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Hibakusha: A-bomb survivor hopes to live to 90th birthday to complete artworks

Artist Takashi Asahina tells the Mainichi Shimbun in the town of Mutsuzawa, Chiba Prefecture, on Oct. 11, 2019, that he wants to follow his heart when painting. (Mainichi/Tamami Kawakami)

MUTSUZAWA, Chiba -- "If I held an exhibition for my 90th birthday, my life may then end. I need to complete my artworks in time," said artist Takashi Asahina, an A-bomb survivor, or hibakusha, who has had his whole bladder removed due to cancer.

Autumn foliage reached the trees that can be seen from the 87-year-old man's studio in the town of Mutsuzawa, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, near Kujukurihama beach. Oil paint fumes filled his studio in mid-October as he works every day to finish his art pieces in time for a solo exhibition.

Asahina, a Western-style painter, developed bladder cancer in his 50s and got his whole bladder removed when he was 70. This year, he began to feel pain in the place where he was treated. "It might be the expiration date of my surgery," said the man. For him, the pain is a reminder of the summer day when the U.S. military dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

Born in the western Japan city of Hiroshima, Asahina was a second-year student at a city-run senior high school at the time. As he was about to board a train in the city, the A-bomb's flash blinded him. His body was pushed forward due to the blast that immediately followed.

Asahina threaded his way through countless bodies and escaped to the suburbs of the city. But as he began helping to pull out corpses from the river two days later, he became exposed to even more radiation.

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," he told the Mainichi Shimbun before speaking about his father, who returned from the battlefront in China the year after World War II ended in 1945. Asahina's father came back on crutches due to at least one injured foot, with a shaved head, his vaunted military sword nowhere to be seen.

He was "very surprised" to see how much his father, once a senior officer, had changed. "My father, whom I'd thought was a great man, looked like a defeated soldier," he stated with a trembling voice.

Thinking that he'd become just like his father if he worked under an organization, Asahina made up his mind to become self-employed. He chose to become an artist as he had loved to paint since he was a small child. He left for the United States in 1959, at the age of 26, and lived for a little over 10 years in Manhattan in the heart of New York. There he worked using a printing technique called screen printing, and created oil paintings.

Asahina learned to paint logically at an art school in the U.S. and so he used bright colors, popular among audiences, when he was young. He came back to Japan in 1972. After he turned 70, he followed his heart and painted an antique-looking Kudara Kannon Buddhist sculpture. "I was finally able to paint something that I really wanted to draw," recalled the man.

When he got his whole bladder removed, a doctor told him that they knew someone who lived for 20 years after receiving the same surgery. And so, the 87-year-old has been living on the assumption that his life will last until the age of 90. The man could not hold his paint brush around February due to pain in his finger joints, but has been recovering since fall.

He told the Mainichi, "I want to express through my painting the deepness of the heart, which cannot be described with words. I must not die so easily."

(Japanese original by Tamami Kawakami, City News Department)

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