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Hibakusha: 81-yr-old continues difficult mission to collect A-bomb survivors' stories

Mitsugi Moriguchi holds a copy of the Nagasaki no shogen no kai (Nagasaki testimonials association)'s "Shogen: Nagasaki Hiroshima no koe" (Testimonies: Voices of Nagasaki and Hiroshima) publication, in Nagasaki on May 10, 2018. (Mainichi)

NAGASAKI -- This spring has seen high-profile and promising moves toward ridding the Korean Peninsula of atomic arms.

The joint statement signed at the Panmunjom armistice village by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared the two countries would work for "complete denuclearization." Meanwhile, June will mark the first ever summit between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader when Donald Trump sits down with Kim in Singapore.

While this provides no guarantee of a path to peace, Japan's "hibakusha" A-bomb survivors are looking on with sincere hope that nuclear weapons will indeed be banished, and some of them have spoken to the Mainichi Shimbun. This series of articles will chronicle their voices.

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On the evening of May 10, in a home in Nagayo, Nagasaki Prefecture, 81-year-old Mitsugi Moriguchi was speaking gently to an 87-year-old man, a survivor of the Nagasaki A-bomb.

"What happened to your family?" asked Moriguchi, the chief secretary of the "Nagasaki no shogen no kai" (Nagasaki testimonials association). Words and questions were layered carefully one atop the other, the man's replies recorded for the association's annual "Shogen: Nagasaki Hiroshima no koe" (Testimonies: Voices of Nagasaki and Hiroshima) publication. Moriguchi is a practiced interviewer. He has been having talks like these for more than 20 years, since he retired as a primary school teacher.

Moriguchi has his own A-bomb story as well. He was 8 years old when he returned to Nagasaki from his evacuation home in Saga Prefecture, just after the Aug. 9, 1945 U.S. nuclear attack had burned the core out of the city. Everywhere, the air was choked with the smoke of incinerating bodies, but Moriguchi "felt nothing," he recalled.

His family, even siblings who had been close to the hypocenter, escaped without evident injury. However, his elder sister died in her 30s after developing multiple cancers.

"Getting the testimonials is a difficult job," Moriguchi said. There have been survivors who simply stopped speaking halfway through the interview, or another who answered a question with a "Get out!" and a thrown teacup. "There are some people who don't even want their families to know they were exposed to the bomb. I have to guess at the things folded away deep in their hearts," he continued.

Moriguchi also does field work, speaking about the A-bombing at the memorials and preserved ruins close to the hypocenter. He always tells listeners right at the beginning that he is "not giving sightseeing tours," and to "visualize what I'm telling you instead of taking notes."

"I want people to really feel what happened here and think about it deeply," he said. Seventy-three years have passed since the bomb was dropped, and there are times when Moriguchi's message does not get through. On one day in May 2014, he asked some junior high school students to stop whispering during his talk. A boy shot back, "You just failed at dying, stupid old man." He froze, the only thing left in his mind, "So, I'm alive because I failed to die ..."

Despite shocking moments like these, Moriguchi remains committed to working for a world when no one is ever again harmed by nuclear arms.

The association's hibakusha testimonials collection has been published every year since 1969, and more than 2,000 survivors have contributed stories. However, as the years pass, more and more of those collaborators are departing the ranks of the living.

"The testimonials are a legacy," Moriguchi said to the Mainichi. "I have to do my best for the sake of future generations," he continued, apparently encouraging himself to continue the effort. Next year, the 50th edition of the hibakusha testimonials will be published; memories laid on the page, in hopes the readers will never have to witness their like again. (This is Part 1 of a series of articles on hibakusha.)

(Japanese original by Sayo Kato, Nagasaki Bureau)

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