Koko is a prominent Atomic Bomb survivor, and is the daughter of Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Methodist minister famous for his work for the Hiroshima Maidens. Both appear in John Hersey’s book, Hiroshima.
In 1955, both appeared on the popular television program This Is Your Life where they 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.
When Koko was living in the United States, she lived with Nobel Prize winner, Pearl Buck, who greatly influenced her personal work with Japanese orphans. As a child, Kondo spent six months in the home of Peal Buck.
Pearl Buck gave birth to only one child, who was mentally disabled. Needing money to send her child to a special doctor, she decided to write a book. “People told me that mentally retarded children can’t do anything for society,” Pearl Buck had said to Kondo one day, “but I started writing to help my daughter, so she made me a Nobel Prize winner. Every child who is born has a purpose.” Kondo resolved to emulate Pearl Buck.
Kondo never let on to her dorm-mates and peers that she was a survivor from Hiroshima. The first person she divulged that information to was her fiancé, a third-generation Chinese-American. The marriage was promptly called off, for the suitor’s uncle happened to be a physician who specialized in radiation sickness. “She can’t have children,” he warned.
Koko was 8 months old when the bomb hit Hiroshima.
Radiation sickness made it impossible for Kondo to give birth. She has adopted two children and has placed 19 adoptive children to parents overseas. Adoption is virtually nonexistent in Japan.
Kondo came to AU and studied in the College of Arts and Sciences. The first time she told someone she was from Hiroshima was in a history class, where students were arguing about the Vietnam War. Kondo said she raised her hand and said, “I am from Japan, Hiroshima. I am a survivor of the bomb.” The whole class went silent.
KOKO went to the States with her father in 1968, to enter the Centenary College for Women, in Hackettstown, New Jersey. Tanimoto had previously been back to America in 1964-65, when he visited his alma mater, Emory University, and then traveled home by way of Europe; and in 1966, when he received an honorary degree from Lewis and Clark College. Koko eventually transferred to American University, in Washington, D.C. There she fell in love with a Chinese-American and became engaged to marry him, but her fiance’s father, a doctor, said that because she had been exposed to the atomic bomb she couldn’t bear a normal child, and he forbade the marriage.
Back in Japan, Koko took a job in Tokyo, working for an oil-drilling firm, Odeco. She told no one she was a hibakusha. In time, she found someone she could confide in — her boyfriend’s best friend. He turned out, in the end, to be the man she married. She had a miscarriage, which she and her family attributed to the bomb. She and her husband went to the A.B.C.C. to have their chromosomes checked, and though nothing abnormal was found they decided not to try again to have a child. In time, they adopted two babies.
One day she said to her husband, “I was an 8-months-old baby in Hiroshima when it was bombed. If I don’t do anything for Hiroshima, then my life is meaningless.” Her husband agreed to move there. Kondo couldn’t quit her job as easily as he could move his, so he went on ahead to her father’s house while she tied up loose ends in Tokyo. Months later, she arrived in Hiroshima to find that her atheist husband had become a Christian and was preparing to go into the ministry.
Koko adopted two daughters and she was also ‘following in father’s footsteps’, working for peace through an organization called Children as the Peacemakers, which was started in 1982 in San Francisco by Patricia Montandon.
In Moscow, her group personally presented a crystal glove to Mikhail Gorbachev as a symbol of our fragile Earth, asking him to “please help keep it.”
Koko was called again to bring eight members of the group to Baghdad. While touring an elementary school there, they observed drawings that the schoolchildren had made: the American flag destroyed; Bush being hanged with Saddam Hussein standing triumphantly above. Class commended with the teacher shouting, “Long live Hussein! Death to Bush!” and the children echoing.
Slowly, Kondo became more and more involved with peace movements and continuing the work her father started for peace. Now, she accompanies the AU Nuclear Studies Institute’s annual study abroad trip to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Kyoto.
“She brings the survivor’s perspective, and a personal perspective, to the trip,” Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute and an AU history professor, said. “She brings the emotion of what it means to be a survivor.”
Peter Kuznick met Kondo in 1996; a year after the Nuclear Studies Institute was founded and started sending students to Japan. Kondo approached Kuznick and said she was “excited that AU was sending students to Japan to study Hiroshima,” Peter Kuznick recalled. She has accompanied them on every trip since.