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Fisherman hit by 1954 US H-bomb fallout wants Tsukiji plaque on ordeal preserved

This photo taken on Sept. 6, 2018 shows a plaque hung on the exterior of the Tsukiji fish market that says fish exposed to radiation from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test in 1954 was brought to the market and buried on the grounds. (Mainichi/Naoki Watanabe)
Matashichi Oishi
This file photo dated March 16, 1954 shows tuna caught by the Daigo Fukuryu Maru fishing vessel that was contaminated by a 1954 U.S. hydrogen bomb test. The handwritten placard under the name of the metropolitan government's public health regulators in the background warns not to touch the fish because it was "damaged by an atomic bomb." (Mainichi)
Aikichi Kuboyama

TOKYO -- A tuna fisherman hit by radioactive fallout from a 1954 U.S. hydrogen bomb test in the South Pacific wants a commemorative plaque at the closing Tsukiji market here preserved for future generations.

Matashichi Oishi, 84, a crew member of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon No. 5) fishing boat, told a Sept. 22 gathering in Tokyo that the plaque will "remain and serve as a signpost of peace for the future" even after those with memories of the incident pass away. The day was the eve of the anniversary of the boat's chief radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama's death at age 40 following exposure to the fallout.

The plaque in question explains that two metric tons of tuna caught by the fishing boat were taken to the market on March 16, 1954, two days after the vessel returned to its home port of Yaizu in the central Japan prefecture of Shizuoka. The boat's 23-member crew and haul of tuna and shark were contaminated by radioactive fallout from the "Bravo" hydrogen bomb tested by the U.S. on the Marshall Islands' Bikini Atoll. The fish was buried inside the market grounds after they were found to be tainted, according to the plaque.

"A-bomb tuna," as they were called, drove down prices of other fish traded in the market. In response, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government stamped "cleared" on fish that passed radiation tests, and advertised their safety with wholesalers using sound trucks and flyers. The panic did not subside for some time, pushing down sales at eateries near the market as well.

The metro government took advantage of subway construction work in 1996 to excavate areas near Tsukiji's main entrance to look for the buried tuna, but could not find the remains.

It was around this time that Oishi began talking about going through the radioactive fallout, breaking years of silence to promote nuclear abolition. He solicited 10 yen from each person, including children, who listened to his speeches across the nation, and had the commemorative plaque made in 1999.

Oishi hoped to erect a stone memorial called "The tuna epitaph" inside Tsukiji market. However, Metro Tokyo allowed only the plaque to be mounted on the market's exterior wall, while provisionally installing a stone monument near the Daigo Fukuryu Maru on display in the metro government-run Yumenoshima Park.

Tsukiji market in the capital's Chuo Ward will be closed on Oct. 6 and dismantled. Its successor facility, the Toyosu fish market in Koto Ward in eastern Tokyo, will open on Oct. 11.

The Tsukiji grounds will be turned into a parking lot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The metro government plans to hang the tuna plaque on the temporary enclosure that will surround the grounds while the market is being dismantled, but has no long-term plans for it.

(Japanese original by Kentaro Mori and Akiyo Ichikawa, City News Department)

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