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Hibakusha: A-Bomb survivor holds sit-ins protesting nuclear tests for over 40 years

Takeshi Yamakawa reflects on the over 40 years he has kept up his sit-in protests against nuclear weapon tests, at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki, on Jan. 13, 2016. (Mainichi)

NAGASAKI -- Atomic bomb survivor Takeshi Yamakawa was exasperated this year when he read a newspaper report about North Korea's fourth nuclear weapon test.

    Yamakawa, 79, is an organizer for a Nagasaki citizens' group that holds protest sit-ins whenever a country conducts a nuclear test. On Jan. 10, the group held its 400th protest sit-in at Peace Park in Nagasaki, in front of the peace statue there.

    "I had hoped that 399 times would be enough," says Yamakawa. Around 40 people including high school students and other young people participated in the Jan. 10 sit-in, where a member read aloud their message of protest, saying, "Humanity and nuclear weapons cannot co-exist. This is human knowledge that we have learned firsthand." Many news media outlets covered the anger and disappointment of people in the areas hit by the atomic bombings over the North Korea nuclear tests.

    The sit-ins started on Aug. 17, 1974, in response to nuclear tests by the United States, the Soviet Union and France. They were called for by Ayao Imada, an A-bomb survivor whose father, a Buddhist monk, died from the Nagasaki bomb. "Let's show the anger of the bombed areas through action," Imada had urged.

    The first sit-in had five participants, including Imada and Yamakawa, who was an elementary school teacher. With vests and banners reading "Let's immediately stop the nuclear tests," the protest was held silently in Peace Park.

    It was the middle of the Cold War then. Yamakawa says, "As long as the various countries of the world don't abandon their nuclear weapon policies, the nuclear arms race and nuclear tests will continue. The A-bomb survivors, who experienced the terror of the bomb firsthand, felt anger and a sense of crisis."

    Starting from the sixth sit-in, the location was moved to what is currently the front of the peace statue in the park, a location visited by tourists, in order to make the protests more visible. There was at least one time when the only person at the sit-in was Imada.

    "The sit-ins are a battle of patience between sanity and insanity. We mustn't lose," Imada said. Having started with only five participants, the sit-ins have continued for over 40 years now, through rain and snow. They have brought about the formation of citizens' groups around the prefecture that protest nuclear tests, and young people started to join the protests.

    In November last year, Imada -- a teacher of peace to Yamakawa -- died at age 86. Yamakawa became the only remaining person at the sit-ins who was there from the beginning.

    Imada had said, "If you appeal to society, it will resonate and your circle will expand. Let's do what we can to leave a peaceful world without the worry of nuclear war to the next generation. Have hope." Those words are inherited by Yamakawa and the young generations, and continue to be the hope of Nagasaki 71 years after the A-bomb.

    (This is Part 4 of a five-part series)

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