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Hibakusha: Nagasaki activist continues legacy of deceased friend's community work

Hidetaka Komine is seen gazing at the flowerbed his friend Sanae Ikeda helped establish on the banks of the Urakami River, where many people died looking for water in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing, photographed in Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture, on July 25, 2019. (Mainichi/Noriko Tokuno)

NAGASAKI -- "I wanted him to live longer," says Hidetaka Komine, 78, director of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council, of his friend Sanae Ikeda, a fellow hibakusha who died in May aged 86.

Komine stands by a flowerbed on the banks of the Urakami River in Nagasaki. The river runs near the hypocenter of the atomic bomb the U.S. military dropped on the city on Aug. 9, 1945. Seventy-four years ago, the river was awash with the corpses of people who died seeking water.

As part of activism to ensure the events of August 1945 would never be repeated on this ground, and to remember the victims, the idea of surrounding the river with flowers was proposed in 2014 by Ikeda. Komine remembers him here.

Ikeda was some 2 kilometers away from the blast's hypocenter, in which he lost five siblings and was also hurt. After the war, he supported his parents, who suffered from radiation sickness, while throwing himself into testimonial activism as a hibakusha, or A-bomb victim, and also serving as a director of the survivors council.

He and Komine lived in the same neighborhood and were colleagues in the testimonial activities. "We would pour each other's drinks and shoot the breeze," Komine said.

Komine remembers when he traveled with Ikeda and other hibakusha to the U.S. to attend the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and speak about their experiences.

Before the trip, Ikeda told Komine he hated the U.S. and didn't want to go. But when he arrived back in Japan he told him he was glad they went. Komine asked him jokingly if he'd made some money out of it; Ikeda replied that he hadn't expected the reception they got in the U.S. When he told his story, one of his listeners cried, apologized and sought to embrace him, he said.

Komine has similar experiences from when he traveled to the U.S. in 2004 to talk about being a hibakusha.

Komine was near his home in Nagasaki, some 1.5 kilometers away from the blast's hypocenter, on Aug. 9, 1945. Aged just 4 when the bomb fell, he was left unable to walk straight from severe injuries to his legs, and experienced discrimination as a result.

"I had assumed that people (in the U.S.) thought 'the war ended thanks to the atomic bombings,'" he said. But from the audiences' reactions to his story, he discovered that he could change their preconceptions and share mutual empathy transcending national borders. "War starts not between the people. It's incited at the convenience of politicians, industrialists and military personnel," he said.

In the flowerbeds whose care he inherited from Ikeda, marigolds wavered in the sun. While plucking weeds, Komine said, "Ikeda told me he cremated his younger brother's corpse where the Japanese National Railways building is by the river. He was only 12 years old. No one would want to experience a thing like that."

This summer, Komine vowed anew to do what he can to ensure the tireless effort Ikeda made to convey the realities of that day are not wasted.

He believes he can do it, "For the listener and the speaker, it's in no way an enjoyable topic. But all there is to do is to tell what I experienced honestly, in words I would have understood as a child."

He continues to take part in testimonial activism about his experience as a hibakusha.

(Japanese original by Shotaro Asano, Nagasaki Bureau)

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