Matashichi Oishi, 79, who served aboard the Fukuryu Maru No. 5, a tuna boat exposed to radiation, is determined to carry on telling his story and calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
In an interview ahead of this week’s 68th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oishi, who was exposed with 22 other crew members to radioactive fallout from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test on the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in March 1954, said he wants to keep appealing for the elimination of nuclear weapons “as long as I live.”
Born in Shizuoka Prefecture, Oishi dropped out of school and became a fisherman at the age of 14.
“I had no choice but to support my family,” he recalls.
Oishi says he worked hard and pushed regrets about not being able to continue studying with his friends to the back of his mind.
When the United States conducted the H-bomb test on the Bikini Atoll, Oishi was 20 years old and engaged in freezing tuna on the Fukuryu Maru.
“In the dim light of the dawn, the sky turned bright red like at sunset,” he remembers. “With the rumbling sound, it felt like the whole world shook.”
Oishi says he “wasn’t scared” to see the sky changing color. He had known there was going to be some kind of experiment but did not know exactly what would happen.
“Something that looked like snow but did not melt like snow” started falling onto Oishi, getting in his eyes and inside his clothes.
Known as death ash, the lethal radioactive fallout continued quietly tormenting the former fisherman for a long time. Oishi developed cirrhosis and later liver cancer. Other crew members died from diseases that are believed to have been caused by exposure to radiation, including chief radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama, who died at the age of 40 only six months after returning from the Bikini Atoll.
Oishi began lecturing about his experiences in 1983, some 30 years after the bomb test. He spoke in front of people for the first time about memories that had been hidden deep inside after a request from students at a junior high school in Machida, Tokyo.
“At that time, everyone tried to hide” their radiation exposure out of fear of discrimination and prejudice, Oishi says. He left his hometown to start a dry cleaning business in Tokyo.
“I was far from happy to talk about my experience, but at the same time I felt I had to convey what had happened,” he says. “It was hard for me to see my colleagues die off.”
Oishi has now given about 750 lectures, mainly at elementary and junior high schools.
“When I speak in front of children, their teachers tend to be more eager to hear what I have to say because they too don’t know about the Fukuryu Maru and can’t answer questions about it from their students,” he says.