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Centenarian woman demands compensation for air raid civilian victims

Chisako Sugiyama calls for the establishment of legislation for civilian war victims in front of the Diet building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Dec. 8, 2015. (Mainichi)

Attending a Dec. 8 meeting in Tokyo for the victims of air raids carried out by the U.S. military during World War II was 100-year-old Chisako Sugiyama, who has led the movement calling for the establishment of a war victim compensation law to support civilian victims of air raids and bombings on Japanese cities.

    "I have reached the age of 100 years," Sugiyama -- who is in a wheelchair -- said into a microphone in front of around 50 people. The group had gathered to call on Diet members for legislation to support civilian victims shortly before a meeting of The Association of Japan Air Raid Victims at the House of Representatives First Members' Office Building on Dec. 8 -- the 74th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. The audience included persons who had been wounded in U.S. air raids during the war, as well as the bereaved family members of victims during such bombings.

    Sugiyama herself was wounded during the March 1945 bombing of Nagoya, which resulted in the loss of her left eye.

    While the association has been calling for the establishment of legislation to aid civilian victims of air raids, such a law has not been enacted in Japan.

    "We haven't even seen the start of the legislation-making process (for supporting civilian victims)," Sugiyama said, raising her voice. "Many people are suffering."

    At the time that Nagoya was bombed, Sugiyama was 29 years old. A bombshell fell near her house, and she rushed inside a bomb shelter. She was buried alive, however, and lost her left eye.

    After the war ended, Sugiyama worked as a housekeeper, dorm matron and other jobs in order to survive.

    Sugiyama played a central role in the launch of the association of civilian war victims in 1972, which merged with the air raid association in 2010. She traveled across the country, attending meetings and filing a petition with Diet lawmakers in order to raise questions about Japan's support system for war victims, which covers veterans and civilian military personnel -- but not regular citizens.

    "I thought that just by asking for help as a victim of an air raid, the government would help us, but that wasn't the case," Sugiyama said. "I brought a number of people (to meetings and events with legislators) who had lost their legs or arms in the air raids, but the law (for civilian victims) was never established."

    Encouraging those who had come to the gathering, she continued, "We have to work toward making this country one that never engages in war."

    Teruko Anno, 76, who lost her left leg in an air raid on Kagoshima Prefecture, also joined the meeting.

    "For the past 70 years after the war, victims of the air raids have never received a word of apology from the government; nor have we been granted any compensation or support," Anno remarked. "We have been forced to live a life of endurance and compromise.

    She added, "Legislators, please make political efforts to enact the law (to support civilian war victims)."

    Some Diet members have submitted bills to the Diet a total of 14 times between 1973 and 1989 aimed at providing relief measures for civilian war victims -- but each of them was scrapped. In addition, lawsuits were filed against the Japanese government over compensation for victims of air raids, but plaintiffs had lost all of the suits by 2014.

    During the Dec. 8 meeting, air raid association members including co-representative Taketoshi Nakayama, an attorney, explained the outline of a special measures bill relating to issues of civilian air raid victims. According to Nakayama, the previous bills had included the bereaved families of civilian war victims as subject to compensation, in addition to those who had been wounded in the air raids -- but the recently-proposed bill only targets surviving victims with disabilities.

    The amount of compensation demanded under the special measures bill ranges from 350,000 to 1.5 million yen.

    Another lawyer who works with the association, Yuji Kodama, called upon meeting attendees to show understanding toward the new proposal.

    "The compensation payments would add up to a significant amount of money if the bereaved families were to be covered," Kodama remarked. "Ms. Sugiyama is 100 years old, and we want (to make the government pay) compensation while she is still alive."

    One of the civilian air raid victims who was at the meeting commented, "The amount of payment is so small that it makes me sad. But at least it's a start."

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