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Nagasaki 'black rain' survivors seeking gov't recognition call for end to 'discrimination'

Koichi Kawano appeals to Nagasaki Municipal Government officials for swift relief to be given to non-officially recognized atomic bombing survivors, or "hibaku-taikensha," in Nagasaki on Nov. 21, 2022. (Mainichi/Takehiro Higuchi)

NAGASAKI -- "It's unforgivable to treat (A-bomb victims of) Nagasaki and Hiroshima differently," Koichi Kawano, a survivor of the atomic bombing here, said angrily to city officials on Nov. 21.

    Kawano was speaking to Takashi Maeda of the Nagasaki Municipal Government's Measures for A-Bomb Survivors Division during a hearing with survivors at city hall. The central government has started to provide relief for people who were outside of official damage zones and experienced "black rain" in Hiroshima in recognition of them as A-bomb survivors, or hibakusha. Kawano and others demanded the same treatment for those in Nagasaki.

    Currently, people who were within Nagasaki and a few nearby villages at the time of the bombing or shortly after are officially recognized as hibakusha, and entitled to receive public assistance. Those who were outside of these areas but within an area about 7 to 12 kilometers from the hypocenter are instead considered "people who experienced the bombing," or "hibaku-taikensha."

    Kawano, 82, is officially a hibakusha, exposed to the radiation just 3.1 kilometers from the hypocenter in the city of Nagasaki at age 5. However, he has been supporting the hibaku-taikensha since the latter launched a lawsuit to gain official recognition as survivors in 2007, as the representative of a group to push the move.

    In July 2021, the Hiroshima High Court recognized 84 hibaku-taikensha plaintiffs as hibakusha. Then-Prime Minster Yoshihide Suga said at the time, "We will consider measures to offer relief to others who had the same kind of experience."

    Since then, the government began offering relief to black rain survivors in Hiroshima, sending out official certification in the form of a medical handbook starting in April, 2022. However, those in Nagasaki are not included in these measures.

    Kawano, who is the chairman of the Hibakusha Liaison Council of the Nagasaki Prefectural Peace Movement Center -- one of the four major atomic bombing survivor organizations -- reiterated his insistent plea that Nagasaki's survivors receive the same treatment during an Aug. 9 interview with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. However, the prime minister never agreed to Kawano's request during his visit.

    The ruling by the Hiroshima High Court had concluded that even people who did not directly experience black rain should be considered "people who were potentially exposed to radiation," through means such as the atmosphere, drinking water and food.

    In a 1999 survey conducted by the city of Nagasaki on the experiences of people who were outside of the official damage zones, 129 cases of rain and 1,874 cases of ash and other substances falling after the bombing were reported. Despite the fact that these Nagasaki survivors directly experienced black rain and ash, causing symptoms including diarrhea and hair loss, the national government still fails to recognize them. "It's discrimination against Nagasaki," Kawano emphasized.

    Kawano's 81-year-old wife was exposed to radiation about 10 kilometers northeast from the blast, in the former village of Ikiriki, the current Isahaya. She is not an officially recognized hibakusha. Her brother passed away at age 83 in 2020 after working as a board member of the plaintiff group.

    Because he has seen those around him suffer at the absurdity of the situation, Kawano continues to raise his voice. "All of those who have fought so hard have been passing away, one by one. Many others are dealing with serious illnesses. The government must avoid making wrong choice here."

    (Japanese original by Hiroyuki Takahashi and Takehiro Higuchi, Nagasaki Bureau)

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