Reporter’s View: Japanese and South Korean A-bomb survivors forge close ties through support

by Miho Kuwajima, Staff Writer, Hiroshima Peace Media Center

In April I accompanied members of a Hiroshima citizens’ group on a visit to Daegu, South Korea to report on an exchange meeting between them and members of a local A-bomb survivors’ group. There was a banner that read “Welcome” and a warm atmosphere at the venue. The two sides formed a new group to promote the abolition of nuclear weapons and a peaceful world.

Fourteen members of the Hiroshima group, including A-bomb survivor Keisaburo Toyonaga, 83, and Etsuko Nakatani, 69, the group’s leader, traveled to South Korea. They introduced themselves partly in Korean and sang in chorus a song about longing for home. Han Pan-gae, 82, a resident of Daegu, said again and again, “Both Japanese and Korean survivors went through the same kind of suffering. This has nothing to do with politics.”

Koreans survivors experienced the atomic bombing while their nation was under Japanese rule. Though they experienced the same kind of suffering as Japanese survivors, they were not given the same assistance by the Japanese government. Most of the Korean survivors did not have a means of livelihood after returning to their country and they suffered ill health from their radiation exposure and were forced to live in poverty. “We didn’t have any food, and it was really hard,” said Kim Iljo, 90, in Hiroshima dialect. She was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city.

Mr. Toyonaga and the members of the group have been helping Korean A-bomb survivors in their struggles to obtain the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate, visit Japan for free medical care, and call for reducing the disparity in assistance between the Korean and Japanese survivors. Their ties have remained strong even when the relationship between the two countries worsened. The friendly atmosphere at the meeting conveyed the strength of their mutual trust.

But the members of the groups are aging. The formation of this new group means that they hope younger people will now take over their activities. This should be used as an opportunity for A-bomb survivors and young people in the two countries to communicate with one other. Time is limited.

(Originally published on May 24, 2019)