Tayeko Shitama knows that cooking is about more than just satisfying hunger; it's a way to preserve history. One dish called sukiyaki, a Japanese hot pot, holds a special place in her heart. It was the first real meal her family ate together after World War II ended nearly 80 years ago.
It was a meal that almost never happened. In August 1945, Shitama was living in Hiroshima when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city. However, she was not there that fateful day. The day before the bombing, she had taken a train to a friend's house in a nearby town to pick up a bag of rice.
When she returned to the Hiroshima train station the next day, she faced a land ravaged by war.
"No streetcar was running and it was flat. Completely flat," she said.
Undeterred, Shitama — who was 22 at the time — embarked on a several-mile trek home, carrying the bag of rice. She did not see a living soul the entire walk home. Upon reaching her family's house, which was four miles from the epicenter of the bombing, she found it was still standing, but her neighborhood was devastated.
The atomic blast killed an estimated 140,000 people, including Shitama's youngest sister, Nobu, who was on a streetcar in the city when the bomb hit. Shitama found it "awfully cruel" to use an atomic bomb on people.
Shitama was born in Seattle, Washington after her family immigrated there from Japan in the early 1900's. When she was 8, she moved to Japan with her siblings for school. After World War II ended, Shitama and her surviving siblings were on the first ship out of Japan back to the United States to reunite with their parents.
The bombing forever etched Hiroshima's name in the annals of history. President Biden is currently holdingwith other world leaders in the city, underscoring the profound symbolism of the location.
While the toll of human lives lost was immense, the United States has long argued that the decision to use the atomic bomb was necessary to end World War II.
While Shitama was "angry about the war," she holds no resentment toward the United States for the bombing and is proud of the friendship between the two countries.
Shitama married Kazuo Shitama, a fellow Japanese American, and raised three children in Maryland, where she still resides today. She now has 12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren who have all heard her remarkable tales over the years.
This year, Shitama, along with her two sisters who also survived the atomic bomb, will celebrate milestones: Shitama turns 100 this month, while her sisters turn 98 and 96.
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