NAGASAKI – On Aug. 9, 1945, Sakue Shimohira heard the sirens and ran with her younger sister and a nephew into an air-raid shelter about 800 meters from ground zero in Nagasaki.
With the flash and then a blast, the young girl briefly lost consciousness. Afterward, they were forced to stay in the shelter until the fires blazing outside lessened and then fled to a relative’s house.
A few days later, she found the remains of her mother and older sister under the rubble. Their bodies were burned so badly they fell apart in her hands.
Eventually, Shimohira’s hair fell out, spots appeared on her skin and she began finding blood in her stool. At 31 years of age, she had to have a full hysterectomy to get rid of a fibroid.
She also suffered emotionally. She was ashamed when high school classmates told her that an infection to a surgical incision smelled. And she was devastated by the suicide of the sister who had survived with her in the air-raid shelter.
“She asked me time and again to go together to our mother’s place,” Shimohira, now 71, said. “I could not stop her from committing suicide.”
Shimohira applied to the government to be recognized as an A-bomb survivor after she developed chronic hepatitis. A person recognized by the state as suffering from radiation illness can receive about 140,000 yen a month for special treatment.
Her application was rejected in May 2003. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry argued in a document that her chronic hepatitis “is a symptom that appears in people who are not A-bomb victims, and it cannot be said the symptom is due to the A-bomb.”
Shimohira is just one of a number of people who have filed lawsuits against the government after it told them it did not believe their medical problems were clearly caused by exposure to radiation. These conditions include cancer, liver problems, thyroid disorders, angina and side effects from blast burns.
The government has issued bomb-survivor health cards to about 260,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but as of the end of March 2005, only 2,251 were recognized as suffering from diseases related to A-bomb radiation.
On May 12, the Osaka District Court ruled that nine plaintiffs, including two who were not in Hiroshima or Nagasaki when the bombs were dropped, should be eligible for special medical payments, thus widening the scope on certifying sufferers of A-bomb-related diseases.
“Frankly speaking, I hate (to be part of) a trial. It’s really painful for me to expose the scars in my mind and wounds still on my body,” Shimohira said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.