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A-bomb hibakusha groups in 7 Japan prefs may disband or suspend activities: survey

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is seen prior to the peace memorial ceremony in this photo taken early on the morning of Aug. 6, 2020, with the Atomic Bomb Dome in the foreground, in Hiroshima's Naka Ward. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

OSAKA -- Prefecture-level groups affiliated with the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) have already disbanded or suspended their activities in seven prefectures due to members aging, while other groups in another seven prefectures are considering doing so, a survey by the Mainichi Shimbun has found.

    The survey conducted in July covered 41 prefecture-level groups in Japan that are either members of Nihon Hidankyo or participate in the confederation as observers. Members of those groups include hibakusha, or survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

    The questionnaire found that groups affiliated with Nihon Hidankyo in 13 prefectures are hoping their activities will be taken over by the children of A-bomb survivors and others. As Hiroshima and Nagasaki mark the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings this year, hibakusha groups are facing a major challenge over how to cultivate subsequent generations to pass down the memories of their bombing experiences and carry on their activities.

    Nihon Hidankyo is Japan's only nationwide organization of hibakusha and has pushed for public assistance for A-bomb survivors and abolition of nuclear weapons. The group was formed in 1956 after Japanese fishermen were exposed to nuclear fallout due to the hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in 1954. Eventually, groups affiliated with Nihon Hidankyo were formed at the prefectural level one after another. Some of those groups limit their membership to hibakusha only, while others allow children of hibakusha and supporters of nuclear bomb victims to join as members. There are cases where offspring of hibakusha have formed separate groups to continue activities.

    The Mainichi Shimbun conducted the survey through its head and branch offices, and its general bureaus across Japan. No investigations were done in the prefectures of Yamagata, Tochigi, Shiga, Nara, Wakayama and Tokushima where groups affiliated with Nihon Hidankyo no longer exist, nor were they done in Gunma Prefecture where a group has already ceased activity. The questionnaire was carried out on 41 groups, including two in Hiroshima. They were done either by sending written questions to them, or through interviews with group representatives. All of the groups responded.

    When asked about the possibility of dissolving, a total of six organizations in Fukushima, Yamanashi, Nagano, Kagawa, Oita and Kagoshima prefectures said they were considering it. A group in Niigata Prefecture said it will not break up, but will suspend activities after the end of fiscal 2020.

    According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the average age of hibakusha reached 83.31 years at the end of March this year. When asked about a future scenario in which all hibakusha are no longer members, 14 groups in 13 prefectures, including two groups in Hiroshima Prefecture, suggested that they wanted "second-generation hibakusha, supporters and others to carry on activities."

    As of now, 17 groups have already formed organizations comprising second-generation hibakusha and others. One such group in Shizuoka Prefectures answered that, "We want to see our group continue in the form of second- and third-generation hibakusha organizations, and pass down the issue of atomic bombs to the next generations."

    The two groups in Hiroshima and the one in Nagasaki said they are poised to continue their activities, with a Nagasaki group representative saying, "Nuclear weapons abolition has yet to be achieved."

    Meanwhile, 14 groups said they will stop their activities once there are no living hibakusha in their membership, which they have limited to A-bomb survivors, with other reasons also cited. Among groups that said they are not currently considering disbanding, some expressed concerns about their future prospects, with the Hokkaido group saying, "Considering their average age, it would become difficult for hibakusha to remain self-reliant about five years from now."

    (Japanese original by Yuta Shibayama, Osaka City News Department, and Kazuo Yanagisawa, Osaka Regional News Department)

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