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4 people claim exposure to 'black rain' in Hiroshima community outside recognized zone

Yasuo Sumida, right, and his former classmate Hiroshi Kono reflect on their lives in the community where they say they were exposed to black rain as third-grade elementary school students, in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, on July 24, 2021. (Mainichi/Naohiro Yamada)

HIROSHIMA -- Following the recent Hiroshima High Court ruling that recognized plaintiffs exposed to "black rain" that fell following the 1945 atomic bombing of this city as hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors, four individuals recently told the Mainichi Shimbun that they also fell victim to black rain in a community that has not been considered in past investigations as within the zone of the contaminated rainfall.

    The four individuals claimed they experienced "black rain," or rain contaminated with radioactive substances, in an area about 30 kilometers west of the hypocenter. The area has been deemed outside the zone subject to black rain in all three investigations conducted by experts and others in the past. Organizations supporting black rain victims as well as Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments have not confirmed cases where individuals claim exposure to black rain outside zones recognized as eligible for public assistance. The disclosure in the statements made to the Mainichi Shimbun is believed to be the first of its kind.

    The national government has indicated that it is considering offering relief to people who were exposed to black rain outside the current zones recognized as eligible for assistance, in response to the Hiroshima High Court ruling in July. It is possible that the aforementioned individuals will also be eligible for relief, and the new testimonies also seem likely to influence discussion on reform to guidelines for determining the qualification of individuals as hibakusha.

    The community where the four individuals were exposed to black rain is an area surrounded by hills in the former village of Yoshiwa, now part of the Hiroshima Prefecture city of Hatsukaichi, located about 30 kilometers west-northwest of the hypocenter. The four were residents of the village, and students at elementary school at the time of the bombing.

    According to the four, they were attending a morning assembly in the schoolyard when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945. A strong flash pierced through from the direction of the city, as the sound of the explosion shook the building's glass. Among the individuals, three stated that after scorched paper scraps fell from the sky, black rain started to fall at shortly past 3 p.m. At least two out of the four parties suffer from the types of cancer or other diseases eligible for health care benefits granted to recognized hibakusha. They do not remember the color of the rain, save for one individual, but stated that a great amount of burnt paper and soot fell on them.

    Hiroshi Kono, 84, a current resident of Hiroshima's Higashi Ward, has suffered from prostate cancer and a stroke, which paralyzed the left half of his body. Kono, who was aged 8 at the time of the atomic bombing, said with his 88-year-old sister, "Burnt newspapers and other scraps came falling down while we were coming home from school, and they looked like big snowflakes."

    Sachiko Miyamoto, 82, now living in Naka Ward, has an unidentified thyroid gland ailment. Age 6 when the bomb fell, she recalled "picking up scraps of kimono cloth and paper, and playing with my friends by comparing their size," though she is uncertain exactly when this was. Miyamoto says that one member of this circle of friends passed away in their 60s from liver cancer.

    Yasuo Sumida, 85, currently a resident of Hiroshima's Asaminami Ward who was 9 years old at the time, said, "The name of a hospital near the hypocenter was written on a large paper scrap about the size of my palm. Black rain started to fall when around four of us were playing in the rice fields, and we got soaking wet."

    The four said that after the war, there had long been an atmosphere that made it difficult to talk about their A-bomb experiences due to discrimination and other reasons, and were preoccupied with their own lives. However, they learned of the July 2020 Hiroshima District Court black rain ruling on the news, and found out that there were groups supporting black rain victims, and apparently talked with one such group for the first time in November last year.

    Shortly after the atomic bombing, the Hiroshima district meteorological observatory at the time conducted investigations and created a map showing the range of black rainfall. In 1989, meteorologist Yoshinobu Masuda, 97, announced new findings and created a new map, while the Hiroshima municipal and prefectural governments and other bodies revealed their own map in 2010.

    The rainfall maps are important references for discussing eligibility criteria for hibakusha as well as support measures. However, while a small portion of the former village of Yoshiwa is included in the zone recognized as having had black rain in the maps created by both Masuda and local authorities, the community where the four claimed they were exposed to the rain was determined to be outside of this zone in both surveys.

    The community was excluded from the investigation itself in the surveys conducted by the meteorological observatory, and the prefectural and municipal authorities. The survey by prefectural and municipal officials was apparently conducted with a focus on regions where there were intense residential movements demanding recognition of black rain damage, leading to the community's exclusion from the zone eligible for receiving assistance.

    A Hiroshima prefectural official said, "There is obviously the possibility that black rain fell outside the zone presented by the prefecture and city. We'd like to think of ways to also grant relief to victims who were outside these zones."

    Hiroshima University professor emeritus Megu Otaki, a statistician who headed the analysis for the prefectural and municipal survey, commented, "There is a lack of material from the time, and it is impossible to come to a final conclusion on the zone of black rainfall." The professor added, "Past survey findings should be viewed as just a reference, and discussions should be held on ways to offer relief that give due weight to victims' testimonies."

    (Japanese original by Misa Koyama, Hiroshima Bureau)

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