Discover Nikkei

Part 5—Return to Japan and Final Days

Read Part 4 >>

Lilly traving Hiroshima in 1957

Lilly, upon thinking back, believed she lost at the very least 20 relatives in the bombing and, since moving to the U.S., has returned to Japan as many times as possible to see her remaining family. The Krohn family, including daughter Carol, visited for the first and only time at age 21, seeing the significance of her mother’s lineage and homeland as it related to her own life.

Lilly’s father, Matajiro, had kept an American doll on the end table by his sitting chair. He informed Carol, through translation, that he had the doll since her birth to represent her as his American granddaughter. Even though she came from thousands of miles away, this moment of realizing the Japanese custom of displaying love brought her to tears. This was both comforting and sad at the same time.

Carol, now old enough to understand everything during her visit, saw up close for the first time what her mother endured decades prior. She also realized how difficult it was for her mother to leave her family and move to the U.S. to start a new life.

Lilly at Genbaku Dome

Today, the Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall, standing as a symbol and reminder of the blast, is now known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial; it is commonly called the Genbaku dome, which is translated as the ‘A-bomb’ dome. The exposed metal framework is surrounded by a portion of its concrete and brick skeletal remains as it did seconds prior to 8:15 a.m. 77 years ago. The structure only survived on account of the bomb’s downward waves of energy, a weaker force compared to the horizontal force, as well as its earthquake reinforcement. The building is now part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, sitting alongside the Children's Peace Monument, a statue dedicated to the memory of the children and innocent victims who died from the bombing.

Also, a Peace Flame burns as a monument to those who perished; its symbolic purpose is to remain lit until all nuclear bombs are destroyed, and the world is free from the threat of nuclear use. The Park is surrounded by purple Oleander blooms, the official flower of Hiroshima, being that it was the first to bloom succeeding the attack. Lilly finds great solace in the Peace Memorial and its bomb artifact museum each visit; it is not just a symbol of what her city and fellow citizens experienced, but also a place where she could have spent her last moments if circumstances had gone a different way that morning.

On one morning in late spring of 2002, Lloyd unexpectedly passed away at home from a heart attack. Nonetheless, after his death Lilly stayed living alone on their small farm continuing to brace the subtle joys of life. She experienced great solace watching her daughter and later her only grandchild Kaela grow up, two things that easily could not have happened. Always important to her was her ongoing preference for the outdoors, showing dedication in her beloved garden, and tending to the cherished Rose bushes Lloyd had planted right before his death. Many that have driven past her home can attest to seeing this petite 4ft 7inch woman working outside.

Constantly on the move, Lilly also entertained residents of the area with the humorous image of her maneuvering a boat size 1977 burgundy red with white vinyl top Ford Thunderbird; with the help of pillows, she just barely peaked over the steering wheel as she traveled down the road.

Once older, she decided not to return to Japan again to see family and friends, although she spoke every week to one of her sisters living in Hiroshima to stay up to date. Here in America, Lilly tried to stay connected to her early Japanese customs by preparing traditional dishes, especially sushi along with sides of her home-grown Japanese eggplant and squash not available at any local grocery.

Lilly's siblings. From left to right: Taeko, Lilly, Yook, and Yoshio

However, also staying connected to western and American customs, on her 92nd birthday she treated herself to piercing her ears. Originally she was hesitant, because the concept of that physical pain always frightened her.

Additionally, Lilly continuously mirrored the early instilled dedication to hard work in everything she did. On occasion, she incorporated teaching the Asian martial art of Tai Chi at the local senior center; she encouraged others through her personal mantra of ‘you must keep moving to live.’

Spiritually, she practiced principles adopted from Buddhism. She waited to transition from the eastern religion of Shinto, the state religion of Japan, until the passing of her parents. She did not want to do so while they were alive, to prevent bringing shame to the family. Lilly never missed her daily Buddhist ritual of praying, meditation, and chanting for more spiritual closeness, always believing God and her faith helped her survive the atomic blast and the re-occurring tough times that transpired afterwards.

