Hibaku rice tasseled again this year in various parts of Japan as a “living witness” to the horror of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki 70 years ago.
The rice is derived from seeds collected in October 1945 by Kyushu University researchers in areas close to the hypocenter of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki just before the end of World War II in August of that year.
Hibaku (exposure to radiation) rice looks healthy, though greener than normal. But its husks are “almost empty,” Kikuo Sakai, 81, said in early October, pointing to the rice grown in a 100-sq.-meter plot in his rice paddy in Motomiya, Fukushima Prefecture.
“The taste isn’t good,” added his wife, Ko, 76.
Sakai learned about the hibaku rice seeds from a farming magazine and began growing it, not for sale but to remember relatives who went to war and never returned, and the acute food shortages experienced in Japan during and after WWII.
“I will continue growing the rice as long as I live,” Sakai said.
The husks of many plants produced from such seeds are empty because of chromosome damage caused by radiation.
Planting the rice around Japan as an act of remembrance began following a 1995 documentary aired by NHK.
The documentary was produced by then NHK director Taketoshi Koga, 74, a graduate from Kyushu University’s agricultural department who had been given some of the rice seeds.
Seeds from the cultivated hibaku rice in Nagasaki were distributed to citizens and planted in at least 24 prefectures, including Hiroshima, which was hit by an atomic bomb days before Nagasaki.
The average age of A-bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki now tops 80. “While it should be tough both physically and mentally for the survivors to talk about their experiences, hibaku rice shows the horror of atomic bombing by just being there,” Koga said.
Toshiro Taki, a 78-year-old former junior high school teacher in Unnan, Shimane Prefecture, also grows hibaku rice.
Taki’s father was an elementary school teacher who taught physician Takashi Nagai, known as the “saint of Urakami.” He devoted himself to the treatment of hibakusha in Nagasaki despite his own grievous injuries from exposure to radiation near Urakami Cathedral in the vicinity of the bombing hypocenter.
“Hibaku rice has been growing better and better,” Taki said, noting the rice becomes healthier over generations when left in the natural environment.
But growers have opted to plant fruitless seeds in order to remember the pains of the atomic bombing.
Choichi Ueno, 64, who has been growing hibaku rice in the town of Kaminokawa, Tochigi Prefecture, for a decade, said, “I hope the rice will motivate people to look back on the past,” especially the horror of the atomic bombings.