‘Hibakusha’ make a stand

By Adrian Chan
January 20, 2016

HIROSHIMA: “I was prepared to die, but I did not,” recalled a 90-year-old survivor upon seeing black blood oozing out of his waist.

Then a 20-year-old undergraduate, Sunao Tsuboi was cycling to campus when he was abruptly flung 10m away by the force of the atomic bomb blast here that fateful day in 1945.

“I looked around to find half my trousers gone. My shirt was burning and it took me half-an-hour just to remove it. I was half-naked and running, but I didn’t know which direction to go,” he said.

The horrors that unfurled in the following 30 minutes were difficult to describe, he added.

Being just one kilometre away from the blast’s epicentre, he witnessed burning men and women getting away from the site.

“Some of their eyeballs were protruding out of their eye sockets. Some people were missing a hand or a leg.

“Many who were trapped inside houses were screaming for help. I wanted to help but I could not do anything,” Tsuboi said, adding that he walked aimlessly for another 3km before falling unconscious and remained so over the next 40 days.

He was spared what Yoshiko Kajimoto, 84, had to experience in the month after the bomb was dropped on the city.

After escaping from a factory that collapsed, Kajimoto, who was a third-grade junior high school student, was forced to see many of her friends and family die from radiation poisoning.

Permanently etched in her memory were images of her younger cousin, who despite surviving the blast to return home, died the next day in bed.

“At least he was lucky enough to die after he found his family,” she said, adding that many of the families could not identify the corpses found.

“Many of the children who told their parents sayonara in the morning did not live to return home,” she said.

Though the blast ended in several seconds, both Kajimoto and Tsuboi suffered dire consequences for the rest of their lives.

The hibakusha (Japanese for survivors of the atomic bomb blast) recounted their experiences at the 25th United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues last week.

Prolonged exposure to radiation caused Tsuboi to develop anaemia, two cancers and a heart condition.

Kajimoto’s only physical misfortune was the development of gastrointestinal cancer in 1999 but she had to endure harsher life challenges in the next two decades after World War II.

“My father vomited blood and died one-and-a-half years after the blast.

“My mother suffered radiation-related illnesses over the next 20 years and incurred huge medical bills,” she said.

Being the eldest surviving sibling, Kajimoto was forced to abandon her dreams of becoming a school teacher to shoulder the burden of being the sole breadwinner of the family.

When she was of marriageable age, most men were not willing to marry her for fear that she might pass on her radiation-induced condition to her offspring.

“In those days, I suffered such discrimination. However, I married a man my uncle introduced me to and had two daughters and four grandchildren. They are healthy and do not suffer any genetic defects,” she said.

Today, both Kajimoto and Tsuboi are the voices representing the hibakusha and are fierce advocates against nuclear weapons.

Tsuboi now serves as the chairman of the Confederation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organisation and has given more than 20 speeches across the globe.

“I am still alive. Even tough I was sick and had two cancers, I will forget about them when I think of creating a world free of nuclear weapons.”

“I will never give up. That is a pledge I repeat to myself every day,” he said.

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