The nuclear explosions that devastated the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and the city of Nagasaki three days later resulted in massive destruction and loss of life. Although the precise number of casualties has never been determined, it is estimated that 70,000 died in Hiroshima due to the immediate effects of the blast with an additional 50000 in Nagasaki (mostly civilians). Estimates of the lingering effects of radiation exposure are even more problematic although it has been suggested that many thousands of casualties occurred in the decades that followed. It would be the only time that nuclear weapons would be used in war (so far). Another legacy of the bombings is far more subtle but just as devastating for the survivors. Since 1945, there has been a lingering stigma attached to survivors and their descendants that led to them being frequently ostracized by mainstream Japanese society. Termed the hibakusha (meaning "radiation-affected people" in Japanese), there are over 200,000 that have been formally registered with the Japanese government (registration being necessary to receive compensation) although many hibakusha also live in neighbouring countries such as South Korea (there were numerous Korean and other foreign nationals living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time of the bombings). It would take years of activism and public awareness campaigns for the Japanese government to pass legislation subsidizing basic medical treatment for hibakusha in 1957 (the United States government was formally absolved of any responsibility for compensation in a treaty with Japan in 1951). Due to the misinformation surrounding radiation exposure including fears of it being hereditary or contagious, many hibakusha face ongoing job and housing discrimination and non-affected families even object to their children marrying into a hibakusha family. To avoid discrimination, many hibakusha conceal their status to "pass" in mainstream society.
The psychological scars involved with being a hibakusha are considerable although research into the psychosocial impact of being a survivor has been relatively neglected. In addition to the expected posttraumatic symptoms for those who survived the bombings, there is also considerable survivor guilt and a "conspiracy of silence" surrounding hibakusha discussing their experiences (although this has started to change as survivors become better organized). Survivors who emigrated to other countries after the war (including the United States) began organizing local support chapters. Despite attempts to encourage survivors to tell their stories, the lingering stigma has resulted in many hibakusha refusing to "out" themselves and sharing their experiences. As the elderly survivors die, their stories often die with them.
Stigma can take a variety of forms and people can be ostracized for all sorts of reasons. Having the wrong skin colour, creed, place of origin, medical diagnosis or sexual orientation has been used to justify horrendous discrimination over the years. Simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time seems sufficient for some. It can happen in a flash of light.