'POSTMAN OF NAGASAKI'

Novel on hibakusha reprinted

by May Masangkay

Kyodo

A 1985 book depicting the life of a survivor of the Aug. 9, 1945, atomic bombing of Nagasaki is being reissued in Japanese, thanks to efforts by individuals who raised the money to have it reprinted.

“Nagasaki no Yubinhaitatsu” (“The Postman of Nagasaki”), written by the late Peter Townsend, a British World War II hero, tells the story of Sumiteru Taniguchi and his physical and emotional struggles as a hibakusha.

Many books have been published on the A-bomb, but the appeal of “The Postman of Nagasaki” lies in Townsend’s style and the moving story of Taniguchi’s struggle against discrimination as an A-bomb survivor and his fears for himself and his children over radiation sickness, according to Setsuko Yokokawa, a freelance journalist who initiated the project to revive the book.

“Mr. Townsend wrote from the standpoint not of a British national but of a human being, without any bias,” she said.

The book by Townsend, a former Battle of Britain fighter pilot and royal equerry to the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was based on lengthy interviews with Taniguchi conducted over the course of nearly a month in 1982, along with extensive background research.

He referred, for example, to documents detailing what transpired in meetings between wartime Emperor Showa and military leaders and the position of U.S. President Harry Truman who authorized the use of the atomic bomb.

Yokokawa said she was inspired to initiate the project to reissue the book after reading it for the first time in 2003, when she became convinced it ought to be republished this year on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the bombing.

The book was initially published in English in 1984 and in Japanese a year later. It was also published in French. Today, extracts are used in high school textbooks, and most of the available copies are to be found in libraries.

“The message about the abolition of nuclear weapons is so compelling. I felt that people in Japan must know about this message now more than ever,” Yokokawa said.

Her initial plan was to republish the book for sale, but after this failed due to copyright reasons, Yokokawa thought about raising funds to publish the book and donate them to high schools and libraries in Nagasaki for peace campaigns.

The project to revive the book was launched in May with the aim of raising 1.5 million yen to produce 2,000 copies for sale at 2,000 yen apiece. The target sum was reached within only two months, with more than 400 people chipping in.

“I believe it’s better and more meaningful for everyone, and not just one person, to work together and save a precious book from going out of print,” said Yokokawa, whose idea of having individuals raise funds was inspired by Britain’s National Trust campaign, in which people chip in to buy land and buildings to protect places of historic interest or natural beauty.

Taniguchi has been active in Japan’s antinuclear movement for decades. Recounting his travails, he said: “No one, not even my family, believed I would live. I, too, did not have the will to go on with life. The pain was just so unbearable for me.”

Taniguchi was a 16-year-old engaged in his normal postal delivery service when the atomic bomb hit Nagasaki at 11 a.m. Aug. 9, 1945. His back was badly burned and he had to lie on his stomach in a hospital bed for more than two years while clinging to life.

After his wounds had almost miraculously healed, Taniguchi returned to his old job as a postman, but as with many A-bomb survivors he worried about his future due to his unsightly scars and discriminatory social attitudes that marriage to a hibakusha would result in deformed children or the early death of the affected spouse.

Through the intervention of his aunt, he married a woman who cared for him despite his disabilities and they had two healthy children.

In the English version of the book, Townsend wrote of Taniguchi’s revived thirst for life: “He now saw a meaning in all his years of suffering and felt no more regrets. . . . He felt convinced that he had survived for a definite — and predestined — purpose: to help without relenting in the fight against nuclear warfare.”

Having retired from his postman’s job, Taniguchi is now an executive in the Nagasaki A-bomb Sufferers’ Council and continues to work with other hibakusha. In May, he flew to New York to attend the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty talks, which broke down.

“Nuclear weapons are said to be a deterrent, but nuclear arms and humanity can never coexist,” he said, urging the government to be more active in conveying to the world the antinuclear message of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“We always say there is peace, the world is at peace, because we can play and move around freely, but there is more to peace than simply that,” Taniguchi said, adding he fears people are “forgetting the painful past” of the atomic bombing.

“I fear oblivion. I fear that forgotten memories are leading to a renewed affirmation of atomic bombs,” he one wrote.

Yokokawa, who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture, hopes the book will somehow make a difference to avert people from such oblivion.