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Students translate booklet on 'Pikadon Sensei' A-bomb survivor's experience

Eishin Junior and Senior High School human rights club members and Kyoto University of Foreign Studies professors work together to translate a booklet on the life of Sunao Tsuboi, at Ukyo Ward in Kyoto on Dec. 21, 2018. (Mainichi/Mai Suganuma)

HIROSHIMA/KYOTO -- Students in the Hiroshima prefecture city of Fukuyama in western Japan are translating into English a booklet they previously compiled on the life of Sunao Tsuboi, an iconic 93-year-old atomic bomb survivor (or hibakusha) who met with U.S. President Barak Obama when the American leader visited Hiroshima in 2016.

Members of Eishin Junior and Senior High School human rights club plan to complete the translation by spring 2019. They are receiving cooperation from the Network of Translators for the Globalization of the Testimonies of Atomic Bomb Survivors (NET-GTAS). Its members consist mainly of professors at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies (KUFS) in Kyoto's Ukyo Ward, also in western Japan.

Eishin's students met Tsuboi through activities to promote peace. The man was exposed to radiation from the A-bomb dropped by the U.S. on a street about one kilometer away from the hypocenter. At the time he was a 20-year-old student attending Hiroshima City Technical School, currently the Hiroshima University School of Engineering.

After World War II, Tsuboi began teaching in junior and senior high schools. The man shared his experience with students while introducing himself as "Pikadon Sensei," literally meaning teacher of the A-bomb's flash and boom. He has been the co-chair of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) since 2000 and became the chairman of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo) in 2004.

Sunao Tsuboi, right, shakes hands with former U.S. President Barack Obama at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Naka Ward, Hiroshima, on May 27, 2016. (Pool Photo)

In May 2016, Tsuboi, as a representative of A-bomb survivors, met former U.S. President Obama during his visit to Hiroshima -- the first such trip made by a sitting American leader.

The translation project at Eishin is based on a booklet called "human Sunao Tsuboi's cry of the soul," compiled from interviews with the hibakusha by its human rights club members in November 2017. After donating the booklet to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the club members began translating it in summer 2018 in hopes of letting the world know more about Tsuboi's experience.

Since the students had a connection with members of NET-GTAS, they asked for their help. Members of both organizations attended a meeting for the first time together on Dec. 21 and 22 last year at KUFS to discuss about the use of terminology and means of expressions.

As Tsuboi's statements in Japanese are written in his Hiroshima dialect, it is difficult to express the underlying emotions in English. Participants also discussed about how to translate and add annotations of the term Pikadon, if they should explain in detail about Tsuboi's marriage that he hesitated to talk about, and where to draw the line on depicting discrimination against A-bomb survivors.

NET-GTAS members advised students to "conduct another interview with Tsuboi to understand his deep feelings" and that "trying to stand close to" Tsuboi enables translation that is easier to understand.

"Although the end result is important in translation, there's also meaning in its process," said 24-year-old Takahiro Abiru, a supporter of NET-GTAS. The fourth-year student at KUFS added, "I also want to stand close to Tsuboi's feelings."

Rumi Umayahara, 16, a key member of the Eishin translation team, said, "The process is really a good learning experience for me as native English teachers advised me on a number of expressions that I didn't know." The first-year student of Eishin high school added, "I hope to conduct a second interview with Tsuboi so that his message can be better understood by people across the world."

Meanwhile, after suffering from health problems in 2007 and because of old age, it became difficult for Tsuboi to attend antinuclear movement meetings and other related activities. The 93-year-old agreed at a December 2018 board meeting to appoint 76-year-old Hiroshima Hidankyo vice chairman Toshiyuki Mishima to fill in for him. But Tsuboi will continue working as chairman while taking into account his physical condition.

(Japanese original by Mai Suganuma, Kyoto Bureau and Azusa Takayama, Hiroshima Bureau)

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