SENDAI – On Aug. 9, 1945, a 9-year-old Chiyoko Iwanaga was 10.5 km away from the hypocenter of the atomic bomb that leveled Nagasaki.
Although she said she escaped the flash of thermal radiation and bomb blast when she unwittingly dove into a drainage ditch, Iwanaga believes she lives with health effects resulting from the atomic bomb to this day.
Despite inhaling the smoke or eating vegetables that were covered in ash from the Nagasaki blast, there are people the Japanese government has never recognized as hibakusha, the official term to refer to those who survived the atomic bombings.
Now, after more than 70 years, people like Iwanaga who still hope for redress from the government have delivered messages of empowerment to people concerned about the unseen, and continuing, affects of the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster.
Iwanaga, 79, and other plaintiffs in a lawsuit that called for government redress sent letters to the Haramachi Catholic Church in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, in 2012, calling on the residents to urge the government to take into account the dangers of internal radiation exposure.
“There are people in Nagasaki who were not only directly exposed to radiation but also people who received low doses of radiation. We wanted to tell people (in Fukushima) about the type of sicknesses of those who had low-dose radiation,” said Iwanaga.
Some people living in Minamisoma responded, saying they are concerned about the possibility of contaminated tap water and the hassle of having to purchase bottled water at supermarkets. Others expressed appreciation for the support from Nagasaki and being informed of the dangers of radiation damage.
Iwanaga said she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, or decreased thyroid activity, in her 50s and also suffers from angina and diabetes. She said she had internal radiation exposure when she inhaled smoke and other substances from the nuclear blast, but the government never recognized her as a hibakusha.
The government officially acknowledged the hibakusha area within a 12-km radius of the atomic bomb’s hypocenter. Iwanaga was deemed to fall outside this designated area.
Many believe it to be irrational to follow an administrative district delineated for radiation fallout.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred on March 11, 2011, the same day the court trial was underway for plaintiffs demanding that the government recognize them as hibakusha.
“There is a difference between an atomic bomb and atomic power but we want to work in solidarity as people who have to deal with damage caused by radiation,” Iwanaga said.
After the conclusion of the trial, Iwanaga urged the group of about 400 plaintiffs to write letters to Fukushima.
The group also sent 2,400 bowls of sara udon, a specialty dish native to Nagasaki, to Fukushima at the end of August 2012 and continued to deliver letters and mandarin oranges from the region, but the activity has gradually died down.
“We lost the trial and appealed, but everyone has had their own issues to confront,” said Iwanaga.
Ahead of the five-year anniversary of the March 11 quake and tsunami, Iwanaga wants to remind people to never forget the nuclear disaster. She is sending mandarin oranges this year as well to keep the memories fresh in people’s minds.
Kazue Kobayashi, 71, a member of the church congregation who lives in the Haramachi district of Minamisoma, helps to distribute letters that have arrived from Nagasaki to evacuees staying in temporary housing.
“These are the people of Nagasaki who suffered from radiation, which has no color or odor, so they understand the hardships we face. We want to continue this exchange for a long time to come,” she said.