What she discovered about herself there changed her life forever.
"I realized that I had lost myself a little bit, and I wanted to give myself more priority," she told The Today Show's Meredith Vieira Thursday morning. So she eventually ended her 20-year marriage, and walked away from her family.
"I didn't want to be a mother, and that was because I had this idea that motherhood was this all-encompassing thing and I was afraid of being swallowed up by that."
Rizzuto's memoir, which is a finalist for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Awards, chronicles her experience living in Hiroshima and interviewing survivors of the atomic bomb, then returning home to deal with the figurative bomb she set off in her own life, as she began to make her feelings known and her marriage began to unravel. Ultimately, she would make a decision she now regrets: "I left my children. It was unacceptable."
"When I got to Japan, there was kind of a space around me where I wasn't defined anymore in the way that I was in the U.S., where people had these expectations," she said. "I grew in ways that I didn't expect and I had to reassess what I wanted in my life."
Critics have called Rizzuto's behavior selfish. "I would say to [those critics]...that my children are fine, they're not traumatized. And I think they have a great life. They have everything they need...The trick is that it's not coming from the [person] that people think it should be coming from. Their father is doing what I would call the heavy lifting...I'm able to provide them something different."
Today, Rizutto lives down the street from her ex, with whom she shares joint custody. As for her boys, now teens, she believes she is a better mother to them now than she would have been if she didn't leave.