Hiroshima Memo: Citizen journalist dedicates his life to preserving A-bomb experiences

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Last August I took part in an antinuclear forum held in Nagasaki with Tetsuo Maeda, a journalist for the military. Mr. Maeda, a former reporter for the Nagasaki Broadcasting Company (NBC), was a year junior to Akihiko Ito at the company. They worked at the same broadcasting station for ten years, then both left the company. However, Mr. Maeda said that he continued to stay in touch with Mr. Ito, who took up the path of a "citizen journalist."

Recalling his friend, who died in March 2009 at the age of 72, Mr. Maeda said at the forum that "Mr. Ito was a 'restorationist' who doggedly documented A-bomb experiences through firsthand accounts of the atomic bombings." Mr. Maeda added, "Mr. Ito liked a certain passage from the poem 'Fuyu no Kotoba' ('Words of Winter'), written by the poet Kotaro Takamura: 'Winter tells me to forsake my career and involve myself in life.'"

In connection with Mr. Maeda's words, I remember meeting Akihiko Ito for the first time. It was the fall of 2007 in Hiroshima. He was staying at a hotel in downtown Hiroshima and about to complete a year-long project videotaping the accounts of A-bomb survivors (hibakusha). As a journalist who had spent half his life patiently pursuing one theme, he revealed his strong will and vigor for a nuclear-free world, a peaceful world, through his slender frame and soft speech.

As a consequence of the atomic bombings, Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered disasters that have been unprecedented in human history. Mr. Ito entered the city of Nagasaki after the bombing there and was exposed to residual radiation at the age of eight. The devastation wrought by the blast was burned into his memory. The atomic bombings even claimed the lives of innocent babies, children, and the elderly. Mr. Ito, who thought that the use of the atomic bombs was simply unjustifiable, probably felt it his duty to record the survivors' experiences of the bombings, their lives after the war, and their thoughts, through their own voices. He no doubt even hoped to bring back the thoughts of the dead themselves through the accounts of the survivors.

Mr. Ito "restored" the reality of the damage caused by the atomic bombings through a method that can be called "oral transmission by hibakusha."

As a pretext for their possession of nuclear weapons, every nuclear weapon state and every state in pursuit of possessing nuclear weapons points to the deterrence of nuclear attacks by other nations. But real deterrence will only stem from squarely facing the reality that unfolded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When people grasp this reality, the circle seeking the elimination of nuclear weapons with the belief that "These weapons must not exist on the earth" will expand across the world. Mr. Ito believed this firmly and so persisted in his work.

In order to find time to meet with survivors, he did not take up regular employment. Instead, he worked early in the morning or during the night, in this way earning income for living expenses and costs related to his interviews. When the number of hibakusha whose A-bomb accounts he recorded from 1971 to 1979 reached 1,000, marking one end to his project, he wrote as follows:

"During the eight years I spent wandering, I used up all my savings and the retirement allowance provided by my previous employer. I've worn out my clothes and spent eight winters without any heat. ... In the end, I couldn't pay the premiums for the National Health Insurance and so I lived for years without a health insurance certificate. I may be shamed for admitting so, but when I finished my work I was over 40 yet I had no wife, no child, no job, and no house of my own. The only thing I have are the recordings, and these tapes will eventually be donated to public institutions." (From "Mirai kara no Yuigon" ["A Will from the Future"], published by Aoki Shoten in 1980)

His perseverance in this project speaks volumes. Through the 1980s he was mainly engaged in editing these recordings. Then, as he had promised, he donated his work titled "Hibaku o Kataru" ("Talking about the Atomic Bombing") to public libraries, peace organizations, and other entities around Japan.

During the era of the reel-to-reel tape recorder, Mr. Ito shouldered about a heavy recorder weighing as much as 13 kilograms. As time went by, cassette tapes, CDs, and DVDs appeared, along with the Internet, which can connect people around the world instantaneously. Such remarkable technological innovation in the information field as well as the emergence of supporters of his work, who learned of his passion for the project and saw significance in it, brought him new hope.

Mr. Ito lost one means to communicate after retiring from the broadcasting company and forgoing radio work. However, through the Internet, he has been able to achieve a new means of transmitting the voices of A-bomb survivors to those in Japan and abroad.

I still have a letter from Mr. Ito. The letter, dated November 19, 2007, is addressed to me and was mailed just prior to his return to Tokyo after completing the series of videotaped interviews in Hiroshima.

"Though I've stayed in Hiroshima a month longer than I had planned, I made videotaped recordings of the accounts of 180 people and achieved 100% of my goal. Of the 180 people, 17 spoke in English. My idea is to post the English video footage on the Internet in three years and transmit it to the world in order to directly question 'the killing of children' by the atomic bombs."

Akihiko Ito passed away before seeing the completion of his project. However, those following in his footsteps have already used the video footage to convey his message over the Internet. Mr. Ito's achievements, which he dedicated his life to accomplish, will continue to be used as precious "voices of the survivors" that testify to the history of the atomic bombings even after all the hibakusha have gone.

(Originally published on April 19, 2010)

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Akihiko Ito, interviewer of more than 1,000 atomic bomb survivors (April 23, 2010)