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Hibakusha: A-bomb survivor, 95, never giving up the battle to eliminate nuclear weapons

Sunao Tsuboi points to a map of the area around the hypocenter of the atomic bombing during an event in which he shared his experiences, in Hiroshima's Naka Ward in this photo taken on May 10, 2017. He has continued to speak out against war and nuclear weapons. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

Following news that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would enter into force early in 2021, some 200 people including atomic-bomb survivors, or hibakusha, gathered in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome in the western Japan city of Hiroshima on Oct. 25, 2020 and shared their joy.

    But one "face" of the city bombed during World War II, who four years earlier had smiled as he shook hands with Barack Obama, the first U.S. President to visit Hiroshima while in office, was not able to take part. The following hibakusha report, coming 75 years after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, focuses on the life of this figure, 95-year-old Sunao Tsuboi, who has stood at the forefront of hibakusha activities with an indomitable spirit.

    Tsuboi has served as chairman of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo) for the past 16 years. He now spends his days at his home in Hiroshima's Nishi Ward, where a decorative card bears his creed in calligraphic ink: "Futo Fukutsu -- Never give up!"

    From around the time the imperial year changed from Heisei to Reiwa in May 2019, Tsuboi's legs became extremely weak, and he was unable to do without his wheelchair. He has been receiving intravenous drips once a fortnight for cancer, heart disease and anemia. This year he received at least 30 blood transfusions, and it has not been easy for him to get out of bed.

    On the day of the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, Tsuboi suffered burns over his entire body, and he remained unconscious for over 40 days. His sight became impaired in his left eye, and he became critically ill three times. To repay his feeling of indebtedness for being able to live, he became a teacher, and continued to share his experiences with students for over four decades, becoming known as "Pikadon Sensei" -- a reference to the flash (pika) and boom (don) of the atomic bomb. After he retired, he continued to share his experiences both in Japan and overseas, visiting 21 countries including Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea, which possess nuclear weapons.

    "The color of our skin doesn't have to be the same. We don't need borders. Humankind won't be happy unless we help each other," Tsuboi says. With his fist raised high, he has continued to call for a world without nuclear weapons.

    Tsuboi released comments expressing his joy after he learned that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would enter in force.

    "I am filled with excitement, thinking, 'At long last. This is great.' It is a major step toward my long-held, earnest desire for nuclear weapons to be banned and eliminated," he said. At the same time, he noted that states with nuclear weapons, as well as Japan, had not ratified the treaty and said, "The road hereafter may be rough."

    Still, each time I have met Tsuboi, he has repeatedly stated, "I won't give up until there are zero nuclear weapons. Never give up!"

    (Japanese original by Naohiro Yamada, Osaka Photo Group)

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