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Hibakusha: The powerful, determined gaze of an old doctor

SAITAMA -- "It's not that there's some particular problem with me, it's just easier this way." So says 98-year-old atomic bomb survivor Shuntaro Hida, who lives with his wife in a nursing home for the elderly in Saitama Prefecture.

    "After all, in a few months I'll be 99," he laughs, lying on a bed.

    On Aug. 6 this year, the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, Hida attended a memorial service for those who died at a former Imperial Japanese Army hospital, where he had worked as an army medic. Later in the day he joined another gathering, where he spoke about his experiences with the atomic bomb.

    As long as his strength held out, and as long as there were people who wanted to listen, he had desired to continue telling what happened when the bomb fell, but lately Hida has become a bit distanced from these testimonial activities. The biggest reason is his age, but a conflict in his mind also seems to be playing a part.

    That conflict can be traced back to after the March 11, 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, when Hida was repeatedly sought out for interviews and to give lectures. As a doctor who survived the atomic bombing and spent over half a century seeing atomic bomb patients, his first-hand experiences make him a leading authority on the issue of internal radiation exposure. He responded to the requests, giving nearly 400 lectures around the nation.

    "Everyone who came to the lectures was passionate about them. What especially left an impression on me were the troubled expressions of mothers with young children," Hida says.

    Through his lectures, Hida warned that about the damage people suffered from their exposures to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. However, after some time he began receiving opinions that he was going too far with his speeches and unnecessarily fanning anxiety, and he stopped receiving as many lecture requests.

    "Hiroshima and Fukushima are the same in that radiation exposure is involved. That is what I think. But there is the issue of reputational damage to crops, and for people who wanted society to at some point stop saying that Fukushima was dangerous, my lectures were probably an obstacle," says Hida.

    Meanwhile, as the hot summer passed into the fall this year, large protests gathered around the National Diet Building and around the nation against controversial security bills, strongly drawing Hida's attention.

    "The people in these (protest) organizations were not ordered to assemble, they came together through the natural, independent thoughts of young people. They want to defend their own lives themselves," Hida says. "The nuclear weapon and nuclear power issues are the same. If everyone can think that these are not issues unrelated to them, but issues involving the lives of themselves and their children, and if they can act, I think these issues will make large progress." The deep look in the eyes of this man, soon to turn 99, was one of determination.

    (This is the final part of a six-part series.)

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