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Hibakusha: Anti-war cartoonist, 90, inspires fellow A-bomb survivor

Hiroshi Sugibayashi, left, smiles as he shows illustrated paperboards drawn by Susumu Nishiyama, right, in the city of Fukuoka on Oct. 25, 2018. (Mainichi/ Takehiro Higuchi)

FUKUOKA -- A 90-year-old anti-war cartoonist who survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki has inspired a 73-year-old survivor of the Hiroshima bombing to pass down his horrific memories of the blast after their paths crossed through a collection of A-bomb survivors' accounts issued annually by a local consumers' cooperative.

Cartoonist Susumu Nishiyama recently drew a portrait of 73-year-old Hiroshi Sugibayashi speaking tenderly to children on a square paperboard, and handed it to the younger survivor in October.

The two encountered each other through the booklet titled "Tsutaete kudasai Ashitae ..." (Please pass down your memories for tomorrow), which has been issued annually by the FCO-OP consumer cooperative in Sasaguri, Fukuoka Prefecture, since 1995.

Nishiyama, a resident of Fukuoka in southwestern Japan, was exposed to the atomic bombing in Nagasaki about 3.5 kilometers from the hypocenter when he was 17. After the war ended, he worked as a coal miner and engaged in other jobs, and eventually moved to Tokyo to become a cartoonist at age 25. He has focused on anti-war and anti-nuclear themes in his manga works while participating in anti-nuclear movements led by A-bomb survivors. Today, Nishiyama contributes his manga serial to the newsletter of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) and other publications.

In 1994, Nishiyama moved to Fukuoka and called on FCO-OP to work on passing down testimonies of A-bomb survivors, or "hibakusha" in Japanese, prompting the launch of the booklets. The publication has thus far carried the accounts of a total of 274 survivors.

Sugibayashi, a resident of Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture, was one of the survivors whose testimony appeared in the 24th volume of the booklet that was issued this past summer. He was exposed to radiation about 1.2 kilometers from the bomb's hypocenter in Hiroshima when he was 6 months old, sustaining burns to the head. His mother, who was carrying him on her back, suffered burns all over her body, but continued to search for Sugibayashi's elder sister, who had gone missing in the bombing.

After the end of the war, Sugibayashi begged American soldiers for sweets by showing them burn marks on the back of his head near the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima. "I'm hungry due to pikadon (atomic bomb)," he told the soldiers.

Sugibayashi learned the phrase in English from an older boy. "You can take it for granted (asking for sweets) as they killed tens of thousands with atomic bombs," the senior boy said. The boy later turned out to be Keiji Nakazawa, the world renowned author of the "Barefoot Gen" (Hadashi no Gen) manga series. Nakazawa passed away in 2012 at age 73.

After learning about Nishiyama through past editions of the FCO-OP booklets, Sugibayashi wished to see the cartoonist, who has shared the tragedy of atomic bombings through manga just as Nakazawa did. It was in September this year that Sugibayashi finally got to see Nishiyama, at a sickroom where the cartoonist was hospitalized for lung emphysema.

The surprise visit delighted Nishiyama, who was once shunned by fellow hibakusha when he asked for testimony on their bombing experiences in the early days of the booklets' publication because hibakusha feared possible discrimination against them. "It was good that I've been continuing with the booklets," Nishiyama thought. "By interviewing hibakusha, there are more hibakusha who open up."

Sugibayashi recalls being teased by his friends for his burn marks in his boyhood. "Your bald head is dazzling," they would tell him. At that time, Sugibayashi thought he would keep his A-bomb experience to himself for the rest of his life. Yet, after his testimony was carried in the booklet this summer, he thought "something that had been stuck in my mind has gone. I'd like to tell my experience to children from now on."

Nishiyama and Sugibayashi were reunited in October at a gathering in Fukuoka marking the publication of the booklet's 24th volume. While handing paperboards bearing the portraits of Sugibayashi he drew, Nishiyama said, "You still belong to the 'youth division' among hibakusha. Please do your best from here on out."

In response, a smiling Sugibayashi said, "The paperboards are my treasure. He gave me courage."

(Japanese original by Takehiro Higuchi, Kyushu News Department)

(This is Part 5 and the final of a series)

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