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Hibakusha: A-bomb survivor remains driven to tell foreigners about devastation

Emiko Okada is seen on Jan. 15, 2018. (Mainichi)

A woman in her 80s who survived the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945 is determined to keep telling people, particularly those overseas, about the devastation of such bombs.

Her determination became even stronger after she visited the Norwegian capital of Oslo in 2015, as an atomic bomb survivor (hibakusha), to attend the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony. It was there that Emiko Okada, now 81, really began to feel that "the world knows nothing about atomic bombs," let alone the residents of Oslo.

The experience made her return to Japan thinking, "I must tell people overseas (about atomic bombs)."

Two years later, the octogenarian was again invited to attend the award ceremony, on Dec. 10, 2017, where the nongovernmental organization the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But she did not join the event.

Instead, Okada braved cold, rainy weather to take part in a gathering in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima demanding the early implementation of the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. While 20 hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki flew to Oslo, Okada stayed in Japan, thinking to herself: "We've got work to do in Hiroshima."

On Dec. 9, the day before the Nobel award ceremony, she took part in a discussion session with university students, saying, "I want you to convey the suffering and sadness that hibakusha have endured for 72 years to the rest of the world."

Since Okada's shocking discovery in 2015 concerning the lack of knowledge of atomic bombs, there has, however, been some promising progress in this field. In 2016, then U.S. President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima. The next year, the U.N.'s anti-nuke treaty outlawing nuclear weapons was adopted, and ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize. Apparently inspired by these events and other factors, the number of foreigners visiting the atomic bomb sites in Hiroshima and Nagasaki has increased drastically.

The momentum toward the abolition of nuclear weapons appears to be heightening, but Okada is determined to keep campaigning. "The world still doesn't know about atomic bombs," she says.

Recently, Okada has had more chances to provide testimonies about the atomic bomb to students and families visiting Japan from overseas. In early December, she got talking to a family from the U.S. who were in Japan on vacation. After speaking with them, she discovered that the children of the family, a junior high and a high school student, had not been taught about atomic bombs at school, and that they had no idea the U.S. had dropped one on Hiroshima.

However, upon hearing Okada's testimony in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the two school students became enlightened: "She has changed our view of the world," they revealed. The campaigner believes that if little incidents such as this continue to pile up, then eventually the world can change.

Okada turned 81 on Jan. 1. Nine days later, she had cataract surgery on her right eye. She is due to have another operation on her left eye at the end of January, but in the iterim period she was able to take part in a discussion with ICAN leader Beatrice Fihn in Hiroshima on Jan. 15.

The sight of younger generations that day talking about the necessity of abolishing nuclear weapons reassured her.

"This is the beginning. Now young Japanese people must also get seriously involved, just like ICAN," Okada says with a dignified expression, while generating an aura of unwavering belief.

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