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Korean survivor of Nagasaki atomic bombing dies at 95 without recognition as hibakusha

O Yun-sang, a South Korean national who claimed to have been exposed to the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki, is seen lying on a bed in this photo provided by his family.

A South Korean man who claimed to have been exposed to the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki passed away on Dec. 11, 2022, while not being officially recognized as a hibakusha, or an A-bomb survivor, by Japanese authorities.

    While supporters for O Yun-sang, the Korean national, tried to find evidence of his exposure to the bomb's radiation in a bid to get him the Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificate, their efforts did not bear fruit before he died at 95.

    A resident of Cheonan in South Chungcheong province, midwestern South Korea, O was registered with the Korean atomic bomb casualty association. According to the registration application he filed with the association in 1986 and other sources, O moved from Busan in South Korea to Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in western Japan around June 1943. After working at a printing office, he was conscripted to work at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works in the city of Nagasaki. At that time, he went by the Japanese name, Ichiro Fukuda.

    On Aug. 9, 1945, he was exposed to the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and had a shard of some kind of material stuck in his left heel. Even after he returned to South Korea in autumn 1946, the pain in his heel persisted. He had to scrape a bump in the heel with a razor every day to keep working. After the pain grew stronger, doctors determined that there was no option but to amputate his leg. In 1978, he had his left leg cut off from the knee down.

    After signing up with the South Korean A-bomb casualty association in 1986, he tried to apply for Japan's Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificate, but eventually gave up on the idea as he had no clue how to find a witness in Japan for his exposure to the bomb.

    Akiko Kawai, 66, a resident of Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo and a member of the Japanese citizens group "Association of Citizens for Supporting South Korean Atomic Bomb Victims," learned of O in 2013. The group has been assisting with Korean A-bomb survivors living in South Korea who are seeking to obtain the Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificate. As O had moved out to a different place, Kawai's phone calls to him didn't get through, and she focused on helping out three other former Korean workers in their lawsuit demanding the issuance of the survivors' certificates to them.

    In the summer of 2022, Kawai once again sought cooperation from the Korean A-bomb casualty association, and finally managed to locate O in October. In his application for registering with the association, O stated that he was exposed to the atomic bomb during military training for youth held in Urakami, 3 kilometers from the shipyard.

    As O had dementia, he could barely talk with Kawai over the phone. When his daughter asked him where he was when the atomic bomb fell, he answered, "Urakami," which Kawai heard from the other end of the line.

    As a rule, the Japanese government demands applicants for the A-bomb survivor's certification to submit physical evidence proving their exposure to the bomb and certificates written by at least two third-party individuals. Just as Kawai and supporters in Nagasaki were scrambling to look for proof of O's bombing experience, they received news that O had died of acute heart failure.

    After the end of World War II, O worked at an udon noodle shop and in furniture production while enduring his leg pain. His wife supported their livelihood as a vendor. After O had his leg amputated, he would make dried pollock at home. The couple gutted and boned the fish and dried the remnants, while their daughters skinned about 600 fish daily before going to school.

    In his 1986 application, O wrote, "To date, not a single day has been spent with peace of mind. I wonder who I should take my grudge out on."

    According to Kawai, as of late 2012 there were about 130 Koreans who, like O, were registered with the South Korean association as A-bomb survivors but had not been granted Atomic Bomb Survivor's Certificates. As many of them had since died, the number had dwindled to 44 people as of the end of 2022.

    "Mr. O was suffering from the aftereffects of the atomic bombing. He was the one who should have been given priority in receiving assistance. It's regrettable that it didn't make it in time," Kawai lamented.

    (Japanese original by Takehiro Higuchi, Nagasaki Bureau)

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