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Hibakusha: A-bomb survivor prepares to talk about radioactive 'black rain' in New York

Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Seiji Takato, 74, was among 36 seniors gathered in the lobby of the Hiroshima Municipal Government building in the early afternoon of March 23. They were all exposed to "black rain" -- showers following the bombing of the city on Aug. 6, 1945 stained black by nuclear fallout -- and they were there to apply for A-bomb victim certificates.

    When his name was called during the application process, Takato responded with a particularly loud "Yes," determined to fight for those who had suffered radiation-related sicknesses but never acknowledged as A-bomb victims by the government.

    The 36 people were caught in the black rain outside a government-designated oval-shaped area about 11 kilometers wide and 19 kilometers in diameter. Only those inside the oval are eligible for government A-bomb survivor relief. While another six people filed applications with the Hiroshima Prefectural Government for the certificates, they are likely to be rejected. Takato and others plan to file a class action suit if their applications are turned down.

    "The skies of Hiroshima were shining bright red and then the colors changed," recalls Takato. He remembers vividly seeing a flash and hearing a blast on Aug. 6, 1945.

    After surviving the bombing, Takato drank water from wells, and ate locally grown vegetables and rice that had been showered by the black rain. As a child, he had poor health and had to miss school from time to time due to swollen lymph glands, but his home was outside the government-designated zone so he was not considered an A-bomb victim by officialdom.

    After retiring from his job as a high school teacher, Takato became secretary general of citizens' group "Saeki-ku kuroi ame no kai" (association of black rain victims in Saeki Ward) and traveled throughout the ward. For an anthology of essays on A-bomb survivors' experiences published in 2012, Takato visited their homes one by one to collect stories and testimony.

    Takato felt strong resentment toward the government when a fellow unrecognized A-bomb survivor called him last fall and said, "Are we supposed to just wait until we die?" The person was caught in the black rain when she was 3 years old and had suffered from blood- and thyroid-related illnesses.

    Takato also knows a classmate who had developed lung cancer and another survivor who promised to testify if the group went to a court over the A-bomb victim certification. Neither lived to get their certificates.

    Takato has avoided speaking in public about his experiences of the bombing, thinking that stories from someone like him who had not suffered serious illnesses would not be convincing. He began to think, however, he should lead the way for his fellow black rain victims.

    Takato is heading to U.N. Headquarters in New York as a member of an anti-nuclear activist group for the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, scheduled to start on April 27. He's been studying English for the occasion.

    "I never know when I'll be asked to make a speech while I'm there," he says. The speech that he has written in English is filled with notes marked in different colors for intonation and pronunciation. He is going to New York with the determination to let the world know about the black rain and its victims. (By Sayo Kato, Hiroshima Bureau)

    (This is Part 6 of a new Hibakusha series.)

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