TanimotoAugust 6, 2015, marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. For Candler alumnus Kiyoshi Tanimoto 40T 86H (1909-1986), that day would forever alter the course of his life.

Tanimoto was born on June 27, 1909, in Sakaide City, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan. Following his graduation from secondary school, Tanimoto traveled to Korea to visit his older brother and was introduced to Methodism there through an American missionary. Soon after the trip, his mother died unexpectedly. Her death was very traumatic for Tanimoto, and convinced him to become a Methodist minister. He met with Methodist ministers in Japan and studied Christianity at Kwansei Gakuin University. In 1937, with the assistance of Methodist church members in Japan and Korea, he received a scholarship to Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

A dedicated and involved student, Tanimoto made many lifelong friends at Emory. In 1940 he graduated from Candler with a bachelor of theology degree and became an ordained Methodist minister. His first placement was at the Hollywood Independent Church, a Japanese American church in Los Angeles, California. He returned to Japan just prior to the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor to work at Central Methodist Church in Okinawa. Despite the outbreak of war, Tanimoto continued to serve his new church rather than serving in the military. In 1942 he married and in 1943 he and his wife, Chisa, relocated to Hiroshima, where Tanimoto became the minister of Nagarekawa United Church of Christ. In late 1944 they gave birth to their first and only daughter, Koko.

On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., Tanimoto was at the western edge of Hiroshima helping a friend move furniture. An extremely bright flash came from the east near the heart of the city, and Tanimoto dove to the ground. A blast of wind from the explosion wiped out everything in its path, including homes and buildings. Tanimoto was not injured, and immediately began to assist others. He helped an old woman and an injured child to a makeshift first aid station at a nearby school and then ran toward the center of the destroyed city to find his wife and daughter and to help in any way he could. He attempted to rescue people trapped under the debris of destroyed homes, and took a small boat to save injured people in the rivers around Hiroshima. While bringing water to survivors, he reunited with Chisa and Koko, who were also unhurt.

In 1946 Tanimoto’s courage during the aftermath of the bombing became known throughout the world with the publication of John Hersey’s book Hiroshima. After reading it, Marvin Green, a fellow classmate of Tanimoto’s at Emory, felt moved to help Tanimoto and other survivors. With the assistance of Green and other former Emory classmates, as well as the Overseas Methodist Mission Board, Tanimoto returned to the United States on October 5, 1948, for a 15-month speaking tour across the country. He spoke about Hiroshima to more than 470 audiences in 31 states and raised tens of thousands of dollars to rebuild his church and support victims of the blast. His tour brought him back to Emory, where he delivered a sermon on January 18, 1949.

Tanimoto’s story did not end there. He continued to help “Hibakusha,” surviving victims of the two atomic bombings, for the rest of his life. He was a founder of the Moral Adoption Project, an American-funded organization that built orphanages and cared for war orphans, and toured the U.S. again in 1950 to raise money for the project, as well as for the newly formed Hiroshima Peace Center. In 1955, with the support of famous American writers including Norman Cousins and Pearl S. Buck, Tanimoto organized the Hiroshima Maidens Program, which supported twenty-five Japanese women who were seriously disfigured by the bombing as they traveled to Mount Sinai Hospital in New York to receive multiple reconstructive surgeries. While touring the United States to support the program, Tanimoto appeared on an episode of the popular NBC television show This Is Your Life and accepted an apology from Robert A. Lewis, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay. John Hersey’s book, Tanimoto’s tours, the Hiroshima Maidens Program and his television appearance brought home the plight of atomic bomb survivors for millions of Americans and led to substantial financial relief efforts for “Hibakusha.

Following the Hiroshima Maidens Program, Tanimoto continued to reach out to fellow survivors, particularly orphans and the disfigured, and dedicated his life to the promotion of peace and nuclear disarmament. He became a director of the Hiroshima Peace Center Foundation, which awards the Kiyoshi Tanimoto Peace Prize annually in his honor. In 1986 Tanimoto received an honorary doctor of divinity from Emory University and in 2014, during the 100th anniversary of Candler School of Theology, the school’s Centennial Committee selected Tanimoto as one of 56 individuals to receive a Centennial medal for “demonstrating one or more of the core values by which Candler seeks to define itself: the highest standards of intellectual inquiry, devotion to the Christian tradition, passion for social justice, an egalitarian spirit, and a commitment to practices of transformation.” The Pitts Theology Library Archives and Manuscript Department of Emory University holds a Kiyoshi Tanimoto Collection (1938-1990), which includes a narrative of his life and experiences in Hiroshima and a postcard sent to Tanimoto in 1938 while he was studying at Emory. His daughter, Koko, continues in her father’s footsteps to promote peace by speaking out publicly against nuclear weapons.

Though seven decades have passed since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tanimoto’s experience remains highly relevant. We live in a nuclear age, where the issue of nuclear weapons development and proliferation will continue to arise. Tanimoto’s story attests to the horrors of nuclear weapons and the importance of pursuing and promoting peace. His courage, goodwill and sacrifice will inspire generations to come.

Source: Kiyoshi Tanimoto Collection (1938-1990), The Pitts Theology Library Archives and Manuscript Department of Emory University