A fisherman who suffered radiation sickness after a 1954 U.S. hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific Ocean is campaigning for a monument to the danger of fallout from nuclear tests.
Matashichi Oishi wants the 2-ton stone, which has already been carved, to be placed on the site of the Tsukiji fish market for the benefit of future generations.
The market is currently set to move to a new location, and no decision has been taken yet on what to do with the site in central Tokyo that for decades was the flagship site for seafood sales in Japan.
Many might wonder what the wholesale market has to do with the antinuclear movement. But the consequences of the 1954 blast were vast, with fallout sickening fishermen nearby and contaminating their catches. Deemed unsaleable, some of the fish delivered to Tsukiji were dumped in a deep hole in the ground and left there.
“I’ll try at all costs to set up a tuna memorial in Tsukiji at the very center of Tokyo . . . to keep reminding people of the horror of nuclear weapons,” Oishi, 82, said at a recent event in Tokyo.
The former crewmember of tuna boat Fukuryu Maru No. 5 urged people to sign a petition supporting his campaign.
A stone monument was carved more than 15 years ago thanks to small contributions from school children and other fundraising efforts led by Oishi. It bears a Japanese word that translates as Tuna Memorial.
Oishi likens the stone’s textured surface to the pattern of rough ocean waves.
Today, the monument stands next to a Tokyo museum where the Fukuryu Maru is on display.
So far, no substantial progress has been made on its move and what could further complicate Oishi’s efforts is uncertainty over the plan to relocate the aging fish market and what the land will be used for in future.
Most recently, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike decided to delay the relocation from November, citing concerns over contaminated soil at the new site, in the city’s Toyosu district.
Tokyo resident Oishi remains committed to his cause.
“I’ll do my best to collect signatures so that Ms. Koike will agree to put the Tuna Memorial in Tsukiji,” he said.
The Fukuryu Maru, or Lucky Dragon No. 5, was about 160 km from where the United States detonated a hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954.
The bomb was 1,000 times more powerful than the one the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima. White, highly radioactive fallout descended on the boat like snow.
The boat returned to its home port of Yaizu in Shizuoka Prefecture two weeks later. Although Oishi and 22 other crew members suffered from radiation burns and other ailments, they were initially unaware of the seriousness of the situation and their fish catch was shipped to Tokyo and elsewhere.
But high radiation levels were soon detected in the tuna and shark delivered to Tsukiji. Authorities decided to dump the radioactive fish in a hole 3 meters deep beneath the market, according to newspapers at that time and other documents.
Fears over toxic fish, then dubbed “atomic-bomb tuna,” spread across Japan, prompting a sharp drop in fish consumption and even leading the Tsukiji market to call off an auction. Some 490 tons of toxic hauls from boats that operated near the nuclear test site had been disposed of nationwide through December 1954.
A plaque near the market’s main gate offers a brief explanation of the Fukuryu Maru incident and the huge impact it had on people’s lives and the fishing industry.
The plaque was placed there in 1999 as a result of talks between the Tokyo metropolitan government and Oishi’s group. But the group believes it will be removed when the market shuts and there will be nothing to recall the event unless the stone is put in its place.
The group argues that the monument is about more than just a one-off event.
“I don’t want people to think that the Tuna Memorial is a mere stone that has nothing to do with us. It tells us that it’s not just tuna that will be heavily affected when nuclear weapons are used and radiation contamination spreads, but also human beings,” Oishi said. “I hope the stone will become a milestone on the road to peace.”
Oishi has recently been recovering from a compression fracture in his lumbar spine and may have to dial back his activity in spreading word about the petition.
But he said he was heartened by hospital staff at the facility where he underwent rehab, who signed the petition and also collected signatures from people around them.
“I was thinking that the (Fukuryu Maru) incident has already been forgotten, but it seems to be that this was not always the case,” Oishi said.
Tasuku Oikawa, a 68-year-old printing company executive who has supported Oishi’s campaigning for the memorial from the beginning, conceded that the issue is far from resolved.
He feels the need to accelerate efforts, given Oishi’s age and health. Many former Fukuryu Maru crew members have already died.
By the end of March, Oishi’s group hopes to have 10,000 signatures for the petition addressed to the Tokyo governor and the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly president. As of late September, they had gathered 1,500 signatures.