The A-bomb Survivors’ Movement: The Past 50 Years, Part 1 [2]

Part 1: “It's good to be alive”

Article 2: World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs

by Masami Nishimoto, Senior Staff Writer

The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki lie at the heart of Japan's postwar view of peace. Since the end of World War II, successive Japanese governments, representing “the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack,” have appealed to the international community for the elimination of nuclear weapons. A-bomb survivors and others have raised their voices to help form a national consciousness which vows: We must not repeat such tragedy. This summer [this series originally appeared in the Chugoku Shimbun in 2006] marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations. The Chugoku Shimbun reports on the origin and the nature of the A-bomb survivors' movement, focusing on the life of one female A-bomb survivor.

A-bomb survivors were made to feel as if they were living in a corner of society even in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima. Detestable keloid scars would not disappear. Many were without the succor of family members who were lost in the bombing: the parents that had provided support, the children they had lovingly raised. Even when they suffered from the aftereffects of the bomb's radiation, people dismissed such difficulties as the “lazy disease.” An increasing number of migrants came to Hiroshima as the city hammered away at reconstruction.

The sense of isolation felt by the A-bomb survivors can also be seen in the words of the declaration issued by the Conference of A-bomb Sufferers in Hiroshima Prefecture, which was held in March 1956. The declaration began: “We, who have survived in a corner of the society...”

At the same time, the conference, which attracted about 300 people, adopted resolutions urging “surveys on the health and the lives of A-bomb sufferers,” “the provision of opportunities for medical treatment and full employment,” and “the establishment of a national institute to treat A-bomb diseases,” among other things. The conference deemed these resolutions as matters of “state compensation” and pledged the “promotion of campaigns against atomic and hydrogen bombs.”

Thus, the framework of the A-bombed city's appeals was finally formed shortly before the 11th summer after the atomic bombing.

The declaration of the conference concluded with the words “It’s good to be alive,” a phrase uttered by Yoshiko Takano (nee Murato), now 73, a resident of Higashi Ward, Hiroshima, after she offered her A-bomb account at the World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs the previous year.

The final words of the declaration stated: “If our suffering and our rebirth can serve as a bastion for protecting human life and happiness in the new atomic age, we can be happy from the bottom of our hearts, thinking, 'It's good to be alive.'”

Ms. Takano was exposed to the flash of the atomic bombing in the Showa district of Naka Ward, 1.5 kilometers from the hypocenter, while helping to create a fire lane in the event of air raids. After finishing school, she began learning Japanese dressmaking.

In a corner of the society

Ms. Takano spent her days “brooding in a corner of the house,” though she also pondered the idea that she needed to learn a trade. Her uncle, who had carried Ms. Takano to an aid station in the Yaga district in Higashi Ward after the atomic bomb had altered her appearance miserably, told her: “Try hard to live, and something good will surely happen.” He encouraged her, on behalf of her parents, too, who died when Ms. Takano was small.

One day, before Ms. Takano had turned 20, someone spoke to her in a streetcar and invited her to visit Hiroshima Nagarekawa Church. The Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, an A-bomb survivor, brought together young women who were mentally or physically hurt and set up a group, raising public awareness with regard to providing support to A-bomb survivors. (Kiyoshi Tanimoto died in 1986.)

These women were called “Hiroshima Maidens,” a label which stuck despite their discomfort with it. The women were invited to hospitals in Tokyo and Osaka and news of their medical treatment attracted nationwide attention. The events became a call to action for doctors in Hiroshima to provide medical support of the A-bomb survivors and led to free health checkups for all survivors in 1952.

That same year the U.S. occupation of Japan ended. The members of the group at Hiroshima Nagarekawa Church cooperated on the production of a film entitled “Genbaku no Ko” (“Children of the Atomic Bombing”), for which director Kaneto Shindo, a Hiroshima native, conducted the film shoot in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima. Ms. Takano, who appeared in one scene in which she was praying, looked back at that time and said, “Although I was reading the Bible, and communicating with the others, and we were consoling one another, I didn't feel like I was me again.”

Ms. Takano's anguish continued. Still, she remained active in the group, and met people who would spur the A-bomb survivors' movement from the A-bombed city of Hiroshima. Among them was Kiyoshi Kikkawa, who was the owner of a souvenir shop near the Atomic Bomb Dome and a pioneer in establishing a group of A-bomb survivors. (Mr. Kikkawa died in 1986.)

Encouragement leads to sharing of A-bomb account

Ms. Takano's encounter with Heiichi Fujii was a defining moment in her life. Mr. Fujii lost his father in the atomic bombing and put his heart and soul into efforts to assist the A-bomb survivors. He carried on with these activities despite the fact that his woodworking shop, the family business, came to do poorly in terms of sales and profits. After the Conference of A-bomb Sufferers in Hiroshima Prefecture in 1956, he was instrumental in realizing the establishment of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Suffers Organizations, and the subsequent establishment of the Japan Confederation of A-and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations. It was Mr. Fujii's idea to include not only A-bomb survivors but also the dead due to the atomic bombings, along with their families, under the term “A-bomb sufferers.”

Sharing her impression of the architect of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, who passed away at the age of 80 in 1996, Ms. Takano said, “He was a dependable person and considerate of others.” With Mr. Fujii's encouragement, Ms. Takano shared her A-bomb account in front of others for the first time at the World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs.

The following is a portion of the appeal made by Ms. Takano at that event. She was then 23 and known by her maiden name of Murato. The quotation appeared in an article in the Chugoku Shimbun on August 8, 1955.

“Please look at me and my appearance. My heart is filled with the desire to avoid ever creating such a fate again. There has been enough suffering and we should be the last to endure such a fate. I don't want any more war.”

Applause of encouragement and solidarity from the participants from home and abroad, filling the Municipal Auditorium in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the first venue of the conference, embraced this petite woman. After leaving the platform, she spontaneously uttered the words: “It's good to be alive.”

With the article from that time in her hand, Ms. Takano said: “I think those words were prompted by the delight I felt at having my life acknowledged, at the fact that I was no longer alone, after existing in a corner of the society.”

Ms. Takano's participation in the A-bomb survivors' movement, she said, “saved her” and led her to develop the “courage to live with a positive mind.”

Two days after the Conference of A-bomb Sufferers in Hiroshima Prefecture, mentioned at the beginning of this article, Ms. Takano met then Japanese Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama and others, and spoke directly about her wishes as a member of a group of A-bomb sufferers that traveled to Tokyo to petition the Diet.

(Originally published on July 4, 2006)