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Hibakusha: Centenarian continues fight for A-bomb victims

Shuntaro Hida (Mainichi)

SAITAMA -- "Dr. Hida, congratulations on turning 100," said those gathered for a New Year's gathering of a Saitama Prefecture A-bomb survivors' group, in this city's Urawa Ward this Jan. 29.

Shuntaro Hida, honorary chairman of the group, turned 100 on Jan. 1 this year and was gifted with a pink jacket and hat. "I still have things to do. I will keep pushing on to the age of 105." He was applauded by the crowd of around 60, to whom Hida joked, "100 used to be my goal for living a long life, but these days it's not an unusual thing. It's just one year passed since I was 99."

Hida was a medic in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. After the war he opened a clinic in Tokyo, and after that he medically examined A-bomb victims at places including a Saitama hospital. Two years ago he lost his wife of some 70 years, and he now lives together with his son and his son's wife. There he eats what is served without complaint, sometimes enjoying drinks of whiskey and sake. Once a year he reads Leo Tolstoy's masterpiece "War and Peace."

Hida was exposed to atomic bomb radiation when he entered the city of Hiroshima after the bombing. Because of the radiation Hida has suffered back pain since he was young, and while his age has taken a toll on him physically and on his memory, he will never forget his life-changing experience in Hiroshima or the A-bomb victims he has met.

At the end of last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. His speech there included several fine-sounding words like "the power of reconciliation" and "the spirit of tolerance." While some viewed Abe's visit as a historic one that would lead to true reconciliation between Japan and the U.S., Hida is doubtful.

Hida has visited the U.S. and passed on his experience with the A-bomb many times. "Many of the listeners got teary and remarked how terrible the bomb was. But still, they said the bomb was necessary to end the war. That way of thinking probably won't change."

While the reality of nuclear weapons in the world has been a harsh one, Hida says, "I think the A-bomb victims have done well these past 70 years." He adds, "If the A-bomb victims had lived while forever cursing the bomb after the war and lamenting their problems, I don't think there would be as much support for eliminating nuclear weapons as there is now."

The decision of U.S. President Barack Obama to visit Hiroshima was the result of long years of activism by A-bomb victims, Hida believes. "Even the president of the United States can no longer ignore the international push to eliminate nuclear weapons," he says.

At the gathering in Saitama, Hida stood from his wheelchair to make his closing remarks, saying, "Let's keep working until nuclear weapons are gone from the world." Hida's battle with the nuclear bomb, and his desire to live as long as possible, continues. (By Fusajiro Takada, Toyooka Bureau)

(This is Part 3 of an ongoing series.)

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