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Hiroshima Univ. to unveil docs on hibakusha movement dating to 1950s

Records relating to hibakusha, created on straw paper around the time the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations was formed in 1956, is pictured at Hiroshima University in the city of Higashihiroshima. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)
Records relating to hibakusha, created on straw paper around the time the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations was formed in 1956, is pictured at Hiroshima University in the city of Higashihiroshima. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

OSAKA -- Hiroshima University is set to publicly display a collection of records relating to the early movements of hibakusha, or atomic-bomb survivors in Japan, after recently arranging and analyzing the material.

    The documents were created around the time the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations was formed in 1956, but their whereabouts had remained unknown for many years. They emerged when a person affiliated with a national hibakusha group who had been keeping them handed them over to the university two years ago. The institution subsequently went through them, and plans to release them to the public as early as September.

    The papers record the process forming the basis for the current movement of hibakusha, initiated by survivors demanding medical treatment and guarantees for their day-to-day living. Encountering the ban-the-bomb movement around a decade after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, those survivors spoke out on the true nature of the damage, in what became an ongoing call for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

    Prepared during the six years between 1955 and 1961, the documents are a portion of material formerly stored at the secretariat of the Hiroshima prefectural confederation. They include contact letters, requests, the minutes of meetings of directors and the drafts of speeches at gatherings, numbering around 500 in total.

    Central members of the Hiroshima confederation went on to serve as executives of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), a national body that was formed 2 1/2 months after the Hiroshima group was established, and early documents from the national group are included within the material.

    One memo believed to have been written around 1956 gives an account of the First World Conference Against A- and H-bombs, held in Hiroshima a year after the U.S. hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954, which contaminated the Daigo Fukuryu Maru tuna fishing boat with nuclear fallout and exposed the crew to harmful radiation. The memo says that after hibakusha gave an account of the misery of the atomic bombings and the suffering the bombings had inflicted on their lives, many participants in the conference said that they hadn't been aware of the suffering of the bomb in concrete terms. Participants also said they learned that the root of the movement against A- and H-bombs was to widely convey the true picture of the damage to the world and give survivors the power to live.

    A copy and draft of a letter to former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, written by the Hiroshima confederation, is also included. The request to Eisenhower, who had planned to visit Japan in 1960, asked that he call off his visit to Japan unless he was prepared to "apologize for the crime of dropping the bomb in front of the cenotaph for A-bomb victims in Hiroshima, promise to make amends, and vow never to repeat the same mistake again." In the end, Eisenhower's visit was canceled following the intensification of demonstrations in Japan against revisions to the security treaty between Japan and the United States.

    One document from September 1955 was titled as a draft policy for a liaison council for hibakusha. It said that the group's activities for the time being would be "requesting guarantees from authorities for victims," in addition to mutual aid -- shedding light on their process of seeking state compensation. Additionally, a memo labeled as preparation for a meeting of representatives of Nihon Hidankyo says that standards for victims' movements would be created and a chart on movement policy shows corrections along with the use of the terms, "relief," "the reality of the damage" and "organization," indicating that the document was being polished.

    (Japanese original by Naohiro Yamada, Osaka Photo Department, and Koichi Kirino, Osaka City News Department)

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