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Ailing Nagasaki A-bomb survivor who lost kin to diseases seeks early gov't recognition

Sachiko Shimada talks about her sorrow of being unrecognized as an atomic bomb survivor, in the town of Togitsu, Nagasaki Prefecture, on May 14, 2022. (Mainichi/Takehiro Higuchi)

TOGITSU, Nagasaki -- "I can't walk, so I can't go to the court anymore," said Sachiko Shimada, 82, as she bit her lip during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in this southwestern Japan town in mid-May.

    Shimada, who was exposed to the Aug. 9, 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki while she was in the town of Togitsu, is deemed by the Japanese government as one of those who "experienced the bombing" yet are ineligible for relief measures for certified A-bomb survivors, as the town is located approximately 10 kilometers from the hypocenter and is outside areas subject to public aid.

    A group of some 400 people who experienced the atomic bombing has sued the government demanding that they be granted A-bomb survivor's certificates, but their defeat in the case was finalized by the Supreme Court in 2017. The following year, some of the former plaintiffs refiled the suit with the Nagasaki District Court, but Shimada was unable to join as her physical condition had deteriorated.

    On that fateful morning of Aug. 9, 1945, Shimada and her mother were in their yard picking out adzuki beans from the pods. The moment they saw a flash, the glass door on the porch was toppled and shattered. Pointing to the sky above a plum tree, Shimada told her bewildered mother, "A plane collided above this." Black clouds that a young Shimada had never seen before were billowing. "A big bomb was dropped," her mother said.

    Shimada's grandfather, an exemplary farmer, went to the city of Nagasaki in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, saying, "I'll go clear the roads." Later, he came home with a lot of straw bags filled with ash. Back then, households were short of supplies, and all of Shimada's family members sifted the ash to turn it into fertilizer, while they were covered with white dust. Among the ash were marbles that were melted and warped by the searing heat of the atomic bombing. Shimada was thrilled to find and pick them up.

    Several years later, her grandfather suddenly died while working on the farm. Her mother succumbed to heart disease in her 50s. Her aunt, who also sifted the ash together, died of liver cancer and pancreatic cancer. Shimada also suffered a hemorrhagic stroke at age 42, and has difficulty moving the left part of her body.

    Sachiko Shimada recounts her experience in the Aug. 9, 1945 atomic bombing, in this photo taken in the town of Togitsu, Nagasaki Prefecture, on May 14, 2022. (Mainichi/Takehiro Higuchi)

    Shimada grew suspicious that the diseases that she and her relatives suffered were caused by the atomic bomb. When older residents in the neighborhood told her about what they saw after the bombing, one of them said, "Ash covered the leaves of taro planted by the well," while another said, "Black clouds came after me." However, the Shishigawago district of Togitsu, where Shimada was exposed to the bombing, was outside areas designated by the national government as eligible for relief measures for A-bomb survivors. The zoning was based on administrative districts.

    Shimada talked to residents who were similarly suffering from the effects of the bombing, and joined a class action suit that started at the Nagasaki District Court in 2007 demanding the issuance of A-bomb survivor's certificates. After the plaintiffs lost the case in the Supreme Court in 2017, Shimada was hospitalized for five months due to a back problem. She was also diagnosed with a contracted kidney. Although she had to give up on refiling the suit, she still hears about the progress of the ongoing trial from Chiyoko Iwanaga, 86, the lead plaintiff of the case, while they encourage each other over the phone.

    On June 21, the first meeting of States Parties to the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is set to open in Vienna. The treaty stipulates that victims of nuclear weapons shall be provided with medical care and other assistance "without discrimination" in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights laws.

    "We are victims of the atomic bombing. I want the government to quickly recognize us as such," Shimada said.

    (Japanese original by Takehiro Higuchi, Nagasaki Bureau)

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