• Kyodo, Jiji, AFP-Jiji


Sunao Tsuboi, an influential campaigner for nuclear disarmament who survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, died Sunday of arrhythmia caused by anemia, his family said Wednesday. He was 96.

Tsuboi drew international attention when he met then-U.S. President Barack Obama in 2016 while he visited Hiroshima and the site of the atomic bombing — becoming the first sitting U.S. president to do so since the bombing occurred on Aug. 6, 1945.

He smiled broadly as he shook Obama’s hand, with the two men conversing for upwards of a minute. “I was able to convey my thoughts,” a satisfied Tsuboi said afterwards.

Tsuboi was a student at the predecessor to Hiroshima University when the bombing occurred. He was on the street around 1.2 kilometers from ground zero when he was exposed to the blast and suffered severe burns.

“I suffered burns all over my body,” he said in a 2016 interview. “Naked, I tried to run away for about three hours, but finally could no longer walk.”

Then aged 20, he picked up a small rock and wrote on the ground “Tsuboi dies here,” before losing consciousness.

Sunao Tsuboi (right) shake hands with U.S. President Barack Obama at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima in May 2016. | KYODO
Sunao Tsuboi (right) shake hands with U.S. President Barack Obama at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima in May 2016. | KYODO

He remained unconscious when the war ended on Aug. 15, 1945. He later developed bowel and prostate cancers and severe anemia.

After working as a junior high school teacher, he devoted himself to anti-nuclear activities, conveying the horror of nuclear weapons for decades at home and abroad and calling for their elimination.

“I can tolerate hardships for the sake of human happiness. I may die tomorrow but I’m optimistic. I will never give up. We want zero nuclear weapons,” he said.

He served as one of the chairpersons of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations.

There are 127,755 survivors of the two nuclear attacks in Japan that are still alive. Their average age currently sits at 84, according to the health ministry.

Around 140,000 people died in the bombing of Hiroshima, a toll that includes those who survived the initial explosion, but died soon after from radiation sickness.

Three days later the U.S. dropped a plutonium bomb on the port city of Nagasaki, killing about 74,000 people and leading to the end eventual end of World War II.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was foreign minister when Obama visited Hiroshima, recalled on Wednesday Tsuboi’s effort to create a nuclear-free world.

“Mr. Tsuboi offered help on different occasions in our goal of realizing a world without nuclear weapons, we exchanged ideas, and he participated when then U.S. President Obama visited Hiroshima,” Kishida, who represents a constituency in Hiroshima Prefecture, said in a Twitter post.

“I am determined to move forward by engraving Mr. Tsuboi’s thoughts in my memory,” he said.

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