Sumiteru Taniguchi sat in his office as a chorus of cicadas echoed through nearby Nagasaki Peace Park. There was intense media coverage of the forced lower-house passage of security legislation that would open the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense. Quietly but with deep anger, the 86-year-old chairman of the Nagasaki Council of A-Bomb Sufferers said, "The people who should know everything there is to know about atomic bombs and war don't."
When the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki at 11:02 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1945, Taniguchi, then 16 years old, was working at a post office some 1.8 kilometers from the bomb's hypocenter. Many of his coworkers died, and Taniguchi himself suffered near-fatal burns on his back. He was hospitalized for the next three years and seven months, but the keloids and pain never went away. A photograph of him being treated for his back burns is on display at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.
Almost 70 years have passed since the day of the bombing. Taniguchi, who over the years traveled both in Japan and abroad to speak to people about the impossibility of nuclear weapons and humankind coexisting, is no longer as strong as he once was. He was once able to meet people to share his story two or three times a day, but nowadays, he rarely does.
And yet, when the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) kicked off in New York in April, he flew to the U.S. despite his frail state, knowing it could very well be the last time he could make an appeal overseas. He attended a rally organized by an NGO in a wheelchair, and showing the photo of himself receiving treatment on his back, delivered a speech about the inhumaneness of nuclear weapons. "We must not leave behind a single nuclear weapon to the people of the future," he declared.
The NPT Review Conference ended in disappointment, however, with the member states unable to reach a consensus agreement. To add insult to injury, the government-backed security bills were railroaded through the lower house. Taniguchi is deeply alarmed. "Fewer and fewer people listen to stories told by those who have experienced the atomic bomb or war. As a result, everyone will forget the suffering of people 70 years ago and go on to condone war."
What was especially shocking to Taniguchi was the Nagasaki Prefectural Assembly's passage on July 9 of the first statement by a prefectural assembly to express support for the government-backed security bills to be passed in the current session of the Diet. "As a human being, I cannot abide that Nagasaki, where an atomic bomb was dropped, was the first prefecture to make such a resolution. I wonder if it's because there are fewer people who have experienced war or the atomic bombing now than there were in the past." The fear Taniguchi has of memories being lost is already becoming a reality.
Still, Taniguchi refuses to give up. "Those who directly experienced the atomic bomb will eventually disappear. I'm continuing my work with the understanding that once I'm dead, that's it," he said. There was once a time when the after-effects of his injuries were so painful and the prospects for his future so bleak that he contemplated suicide, but he ultimately decided he would live for those whose lives were cut short. He knows he, too, will die someday, but until then, he's determined to keep telling people what it's like to have experienced the atomic bombing. "I want to serve as a foundation on which a world that allows people to live freely as people can be created." (By Eisuke Obata, Nagasaki Bureau)