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Aging hibakusha groups face tough decision: disband or entrust activities to 2nd gen.

The Atomic Bomb Dome is seen in the city of Hiroshima's Naka Ward in this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter. (Mainichi/Tadashi Kako)

Prefectural groups of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) are currently at a crossroads, pondering whether to pass on their reins to those who have not directly experienced the atomic bombing, or see the organizations break up.

    Second-generation A-bomb survivors currently head five of 39 prefectural organizations under Nihon Hidankyo, while eight prefectural groups have already disbanded due to the aging of their members and other reasons, it was revealed in a Mainichi Shimbun survey conducted ahead of the 77th anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.

    Nihon Hidankyo is the only nationwide organization led by hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors, who engage in efforts to support and counsel fellow hibakusha while calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The group was formed in 1956, in response to growing antinuclear movements following the 1954 U.S. hydrogen bomb test over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, which exposed the Daigo Fukuryu Maru tuna boat to radiation. Organizations were set up in all 47 prefectures in Japan.

    A Mainichi Shimbun survey conducted in July and August found that second-generation hibakusha headed prefectural groups in Yamanashi, Toyama, Shimane, Kochi and Kumamoto prefectures. The leadership switch began with Yamanashi in 2015, followed by Toyama in 2018 and Kumamoto in 2019. Second-generation hibakusha became the leaders of groups in Shimane and Kochi in 2022. Meanwhile, groups in the eight prefectures of Yamagata, Tochigi, Ishikawa, Shiga, Nara, Wakayama, Tokushima and Miyagi have disbanded.

    As of the end of March 2022, 118,935 people had Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificates, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The count dropped by around 100,000 from the total of 201,779 certified hibakusha as of the end of March 2013, and the average age of survivors stood at 84.53 years.

    The regional groups of Nihon Hidankyo are in charge of a variety of tasks, including supporting individuals so that they can obtain Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificates, offering consultations regarding health and daily life and holding commemoration ceremonies and A-bomb exhibits as well as gatherings where survivors share their memories.

    Groups that are headed by second-generation hibakusha tend to shift the focus of their activities to passing down A-bomb memories. The group of Shimane, which welcomed a second-generation hibakusha as chair in May, explained, "It is significant to maintain activities by putting a second-generation (hibakusha) in charge, in order to attend to inquiries regarding elderly hibakusha's health and nursing." Shunji Harada, 76, of Kumamoto, commented, "In the future there will be more people who do not know about the atomic bombing's reality. I'd like to pass down memories as a member of the second generation."

    There are also groups that are considering placing second-generation hibakusha in their top positions, including Oita, which answered that it had no other successors, and Chiba, which is apparently preparing for a change in leadership.

    On the other hand, there are also groups that are cautious about a leadership change. Sadao Mogi, 88, acting chair of the Ibaraki group, said, "This group was launched to share pain and sadness among hibakusha, so I think it will end once the survivors are gone. I don't want to burden the second and third generations."

    Kazuyuki Tamura, professor emeritus at Hiroshima University, said, "It works as an option for second-generation hibakusha to engage in activities while making claims and demands on behalf of hibakusha themselves. However, it is possible that the groups' characters will change if their leaders change. It may be necessary to discuss their direction under the new system."

    (Japanese original by Hayato Matsubara, Matsue Bureau)

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