Although Lilly’s health struggles seemed to be never ending, Japan’s government did not forget about her. In Japan, Hibakusha is a Japanese term meaning, explosion-affected people, because of the significant social, mental, and physical problems the Hiroshima and Nagasaki citizens faced since exposure to each bomb’s explosion and stemmed radiation. To help cover Lilly’s medical costs, the Japanese Department of Ministry Health-Overseas Atomic Bomb Survivor Department sent her a monthly check with an added reimbursement option toward her medical prescriptions.

Lilly did her part as well, keeping the memory of that August day alive by meeting with U.S. and Japanese political officials discussing the medical issues survivors faced, firmly emphasizing the importance of nuclear disarmament.

It may be said that one of the WWII’s greatest tragedies was the harming and killing of civilian populations who were predominately women, children, and the elderly; and it is not fair to history beyond a winner and a loser to not let that be known.

Lilly surprisingly stated, after everything she experienced, that she never once blamed the U.S. Equally, she believed that the attack on Pearl Harbor by her homeland was a terrible thing; at the same time, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima was justified, only because it dictated a means to an end to more death and suffering. Otherwise, Japan would not have surrendered. In saying that, the Japanese culture is one to never quit or submit against any form of battle, and this could be depicted as true hearing this personal story of fight and survival.

The life story of Lilly Yuriko Ishigaki Krohn is a remarkable one, and one that was difficult for her to speak about in her own voice because of the painful memories that resonated. Her story, though of amazing human perseverance, was viewed differently in her eyes as she did not want it told to the public until her passing.

Lilly Krohn

Sadly, Lilly did pass away on January 18, 2020, just weeks shy of turning age 96, leaving behind a history book of information and a legacy of resilience. Her final diagnosis, once again linked to radiation exposure, gave her a life expectancy of weeks; to nobody’s surprise, however, she lengthened that by two years.

The reasoning for withholding her story is a reason many Americans born here may not comprehend. It could be possibly attributed to our accustomed freedom of expression especially amid today’s era of unceasing communicated television, radio, and social media viewpoints or opinions. Customary to Japanese life during a person's final days, she honored privacy in addition to giving respect to her family and country.

She chose no publication of her entailed thoughts on that August day while alive, concerned for perceived shame to Japan and family still living there—two things she loved dearly. Further, she wanted her story told with the perception that she is even now here amongst us. She wanted people to understand the importance of what she lived through because of war, and what she candidly hoped for the future.

To end Lilly’s story, her life’s narrative was emphasized by her quietly stating a few words prior to her passing. These spoken words of soliloquy in her native language were of inspiration that this ever-vacillating world will hopefully hear and tightly embrace in her honor:

私は平和を祈る (Watashi wa heiwa wo inoru, I pray for peace).”

© 2022 Jon Stroud

atomic bomb survivors brides generations hibakusha Hiroshima (city) Hiroshima Prefecture immigrants immigration Issei Japan Lilly Krohn migration postwar Shin-Issei United States Vietnam War, 1961-1975 war brides wives World War II
About this series

Based on her testimony, this series depicts the life of Lilly Krohn, who was born in Japan and experienced her life change forever due to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. After WWII, Lilly moved to the United States as the wife of an American soldier and later became a U.S. citizen. Her story also includes details of her on-going health complications as a result of exposure to the bomb's radiation.

Learn More
About the Author

Jon Stroud lives in Louisville, KY, but is a Hoosier (Indiana) native. He grew up close to his grandfathers who both served in  WWII and the Korean War, always paying close attention to any told personal accounts of their time. As a healthcare worker, he invariably had an interest in the field of medicine though he didn’t realize he liked to the tell stories until writing a book on his maternal grandfather’s life, a Pearl Harbor bombing survivor. Since, he has combined his interest in medicine and the American wars, writing from many aspects, including the opposing side.

Updated July 2022

Explore more stories! Learn more about Nikkei around the world by searching our vast archive. Explore the Journal
We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More