found the examinations more and more humiliating.”
Koko Kondo studied at Centenary College and then at American University in Washington, DC, where she received her degree in 1969. She has also received honorary doctorate degrees from both Webster University and Centenary College.
Koko has spent her adult life following in her father’s footsteps, working with various organizations to promote peace around the world. She is an internationally recognized peace advocate, telling stories about Hiroshima and giving lectures at schools for students from elementary school to graduate school. Koko has long been involved with “Children as the Peacemakers,” which was started in 1982 in San Francisco by Patricia Montandon and she is still a counselor at the Hiroshima Peace Center. Koko also accompanies the American University Nuclear Studies Institute’s annual study abroad trip to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Kyoto.
"It is up to people like me, like you, to stand up against these weapons and the leaders who threaten the world with them," she says, in a message to all of those who push for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. "Each one of us must be united in our desire to create peace for the children who will carry on the next generation. There is hope in the young people learning from the history of the past, and starting to take action." Koko hopes that we will continue to pray for peace in the world, from person to person, so that peace may be found in the hearts of each and every one of us.
Photo: Koko Kondo stands in front of the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima. Courtesy of Ari Beser