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Hibakusha: For A-bomb survivor and former pro-baseball player, vigilance is key

Isao Harimoto is seen in Tokyo, on Jan. 16, 2016. (Mainichi)

For A-bomb survivor and former professional baseball player Isao Harimoto, whether at the plate during his years on the diamond or sipping a shochu liquor at his favorite bar post-retirement, the words "don't let your guard down" have served as a lifelong guide.

    "They'll probably never leave me until I die. I can't let my guard down," he says.

    Seventy-one years ago, at age 5, Harimoto was at a residential building in Hiroshima some 2.3 kilometers from the blast hypocenter when the A-bomb fell. His elder sister, exposed to the bomb at her workplace, suffered burns all over her body and died a few days later. After the war, an acquaintance of Harimoto came down with a serious illness of unknown cause and suffered a great deal before dying.

    Having witnessed these things, Harimoto says his life of vigilance "is something that's probably come to me naturally." Harimoto gave a lonely-looking smile while being interviewed. "Even if I live the same way as other people, I never know when aftereffects (from the A-bomb) might appear."

    Harimoto kept an eye on his performance. During his years as a player, when he fell into a slump he would go to his coach's home and practice swinging. Even now, after retiring, he is careful to stop drinking when he notices he's getting drunk. He has never given an inch to any ball yard rival or any illness.

    Although he has become known for making bold comments, Harimoto has called himself a "coward," and remembers to prepare and keep himself under control. After passing 60, he began talking about his experiences as an A-bomb victim, this time to keep Japanese society from letting its guard down, after he saw how war had become something unreal to young people. His worry that Japan letting its guard down will result in it repeating history affirmed his decision to pass on his experiences to the next generation.

    After North Korea conducted a nuclear test and then launched a missile earlier this year, Harimoto asked himself, "Is the world moving towards eliminating nuclear weapons?" It was the fourth time North Korea has defied the international community to perform nuclear tests in the last 10 years. Harimoto, a second-generation South Korean national, says, "It is foolish of them if they think that, if they have nuclear weapons, they won't be attacked." Thinking of the time it took to rebuild Hiroshima after the war, he prays for the safety of his countrymen.

    (This is Part 1 of a five-part series)

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