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'A-bombs continue to ruin your body': Hiroshima survivor calls for nuclear abolition

Masashi Ieshima speaks about his wishes for the abolition of nuclear weapons in Tokyo's Nakano Ward on May 10, 2022. "We must not allow such cruel weapons to continue to exist," he said. (Mainichi/Kaho Kitayama)

TOKYO -- "Atomic bombs and radiation continue to ruin your body for years," said Masashi Ieshima, an 80-year-old survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, during a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun. He has little recollection of the 1945 bombing as he was just 3 years old at the time, but the cancer he later developed is telltale evidence of radioactive scars left on him.

    Ieshima, now a resident of Tokyo's Nakano Ward, dimly remembers a mountain in the west burning red in the wake of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. He doesn't recall the flash or the blast, nor did he witness the town filled with people, dead or alive, burned by the bomb. Later on, when he and his father developed cancer, however, Ieshima was made keenly aware, not just once, that he is an A-bomb survivor himself. It's precisely because of this that he continues to appeal for a world without nuclear weapons.

    On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Ieshima was at his two-story home in Ushita, now part of the city of Hiroshima's Higashi Ward, when U.S. forces dropped the atomic bomb on the city. His father, an employee of the Hiroshima Regional Communications Bureau, had come home early that morning after his night watch duty at his workplace, and was taking a nap. His mother Tomeko was in a room next to the entrance, and his 10-month-old sister was sleeping in the backroom. Ieshima was apparently playing in the entrance hall. The bomb's blast blew out every window of the house, located 2.5 kilometers from the hypocenter.

    "My mother had shards of glass stuck on all over her body, but my father, sister and I were unscathed. My two elder sisters had evacuated to Tottori Prefecture, so all of my family members were safe," Ieshima said. "A relative who was staying over at our place since the previous night had gone to the town to see her husband and was burned all over her body, but my father managed to find her and took her home, I heard. All I vaguely remember is seeing a mountain in Koi (now part of Hiroshima's Nishi Ward) burning red from a distance."

    Years later, he was told by others that it was "miraculous" that he survived the bombing unhurt.

    After the end of the war, his family moved to Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, in the fall of 1945, and Ieshima lived in the Sanin region until he graduated from university. There was no one around him of his age who had experienced the atomic bombing, and his mother wouldn't talk about it, saying, "I don't even want to remember such a (terrible) thing." That's why Ieshima had no awareness of being an "A-bomb survivor," or hibakusha, himself for a long time.

    In the spring of 1964, Ieshima joined the then Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications upon graduating from university. When he started working at a post office in Tokyo, his father told him, "I've applied for the Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificate for you two (Ieshima and his sister)." Upon hearing this, Ieshima simply thought, "Ah, OK."

    Soon after he acquired the certificate in September that year, a member of an A-bomb survivors' group visited his home where he was living by himself. "Mr. Ieshima, you are a hibakusha, aren't you?" the visitor said, adding, "Why not go to the Hiroshima peace memorial ceremony together?"

    When Ieshima visited Hiroshima, he asked himself for the first time: "How was I exposed to the bomb?" He thought he wouldn't be able to call for the elimination of nuclear weapons as an A-bomb survivor without even knowing his own experience. He asked his father to tell him about what had happened that day, and his father sent him a 10-page letter recounting how the family survived the bomb. It was then that Ieshima realized how miraculous it was for him to be alive.

    Members of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) hand a petition of 900,000 signatures calling for Japan to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, to a Foreign Ministry official, right, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on May 20, 2022. Ieshima is pictured at far left. (Mainichi/Shota Harumashi)

    Several years later, however, he was faced with the gravity of his family having been exposed to the bomb's radiation. In 1969, his father developed upper jaw cancer and suddenly passed away at age 60. The ailment was the effect of the atomic bomb that manifested itself 24 years later. "Radiation casts a shadow over a survivor's life later and claims their life," Ieshima found.

    After retiring at 65, Ieshima started devoting himself to activities as an A-bomb survivor. Six years ago, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer during a regular checkup. He soon had the tumor removed and has since had no metastatic cancer. His cancer was recognized as an A-bomb-related illness.

    "'Not again,' I felt. I thought it has struck me as well, that the effect of the atomic bomb emerged, this time 70 years later. I was once again made aware of the horror of nuclear weapons," Ieshima said.

    Ieshima turned 80 on June 13, but he is "young among hibakusha," he said with a smile. As a representative director of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), he was to fly to Europe on June 16 in time for the first meeting of the states parties to the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons set to open in Vienna, in the hope that he can share his experience of the bombing with the world, if only a little.

    "The only way to get rid of the terror I learned the hard way is to eliminate nuclear weapons," Ieshima said.

    (Japanese original by Shota Harumashi, Tokyo City News Department)

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