The awarding of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) marked a significant step forward for the anti-nuclear movement.
With the average age of the hibakusha now above 81, younger victims in Japan who were exposed to radiation in the womb or in early childhood, as well as the children and grandchildren of A-bomb survivors, are starting to carry the torch in an effort to rid the world of nuclear arms.
Terumi Tanaka, co-chairman of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), experienced the atomic bombing of Nagasaki when he was 13. He vividly remembers the charred bodies of his aunt and other people.
Tanaka has long worked to win public compensation for A-bomb victims, but in recent years he has often been asked why he is working for the deceased.
“There is a gap that can’t be bridged between us and younger hibakusha who have no clear memories (of the bombing) in terms of feelings for the deceased,” said the 85-year-old Tanaka, who now resides in Niiza, Saitama Prefecture.
But at the same time, he said, “We need to forever hand down the stories of the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.”
The destruction of Nagasaki came just three days after Hiroshima in the closing days of World War II. They remain the only cities in the world to have been attacked with nuclear weapons.
Mitsuhiro Hayashida, a 25-year-old graduate school student, has taken part in anti-nuclear campaigns at the invitation of Tanaka. The Nagasaki native and grandson of hibakusha has led an international petition drive since 2016 mainly involving Nihon Hidankyo, to bring the landmark U.N. treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons into force. The pact was adopted in July.
Hayashida, now a resident of Yokohama, has initiated new campaigns, including a crowdfunding drive to cover the overseas travel expenses of hibakusha and a concert in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward aimed at spreading the story of the hibakusha.
He has been motivated by a lot of the hibakusha he became acquainted with in Nagasaki and the Tokyo area.
“I’ve inherited their anti-nuclear determination. I want to ensure the movement will never give up,” Hayashida emphasized.
Masako Wada, 74, was exposed to radiation in Nagasaki when she was 1, so she has little memory of the attack.
Wada, a Yokohama resident, assumed the post of assistant secretary-general at Nihon Hidankyo in June 2015 as part of a rejuvenation of its leadership team. She then started providing testimony at the United Nations and in Japan, narrating the stories she heard personally from her mother, who was also exposed.
Wada initially hesitated to speak about an event she does not actually remember. After learning more about the history of the victims in Nagasaki, however, “I thought I had to take over the crusade of my seniors who died after doing all they could,” she said.
“I can’t speak of what I saw, but I can take charge of the past,” Wada said.
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