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Hibakusha: Hiroshima 'black rain' victim follows predecessor in seeking recognition

Seiji Takato is seen in Hiroshima's Saeki Ward in this photo taken in March 2020. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

HIROSHIMA -- Some victims of radioactive "black rain" that fell on Hiroshima and surrounding areas in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city in 1945 are still fighting for the right to receive free health care as provided to A-bomb survivors recognized by the government.

One such victim is Seiji Takato, who has been following the footsteps of his predecessor's work to have all black rain victims officially recognized as A-bomb survivors, or hibakusha.

Takato, a 79-year-old former high school teacher, visited the home of Hitoshi Mukai, 77, in Hiroshima on April 9. Mukai studies the history of movements related to radioactive black rain at Hiroshima City University graduate school. At Mukai's study, Takato found 163 brown envelopes, some with stains, stored in five cardboard boxes. Takato opened up one of the envelopes marked in red as "testimony."

The documents contained testimony from black rain victims collected by the late Tsuneyuki Murakami, an activist and hibakusha himself who devoted his time from the 1970s to plead to the Japanese government about the effects of the black rain. Murakami, who died in 2011 at age 93, had visited communities at the prefectural border to get testimony from locals about the radioactive rain.

Impressed by the piles of documents, Takato said, "Astonishing. You can't write in this much detail without actually listening intently to their experiences."

"I was with my child and then came a flash. My face was hot. We had a shower, which was like evening rain. I then lost my hair," reads one of the statements, written with a pencil. The statement was written over several dozen pieces of paper, depicting the person's experience in the black rain in detail.

Takato, who was caught in the black rain in an area outside the government-designated A-bomb survivor relief measures zone which was established in 1976, founded a citizens' association in 2002 after retiring from teaching at high schools to take part in activities for expanding the relief zone. Those who were rained on with the radioactive shower outside the zone are not covered by government aid for A-bomb survivors, which provides free health care to hibakusha.

It has been four years since Takato and 87 other victims of the black rain filed a lawsuit to be officially recognized as hibakusha eligible for free health care. Witnessing some 2,800 pieces of documents kept by pioneer activist Murakami, Takato swore to himself to take home a verdict that will "provide relief for every single victim of black rain." The ruling will be handed down on July 29.

(Japanese original by Misa Koyama, Hiroshima Bureau)

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