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Hibakusha: 93-yr-old A-bomb survivor recognized for his continuing fight for peace

Sunao Tsuboi, left, speaks with Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui about his campaigning for peace in Hiroshima's Nishi Ward on April 5, 2018. (Mainichi)

HIROSHIMA -- In a room filled with the gentle spring sunshine at the city hall in the Nishi Ward of this city in the beginning of April, 93-year-old Sunao Tsuboi met Mayor Kazumi Matsui with a smile.

For his work campaigning for the abolition of nuclear weapons and support for other survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings, or "hibakusha," Tsuboi was recognized as an honorary resident of Hiroshima in March, and on April 5, 2018, went to formally receive the title from Mayor Matsui at the municipal government.

"While my time left on Earth may be short, I will continue to be true to my name and 'honestly' work toward making a peaceful world with everyone until I burn up from my ardent passion," said Tsuboi, whose given name is a homonym for "honesty" in Japanese. He made his fiery declaration with a mischievous expression after the medal with its green and white ribbon was draped around his neck. The audience then burst into applause.

It was on the very same day that during a professional baseball game involving the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, that supporters of the opposing team crying, "Let the atomic bomb drop (on the Carp)!" made headlines. As a big fan of the Carp, Tsuboi's expression darkened as he said, "It absolutely cannot be forgiven." Faced with the reality that such a phrase would be used in the only country to ever be victim to an atomic bombing, Tsuboi said with a heavy sigh, "I think we are still far from eliminating nuclear weapons."

"Year in and year out, I'm being chased by devils," said Tsuboi. Cancer, heart disease, anemia, eyeground bleeding ... Recently, his outings have drastically decreased, and he now depends on a wheelchair when going out for public lectures and other activities.

On May 27, 2016, Tsuboi stood to face then U.S. President Barack Obama and shake his hand on the first-ever visit by a sitting U.S. president to Hiroshima. While Tsuboi told Obama something to the effect that there was no way that he could understand the problems faced by hibakusha by simply spending a short time at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and listening to the stories of survivors, he called on Obama to build a world without nuclear weapons. At that moment, Tsuboi had felt that a nuclear-free world was within reach, but with North Korea's nuclear and missile tests last year, tensions only heightened.

Tsuboi has made over 20 visits abroad to tell his story of surviving the bomb when he was a student at what is now Hiroshima University. He even made two visits to North Korea in the 1990s. He attended the first exhibition about the atomic bomb to ever be held in Pyongyang in 1999. Those who visited the exhibit told him they felt it would be best not to have nuclear weapons, and Tsuboi felt that he had successfully conveyed his message.

Then, on April 27, 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a historic summit, pledging to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. While no concrete measures toward achieving denuclearization have been put forth, Tsuboi believes that the significance of denuclearization can be passed on to North Korea. Now, he is waiting for the results of the U.S.-North Korea summit in June.

At his residence, Tsuboi, who has been a co-chairperson of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations from 2000 and the director of the Hiroshima prefectural branch of the organization since 2004, is busy organizing his materials from his many travels abroad. He is preparing to hand off the memories and knowledge that he has gained to the next generation. "It feels sad, but a little bit at a time..."

(This is Part 2 of a series.)

(Japanese original by Azusa Takayama, Hiroshima Bureau)

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