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83-yr-old fights to bring hidden history of post-A-bomb black rain in Hiroshima alive

Kazuko Morizono recalls her experience of the "black rain" that fell soon after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. on Aug. 6, 1945. "The sky in this area had turned completely black," she said in Hiroshima's Asakita Ward, on June 6, 2021. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

HIROSHIMA -- "Black rain," rain contaminated with radioactive substances, fell on Hiroshima shortly after the U.S. military's atomic bombing of the city on Aug. 6, 1945. Many people exposed to the rain have suffered, and continue to suffer, from health complications without the benefit of government aid, because they have not been officially recognized as A-bomb survivors.

    That is because immediately after World War II, those affected by the black rain kept their mouths shut and left no public records of what had happened to them out of fear of discrimination.

    Eighty-three-year-old Kazuko Morizono, however, has very clear memories of being covered in the radioactive rain, even though the event has no entry in historical records. Here, she shares the truth of what happened.

    Some 17 kilometers north of the Hiroshima A-bomb's hypocenter is a pastoral area tucked between the mountains of the city's Asakita Ward, once the village of Kameyama. In the corner of a small vacant lot surrounded by homes and farm fields, is a stone pillar with the name of a school carved into it. Standing before it, Morizono began to speak quietly.

    "I think that all the people who had the black rain fall on them and died in pain were buried beneath the shadows of history," she said. "We must have been affected by the atomic bomb, but the people around here aren't recognized (as hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors)."

    On the day the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the updraft created by the explosion produced a mushroom cloud, and cumulonimbus clouds that formed in connection with fires generated black rain.

    Kazuko Morizono is seen on June 6, 2021 at the former site of her school, where she was exposed to "black rain" soon after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. on Aug. 6, 1945. Behind her, in Hiroshima's Asakita Ward, stands a tree that was there when the black rain fell. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

    In 1976, the Japanese government designated a 19-kilometer by 11-kilometer oval area stretching northwest from the hypocenter as a "heavy rain area." This was based on interviews of locals by the then Hiroshima District Meteorological Observatory. Those who were within that oval could get free health checkups, and if they were found to have cancer or other illnesses with which a possible connection to the radiation could not be denied, they were given A-bomb survivors' certificates, and therefore, government aid.

    But the scope of the black rain and the time that it fell remain unconfirmed to this day. Residents who were deemed to have been outside the boundaries of the black rain established a liaison council of prefectural black rain survivors in 1978, and advocated for expanding the scope of government assistance.

    That fateful day in 1945, Morizono was a second grader, aged 7. It was morning, and she was talking with a classmate by the classroom window when suddenly she saw a piercing flash, and the sound of an explosion shattered the windows. Their teacher came running in and told all the children to take cover in the bomb shelter. About 60 people found their way into the shelter built by the mountain behind their school.

    Morizono doesn't remember how long they waited there. Once they were outside again, the sky was dusky. Shortly afterward, ash and burnt pieces of paper came floating down, and eventually a light rain began to fall. "Is this rain?" she wondered. The raindrops were not absorbed into the ground, but rather rolled around, as if they had oil in them. Morizono watched the raindrops rolling off her arm with her eyes wide open. Soon the rain came pouring down, and Morizono's clothes were soaked.

    That summer, Morizono was plagued by repeated bouts of diarrhea. Subsequently she had pneumonia twice. "Until then, I was a very energetic child," Morizono recalled. "But after the atomic bomb, I changed." Morizono's sister, who was 3 years older than her and was also exposed to black rain, had frequent nosebleeds.

    Morizono's father, who went into Hiroshima for three straight days searching for relatives, died of leukemia in September 1957. It was the year that the government had begun distributing A-bomb survivors' certificates. Morizono's father died without being recognized as one of those survivors. A year later, Morizono married, and went on to have two children. But at age 34, she was forced to have her ovaries removed due to severe adhesions. In her late 30s, she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, an undeniable symptom of A-bomb radiation exposure as defined by ministerial ordinance. "Were you exposed to the bomb?" her doctor asked her. "This is a condition that hibakusha have."

    It had crossed her mind that her health problems were caused by the black rain. But Morizono had stayed mum about it. Why? Soon after the atomic bombing, her father returned from a community meeting and reported back to the family, "It's been decided that we aren't allowed to talk about black rain." Since then, Morizono had stuck to those instructions. But why hadn't they been allowed to talk about it?

