An unusual atmosphere enveloped Shuntaro Hida's neighborhood and set his heart racing. It was Feb. 26, 1936, and Hida was a high school student on his way to a bus stop in Tokyo's Akasaka district. On that day young army officers attacked the nearby home of Finance Minister Korekiyo Takahashi, killing him in a coup d'etat known as the "2/26 Incident."
A nearby restaurant served as the headquarters of the insurgents, and there Hida saw a military officer loudly criticizing the corruption of Japan's political and economic leadership. Citizens watched from a distance, but Hida recalls, "It didn't resonate with me, so I don't remember what was being said."
Back in the 1930s, some in farming villages would sell their young daughters out of the desperation of poverty. Some of Hida's classmates agreed with the idea of socialism to fix the country's problems, but Hida was too caught up in his hobby of mountain climbing to care about such things. He entered university to study medicine, and began volunteering at a nursery school at the invitation of an acquaintance. He was surprised at the poverty and lack of hygiene he saw there.
"My father was the head of a bank branch, so I had grown up well-off. What I thought was normal turned out not to be so," he recalls.
The volunteer activities at the nursery school were later disbanded for being "liberal-leaning" and in the fall of 1942, Hida received a draft notice. After entering the military, a senior officer learned of Hida's former medical studies, and Hida would re-enroll at a military medical school. After graduating there, he was stationed at an army hospital in Hiroshima, but he says he wanted to be transferred to the battlefield.
"I hated the military, and I hated society under military rule. You can't have optimism for the future. I would be happier quickly ending my life. That was my thinking," says Hida.
However, a medical second lieutenant named Kondo, who was three years older than Hida, urged him to "live anyway." Kondo had leftist political thoughts and said he was being watched by the Special Higher Police and the military police, but Hida revealed his inner thoughts to Kondo, and to him alone.
Kondo, who foresaw Japan's defeat in the war, told him, "For the sake of building our new country, you must survive no matter what." Kondo, along with Hida's other colleagues at the hospital, died from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
Hida, meanwhile, saw over 6,000 A-bomb patients from the time immediately after the bombing until he retired from the front line of medicine at age 92. From his clinical experiences, he warned early on about the dangers of internal radiation exposure. As a doctor he has continued to speak out against nukes. He turned 98 early this year.
"I have more things to think about now, such as how I will approach the end of my life," he says.
As a person who knows of an earlier age when people could not speak freely or have hope for the future, he continues to think about what he can leave for future generations.