During his visit to Japan for the May 26 and 27 G-7 Summit in the Ise-Shima region of Mie Prefecture, United States President Barack Obama is to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima. The Mainichi Shimbun's Hiroshima Bureau has asked atomic bombing survivors and other related individuals to write letters to Obama with their thoughts.
The second letter in this series is from Seiji Takato, 75, of Saeki Ward, Hiroshima, who wrote this letter out of a desire to inform President Obama of the multitude of damage the atomic bombing caused. Although he was exposed to radioactive fallout, Takato's residence fell outside the area where A-bomb survivors were deemed eligible for assistance from the Japanese government.
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Dear Mr. President,
In the spring of 2009, you spoke in Prague about "a world without nuclear weapons." Your speech moved me and I continued to hold hope for the elimination of nuclear weapons. But we have since seen a series of subcritical nuclear tests and new types of nuclear testing, spreading dismay among Japan's A-bombed cities. Why does the United States not put an end to nuclear experiments? I still cannot understand this.
I live in the suburbs of Hiroshima, 9 kilometers west of the hypocenter of the atomic bomb that exploded over the city. Though I was only 4 years old at the time, I remember the stinging heat and the tepid blast of wind. The area around me went dark, and ash, rubbish, scraps of paper and burnt paper fell down. Soon a black rain thick like oil started to fall. It was radioactive fallout. We had no knowledge about this, so we drank water from the river and ate vegetables from our garden as we always had.
I got boils on my skin, and the lymph glands on my groin and under my arms swelled up, and I was operated on three times. I was weak and didn't want to go to school. But from about my fifth year of elementary school I got better and school became fun.
Hiro, a third-year student who lived next door, had chased burned pieces of paper around a potato field shortly after the bombing. He suffered acute symptoms, with fevers and diarrhea. When he came to school he was weak, and always rushed to the school nurse's office. When he started working, he felt weary, and moved from one workplace to another, unable to hold down any job for a long time. At the age of 46 he suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm, and was immediately admitted to the hospital. He was in an out of the hospital after that. He was eventually overcome by cancer and died at the age of 69. To me it seems obvious that he suffered internal radiation exposure by breathing in radioactive particles as well as through food and water.
The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission conducted detailed investigations into external exposure to radiation within 2 kilometers of the hypocenter of the atomic bombing, but it abandoned the probe into internal radiation exposure partway through and concealed it. The truth behind damage from the atomic bombing has still not been revealed. Is this to avoid hindering the pursuit of nuclear policies?
There were many people around me who, just like Hiro, suffered from internal exposure to radiation but did not receive recognition from the government as A-bomb survivors, and therefore could not receive medical subsidies and gave up, thinking it was all their responsibility, before eventually dying.
Those of us who survived have lobbied the government for 38 years to be recognized as A-bomb survivors. We are now fighting a battle against the government in court.
Mr. President, please put into action the words of the speech you made in Prague. Please come to Hiroshima and meet the A-bomb survivors and those of us who were exposed to "black rain" but have not been recognized officially as survivors of the atomic bombing. Please call on the world to stop competing to develop nuclear weapons.
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After he retired from teaching at high school, Takato began hearing from many residents in his area that their family members were dying of cancer one after another. Suspecting the deaths were related to the A-bomb, Takato founded the "Saeki-ku kuroi ame no kai (Saeki Ward black rain group)" in 2002, and is now the secretary-general of a group supporting lawsuits involving "black rain" fallout from the A-bomb.
Takato, who says he's always thinking about his friends who died from radiation exposure, urges, "To understand the realities of the A-bomb, people must learn about internal exposure to radiation."