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Hiroshima A-bomb survivor supporting victims abroad still gives testimony to students

Keisaburo Toyonaga, an A-bomb survivor, speaks at a meeting of caretakers of the citizens' association for the relief of A-bomb victims in South Korea, in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on March 13, 2022. (Mainichi/Daiki Takikawa)

HIROSHIMA -- "During World War II, Japan invaded Asia, and the U.S. launched air raids and dropped atomic bombs on Japan, resulting in indiscriminate killings similar to what Russia did to Ukraine," said an 85-year-old atomic bombing survivor, or hibakusha, at the beginning of his online testimony to a group of high school girls in Kanagawa Prefecture on March 19.

    Keisaburo Toyonaga, a former teacher who has been sharing his A-bomb experience with students on school trips, continued, "In order to prevent another nuclear tragedy, we must study Japan's wars and history carefully and think about it."

    Toyonaga was born in Yokohama and moved to the Onagamachi district (now part of Higashi Ward), Hiroshima, at the age of 3. He was 9 years old on Aug. 6, 1945, when the U.S. military dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

    His mother, who had gone out with his 3-year-old brother for her work at a "building evacuation" site, a project demolishing houses to prevent the spread of fire during air raids, was exposed to the bombing in Hiroshima's Showamachi district (now part of Naka Ward), about 1.6 kilometers from the hypocenter. In order to search for his mother and younger brother, Toyonaga entered the city center with his grandfather from Aug. 7 to 9 and was also exposed to radiation.

    Around his grandparents' home in the town of Funakoshi (now part of Aki Ward), where he later lived, there were many people of Korean origin who worked in the pig farming industry. When he saw how people made fun of them over how they smelled like pig excrement and their poor Japanese, he felt that "Japanese people discriminated against them terribly." This boyhood experience was the starting point for his longtime efforts to support A-bomb survivors living abroad.

    In the summer of 1971, as a high school Japanese teacher, Toyonaga visited Seoul for the first time for educational training. There, he heard earnest appeals from A-bomb survivors living in South Korea, saying, "The governments of Japan and South Korea are providing no support."

    "Hibakusha are not only Japanese. This is discrimination," Toyonaga felt outraged. In December 1971, after returning to Japan, he directly appealed to the newly established Osaka-based citizens' association for the relief of A-bomb victims in South Korea to start a Hiroshima branch.

    After the establishment of the branch the following year, Toyonaga served as the first head of the branch, assisting overseas A-bomb survivors with procedures to obtain a certificate of recognition while at the same time working hard to support their lawsuits. As a result of numerous victories in the lawsuits, his activities moved the national government. The former health ministry's "Notice No. 402," which was the basis for limiting the scope of assistance to domestic A-bomb survivors, was abolished in 2003.

    In his testimonial activities for students on school trips, he has always told them at the end of his testimony, "You are the ones who will create a peaceful world without nuclear weapons," but in the face of the recent invasion, he intends to add this strong message: "If a nuclear attack is carried out, it could lead to World War III. You must act with a sense of urgency to ensure that countries do not use nuclear weapons."

    (Japanese original by Akihiro Nakajima, Hiroshima Bureau)

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