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Hibakusha: 90-yr-old artist can't forget children of post-bomb Nagasaki, war-torn Syria

Susumu Nishiyama talks about the manga he drew depicting his visit to Syria, in Fukuoka's Minami Ward, on May 7, 2018. (Mainichi)

FUKUOKA -- "I wonder if those kids are safe," mumbled 90-year-old anti-war comic artist Susumu Nishiyama, a resident of this city's Minami Ward.

This was the April day when news was sent around the world of U.S., British and French forces launching missiles at Syrian government military installations in response to reports of the Bashar al-Assad administration using chemical weapons. The smiles of Syrian children as they ran to greet him when he visited 35 years earlier bubbled up from his memories.

In August 1983, Nishiyama was invited to Syria by a group of artists and visited Damascus along with other locations. Even then, the Middle East was wrapped up in bitter conflict.

When he went out onto the streets, he seemed to be the first Japanese person that the local children had ever seen, and they came running to get a better look at him, filled with curiosity. When Nishiyama drew animal comics or caricatures of the children in the sketchbook he was carrying, they were delighted. He visited a school attended by war orphans and told them of his experiences of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki. When he told them that with one bomb alone, some 70,000 people were killed in an instant, they stared at him intently as they listened.

Nishiyama was 17 years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki 73 years ago. He was working at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. Nagasaki Shipyard roughly 3.5 kilometers away from the epicenter. The day after the bomb, the young Nishiyama and five of his co-workers were ordered by their superior to go into the bombed zone and help the survivors. On the way there, the young Nishiyama saw five children that had been burned alive while covering their eyes, and a mother and child that had been charred completely black and fallen over. When they arrived at their destination, a military factory, he saw the lifeless bodies of the boys and girls that worked there crushed under machines.

After the war, Nishiyama moved to Tokyo and became a manga comic artist. He also participated in the "hibakusha," or atomic bomb survivor, movement, continuing to cry out with his pen and his words, "No more Hiroshima, No More Nagasaki, No More War..." Each time he imagines that children and citizens are being injured in war, such scenes overlap with the memories of the landscape he had witnessed in Nagasaki in 1945.

In 2016, Nishiyama underwent surgery for stomach cancer and the condition was certified as being connected to the radiation he has been exposed to back in Nagasaki. Since last year, he has lived while using an oxygen mask due to emphysema. Mid-interview, he took up his pen and began to continuously draw a manga depicting the Syrian children who had run up to meet him with smiles on their faces.

If they were still alive, they would be parents now. With precise handy work unexpected for a 90-year-old, Nishiyama was done drawing the comic in no time at all. He handed the finished work to the reporter.

"War mustn't be waged," he said. "We shouldn't forget the children underneath those falling bombs."

(This is Part 3 of a series.)

(Japanese original by Takehiro Higuchi, Kyushu News Department)

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