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Hibakusha: Octogenarian determined to tell own story about A-bomb at memorial ceremony

In this photo taken on July 18, 2017, Yoshitoshi Fukahori checks photos that will be featured in an exhibition to be held at the Nagasaki City Library. (Mainichi)

NAGASAKI -- At 88 years old, Yoshitoshi Fukahori works enthusiastically as the head of a panel overseeing photographic documents at the workroom of the Nagasaki Foundation for the Promotion of Peace to disseminate the truth about the damage caused by nuclear weapons. He has been picked as this year's speaker for the Commitment to Peace at the Nagasaki atomic bombing memorial ceremony to be held on Aug. 9 -- the 72nd anniversary of the second-ever use of an atomic bomb.

Fukahori does not rely on a cane when he walks, saying that using a walking stick would make his back arch.

A tram in Nagasaki which has been destroyed is pictured in this photo taken on Sept. 16, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

"I have to keep an upright posture and walk with my chest out," Fukahori says, as he walks, step by step, less than 100 meters between the entrance of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and the workroom that his panel uses there.

While he expresses nervousness about speaking at the annual ceremony on behalf of other A-bomb survivors -- or hibakusha -- saying, "I wonder if I'll be able to walk all the way up to the podium," Fukahori is determined to "show people that even an 88-year-old can do it right." He tries to walk as much as possible on a regular basis.

In this photo taken on Sept. 16, 1945, near the Ienomachi district of Nagasaki, approximately 1.4 kilometers north of the A-bomb hypocenter, people are seen cooking outdoors. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Until last year, those who speak at the ceremonies on behalf of hibakusha had been chosen by recommendations from hibakusha groups, but the rule has been changed to pick one from public applicants. After learning that people from outside Nagasaki Prefecture or even Japan can apply to be the speaker, Fukahori applied, thinking he wanted to send a message from Nagasaki as long as hibakusha remain in the city.

"I never thought I would be picked," Fukahori says, with a grin. He has promised himself, however, that if he was going to speak, he would tell the public what happened to him 72 years ago.

The 16-year-old Fukahori was 3.6 kilometers away from the hypocenter when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. On the following day, he walked along tram tracks and headed to a relative's home in the Urakami district, where Fukahori had stayed with his siblings. What he saw there was a town that had been turned into ruins -- blue flames spewing from Urakami Cathedral and bodies piled on top of each other nearby the river. At their home, Fukahori found his elder sister Chizuko dead.

People line up for food distribution at the end of Matsuyama Bridge, approximately 100 meters northeast of the A-bomb hypocenter in this photo taken on Sept. 24, 1945. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

"If I had somehow managed to return home within the day (Aug. 9), at least I might have been able to be by her side when she died," Fukahori recalls. Even today, whenever he talks about his sister, Fukahori cannot hold back tears.

In addition to the Commitment to Peace he is going to deliver at the ceremony, Fukahori has another major task this summer -- a photo exhibition featuring Yosuke Yamahata at the Nagasaki City Library from Aug. 2 to 7 to mark the 100th anniversary of the photographer's birth. While the event itself is organized by the Nagasaki Municipal Government, Fukahori's group has led the preparations for the exhibition.

In this photo taken on Oct. 25, 1945, a microscope that was melted by the heat wave from the atomic bomb is seen at Nagasaki Medical College. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Yamahata (1917-1966) was an Imperial Japanese Army reporter who entered Nagasaki on Aug. 10, 1945, and took photos of the aftermath of the bombing in the city. His photos included those of a charred body of what was believed to be a boy, as well as of people who were badly burned. They were exactly what Fukahori saw after the bombing. Those photos also served as Fukahori's "origin" as a passionate researcher of A-bomb-related photos and the drive behind his work, which involved visiting the U.S. National Archives three years in a row since 2013 for research and collecting and studying over 4,000 photos of atomic bombings over a period of nearly 40 years.

"I can't take it if people see photos of damaged buildings and think they were the only result of the A-bomb," Fukahori says. "I need to continue showing them the truth about the effects of the bomb, including photos of charred bodies and of people who died with no apparent injuries as well as the horror of radiation."

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