HIROSHIMA -- On behalf of her late husband, who claimed he was exposed to radioactive "black rain" that fell shortly after the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Sawako Nakatsu chose to continue a suit demanding the Japanese government recognize victims outside of a designated area and end the unfair treatment.
"I don't believe that rain falls differently depending on the side of the river," Sawako said while focusing her eyes on the Ota River that runs in front of her house situated about 20 kilometers north of the epicenter. Only the people who were exposed to the radioactive rain in the "special health checkup zone" on the other side of the river are subject to free medical checkups in the same way as certified A-bomb survivors.
The 81-year-old is a resident of Akiota, Hiroshima Prefecture, in western Japan. Her husband Shoshi, who passed away in May 2018 at age 81, had joined a group of plaintiffs when the second lawsuit was filed in 2017. In a written statement Shoshi had stated, "Why can't we receive the certificates? We are being treated differently, which is discrimination."
Sawako says her husband often complained, "Why do the people on this side (of the river) have to break their backs?" Nearly four years have passed since the first lawsuit was filed in November 2015. Though at one time there were 88 plaintiffs, 11 of them have died and bereaved family members of only eight plaintiffs have continued the suit.
Shoshi was exposed to the radioactive rain on his way home from an elementary school immediately after the atomic bomb was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945. He was diagnosed with high blood pressure when he was about 30 years old.
Sawako was also exposed to black rain while playing at a house next to her home about 23 kilometers north of the epicenter, after she heard a sound so loud she thought lightening had struck near her. White sheets that were hung out to dry got covered in black splotches. Vegetables from their garden were stained black. The family ate them anyway after washing them in a nearby stream. Her mother later complained of anemia and spent most of her days in bed.
Shoshi, who married Sawako when he was just 17, worked at a taxi company and Akiota Town Office before serving three terms as a municipal assembly member. He occasionally lost consciousness due to high blood pressure, but contributed to the establishment of an embankment of the Ota River and other projects.
He became hospitalized after suffering from a heart attack in February 2018 and passed away three months later. Sawako says she decided to continue the suit as her husband "was a person who accomplished everything he set his mind to."
Sawako also began suffering from symptoms of high blood pressure, diabetes and angina around the age of 60 and is receiving catheter treatment. Even with her medical conditions, she plans to offer testimony during a trial hearing at the Hiroshima District Court on Oct. 30. The 81-year-old stated, "It's a big responsibility and I feel anxious, but my husband will be there with me."
(Japanese original by Misa Koyama, Hiroshima Bureau)