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'The face' of A-bomb survivors dedicated his life to pushing for a nuclear free world

Sumiteru Taniguchi, a Nagasaki atomic-bombing survivor, is seen after reading out the Commitment to Peace during a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, at Peace Park in the city on Aug. 9, 2015. (Mainichi)

Sumiteru Taniguchi, a Nagasaki atomic-bombing survivor who passed away from cancer on Aug. 30, dedicated his life to advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons and peace on Earth. A man of action, he constantly asked himself the role he was to fulfill.

Taniguchi was generally a very calm person and spoke little. But when it came to the topic of peace, his words were many and infused with gravity. Progress toward a world without nuclear weapons had been slowgoing, and a couple of years ago, controversial legislation that would allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense were railroaded through the Diet. He wondered how much the admonitions of A-bomb survivors like himself to rid the world of nuclear weapons and war were being heard. He held anger toward the atomic bomb and war, and fear that the experiences and memories of survivors were being forgotten.

At the base of what pushed Taniguchi to continue standing on the front lines of the anti-nuke movement even at the age of 88 was his conviction that the true horrors of atomic bombs could only be communicated by those who'd experienced them firsthand. As the number of survivors dwindled, and some suggested that children of survivors take on the task of passing down stories of the bombing, Taniguchi shot back, "It's too early. We survivors are still alive."

He also felt responsible as "the face" of A-bomb survivors. Footage and photos of a young Taniguchi, whose entire back had been burned by the bomb, had been seen around the world. In 2015, 70 years after the bombing, there was talk of Taniguchi being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work talking about his experiences and calling for peace. As his friends passed away one after another, Taniguchi undoubtedly felt even more of a responsibility to remain committed to the cause.

For four years, beginning in the spring of 2013, I followed Taniguchi for my reporting for the "Hibakusha" series. He had been in and out of the hospital, but the sight of him struggling to squeeze out the words he had to say about nuclear weapons, even when he was ill, was impressive. "I pity most the people who died on Aug. 9. I have a duty to do their part, too," he said. No one could suggest that Taniguchi retire from his activities.

When I spoke to him in January of this year, shortly before his 88th birthday, Taniguchi said, "My lifespan may have grown because I've endured a lot of pain and because I've worked hard in the anti-nuke movement." He appeared happy, with a renewed enthusiasm toward speaking about his experiences. He had hoped that he would live long enough to see the moment nuclear weapons disappeared from this world. (By Eisuke Obata, Kagoshima Bureau)

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