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Hibakusha: Nagasaki A-bomb survivor determined to continue storytelling for children

Hidetaka Komine, a Nagasaki atomic bombing survivor, speaks about his war experience to students on a school trip while showing a picture of disfiguration on his foot, in the city of Nagasaki on April 26, 2022. (Mainichi/Atsuki Nakayama)

NAGASAKI -- "I was really nervous when I spoke in front of all those people," said Hidetaka Komine, a Nagasaki atomic bombing survivor.

    The 81-year-old blushed as he recalled a gathering he took part in on May 4. The gathering, which Komine had organized as head of the Nagasaki atomic bombing youth association, attracted more attendants than he had expected. "I was overwhelmed," he admitted.

    Founded in 1956, 11 years after the bombing of Nagasaki, the youth association is the city's oldest group of A-bomb survivors, or hibakusha. Hibakusha activism pioneers including the late hibakusha Senji Yamaguchi and Sumiteru Taniguchi also took part, but today, the association has fewer than 20 members.

    Determined to continue the group's activities, Komine held the gathering in front of a monument outside the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum commemorating the 40th anniversary of the group's founding. As it was the association's first event in several years, the gathering was attended by some 50 people including other hibakusha group representatives and the museum's director.

    "This association exists thanks to the foundations built by our predecessors," an emotional Komine told the crowd. He remembered the words of Yamaguchi, with whom he shared many trials and triumphs, including holding a sit-in together on a snowy day to protest against nuclear weapons. Yamaguchi had told him, "You're the youngest (of the association members) and that means you'll probably live the longest. You must not dissolve this group even if you become the only member."

    Precisely because he has witnessed trailblazers devoting their lives to peace movements firsthand, Komine feels overwhelmingly disappointed with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hinted after invading Ukraine that he could use atomic weapons.

    "For what have we hibakusha been doing these (anti-nuclear weapons) activities for more than 70 years? He may have said it just as a threat, but the way he casually announced that he could use a nuclear weapon makes me feel like everything we've ever worked for has been denied," Komine said.

    Nevertheless, he continues to speak of his atomic bombing experiences in public -- an activity he calls his "mission."

    In late April, Komine spoke in front of a dozen or so people including junior high school students from the city of Kyoto. He told them about how he was brutally bullied by other children because of the disfiguration on his foot caused by the bombing and how he took his frustration out on small animals. He also spoke about how he cursed himself for being a hibakusha after facing discrimination when it came to finding a marriage partner.

    Yamaguchi advised Komine, "You shouldn't be arrogant and try to be a good speaker, but just present your feelings as they are without being proud or condescending." Following this advice, Komine revealed his life story and at the end asked students, "So everyone, do you find the (Ukraine-Russia) war amusing?" "Absolutely not," he continued. "Being able to eat hot meals, go to school and hang out with your friends and sleep in a warm futon -- I want you to recognize these mundane things as very examples of peace and seriously think about it."

    A female student who thanked Komine on behalf of her class swallowed back tears, saying she was "filled with many different emotions." She finally managed to tell Komine, "I'm reminded that war is terrifying, and that I truly have happiness in my life right now."

    Buried next to the monument the association built in 1996 are capsules containing items brought in by its members, who promised to dig them out when nuclear abolition became a reality. Komine, who buried his diaries on his atomic bombing experience, says he can't imagine when they'll be able to open the capsules.

    "There will probably never come a time when we open them," Komine said honestly. But he added, "Even if nuclear weapons never go away, I don't want them ever to be used. I must continue telling children that nuclear arms are a means of dehumanization."

    Komine has undergone surgeries for angina and other ailments. He told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I don't know how long I have to live, but as long as I do I'm going to act as a storyteller (of the atomic bombing). When I see those children (listening to hibakusha stories) I get inspired to continue on."

    (Japanese original by Atsuki Nakayama, Nagasaki Bureau)

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