    Kazuko Morizono is seen on June 6, 2021, at the former site of her school, where she was exposed to "black rain" soon after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. on Aug. 6, 1945, in this photo taken in Hiroshima's Asakita Ward. Behind her stands a tree that was there when the black rain fell. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

    That black rain had fallen on Kameyama cannot be confirmed in any public documents. "Hiroshima genbaku sensai shi" (Hiroshima's atomic bomb damage records), issued by the Hiroshima city government in 1971 and still used as a foundational resource in atomic bomb research, says of the village, "Things were anxious for a few hours, but nothing seemed to happen," and does not mention black rain. In 1986, the Hiroshima Municipal Board of Education compiled a collection of personal notes that described the situation in the town of Kabe, created through the merger of Kameyama with other municipalities. It stated, "The black rain that fell on a large area following the dropping of the atomic bomb did not fall on the Kabe area." The author had been an employee of Kabe Town Hall, and his now 81-year-old son revealed, "In 2004, after my father passed away, neighbors blamed him for hiding the black rain."

    In the village, there was one more woman who had been told to keep her mouth shut about black rain. The 83-year-old woman had been a student at the same school as Morizono when she was exposed to the black droplets. "I was told very sternly by my mother, 'You can never tell anyone about the black rain,'" she recalled. On the day the rain fell, she had been wearing her favorite dress -- white with red polka dots. But it was stained by the rain. Because she loved the dress so much, she kept wearing it at home until her mother found out. "We have to hide that black rain fell here!" she said. "We can't keep this." And with desperation in her eyes, her mother threw the dress into the fire. Then her mother told her repeatedly, "There are a lot of girls living here, so we don't talk about black rain. Do you understand?"

    As for why the villagers "tried to hide" that black rain had fallen that day, both the woman and Morizono suspected it was out of fear of discrimination, such as how it would affect residents' marriage chances.

    Morizono raised her children as she worked to put food on the table. After working part-time at a supermarket, she got a job at an ironworks to turn out parts for excavators, where she was employed for about a dozen years.

    One day, she had the television on as she prepared dinner. There was a feature on black rain. Memories from that day came rushing back to her and she mumbled, "I was rained on, too."

    After retirement, she heard from a friend who had begun to tackle the black rain issue that it was being assumed that black rain had not fallen on Kameyama village. Morizono could not abide that. "I can't let people keep thinking that there was no exposure to radiation through black rain," she thought to herself. In addition to hypothyroidism, Morizono had gone through a painful operation for a bowel obstruction at age 60. She visited Tokyo many times to advocate for more people to be covered by health ministry assistance.

    And in November 2015, she became a plaintiff in the black rain lawsuit filed with the Hiroshima District Court seeking provision of an A-bomb survivors' certificate, which would make her eligible for government aid.

    Kazuko Morizono is seen on June 6, 2021, at the former site of her school, where she was exposed to "black rain" soon after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. on Aug. 6, 1945, in this photo taken in Hiroshima's Asakita Ward. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

    Throughout this time, she received abusive anonymous letters and phone calls, including, "No one recognizes that your illness comes from damage from black rain," and "I am not impressed that you blame everything on the atomic bomb based on your judgment only." In the former village of Kameyama, there are residents who still deny that there was black rain. An 85-year-old woman who witnessed the mushroom cloud said, "The rain didn't fall around these parts. People who want an A-bomb survivors' certificate obsessively say 'it rained, it rained.'"

    But Morizono repeated, "We are neither lying, nor have we colluded to get our stories straight." She has responded to interviews under her real name, and during the suit, she stood on the witness stand. "If we leave things as is, black rain will be erased from history." It is precisely because the black rain that hit Kameyama went unrecorded that she feels a sense of crisis.

    In a phone call after the lawsuit was filed, a former classmate told Morizono, "Please tell the truth for us, too." The caller subsequently died of pancreatic cancer. Many of Morizono's old friends have passed away after painful illnesses. All of them had been rained on, and had suspected the rain had impacted their health, but were ultimately unable to get any government support.

    "I'm not continuing this fight to get an A-bomb survivors' certificate. I want to be recognized as a 'hibakusha,' and leave behind the history that black rain fell in this village, too," said Morizono. She vows to continue talking about black rain to leave behind a record that it actually happened.

    On July 14, the Hiroshima High Court upheld a decision by the Hiroshima District Court made last year, in which 84 plaintiffs, including Morizono, were recognized as "hibakusha" and the Hiroshima Municipal Government and other authorities were ordered to provide them with A-bomb survivors' certificates -- ensuring that they receive the same benefits as others who are recognized as having been exposed to the atomic bombings.

    (Japanese original by Misa Koyama, Hiroshima Bureau)

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