HIROSHIMA -- "The people of the world still do not know the terrifying nature of radiation. I want you all to give testimony on the horrors of the atomic bombs and radiation," 86-year-old Mitsuo Kodama said to his audience.
He was speaking at the International Conference Center Hiroshima in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, in this southwestern Japan city's Naka Ward in late October.
The audience, who ranged from their 40s to 70s, all listened intently to Kodama, clad in a blue checkered shirt. Kodama is a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, or a "hibakusha" in Japanese. The lecture was a training session for the successors who will continue to relay the experiences of the hibakusha to the next generation, as the survivors themselves grow older and unable to continue. The participants learned about Kodama's experience to be able to tell his story in his place one day.
The program was started by the Hiroshima Municipal Government in fiscal 2012, and Kodama was called upon to tell of his horrific experiences as one of the teachers. However, this fiscal year will be Kodama's last at the podium.
In September 2017, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a group of cancers that inhibits new blood cells in the bone marrow from reaching full maturity. "I don't know how much longer I have to live. If I stop halfway, it would cause trouble to others," Kodama said. The decision reflected his strong sense of responsibility, given that the lecture is offered as a year-long course.
Seventy-three years ago, Kodama was a first-year student at Hiroshima Daiichi Junior High School (now Hiroshima Prefectural Hiroshima Kokutaiji High School) under the old education system. Only some 850 meters from the bomb's hypocenter, he felt an intense light and lost consciousness when it detonated on Aug. 6, 1945. He miraculously got himself out from under the wreckage of the school building, but almost all of his roughly 300 classmates had not been as lucky. Only 19 students would eventually return to school.
After turning 60 years old, he was diagnosed with cancers one after another -- colon, stomach, skin -- and underwent 21 surgeries. There were even abnormalities found in his chromosomes due to the large amount of radiation he had been exposed to. Over half a century, "the atomic bomb reached all the way to the marrow of my bones," he said. After retirement, Kodama began his work telling his story to others, and decrying the inhumanity of the bomb.
Just when Kodama was beginning to "prepare for winding down (his) life," disturbing news spread around the world. U.S. President Donald Trump announced in October this year that he was intending to withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia.
"It appears as though the U.S. wants to advance the development of low-yield nuclear weapons, but it doesn't matter if the weapons are small or large. The radiation will still surely harm people's bodies. Why does no one understand?" Kodama felt his responsibility to keep telling his story grow even stronger.
After his diagnosis with MDS, Kodama put off all other surgeries for his cancers. While he joked he was "eating desperately to stay alive," his entire body was covered in wounds. Even then, if he is requested by groups of students on school trips to Hiroshima, he will still speak four to five times a month about his experiences.
"As a surviving witness, I have to convey the reality of what it was like to experience the bomb at close proximity -- the reality of how radiation that is invisible to the human eye can destroy our very bodies -- to at least one more person," said Kodama. As long as he is still living, nothing will stand in his way.
(Japanese original by Tadashi Motoda, Hiroshima Bureau)