40 years of gathering Nagasaki’s A-bomb experiences

by Kenji Namba, Senior Staff Writer

Association for Testimonies awarded prize

The effort to gather and pass on testimonies of the survivors of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki has continued uninterrupted for more than 40 years. Sixty-seven volumes that include the testimonies of more than 1,000 survivors have been published. This effort has generated other citizens' campaigns that have since become well established in the city. On November 6 the Peace Studies Association of Japan will present its third Peace Prize to the Nagasaki Testimony Association in recognition of its achievements over the years. The association, which is jointly chaired by Tsukasa Uchida and two others, launched its efforts to gather testimonies in 1968.

Based on pledge that the tragedy must never be repeated

The effort to gather testimonies of atomic bomb survivors in Nagasaki has been carried out in four stages. In 1969 the first collection of "Testimonies of Nagasaki" was published. Thereafter one volume was published annually for a total of ten volumes in the first stage. Starting in 1978, publication of "Testimonies of Nagasaki" was switched to quarterly, and a total of 12 volumes were published in the second stage. The quarterly "Testimonies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" was published in cooperation with Hiroshima starting in 1982 for more than five years. A total of 21 volumes were published in this third stage. In 1987 annual publication was resumed, and 24 volumes of "Testimonies: Voices of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" have been published so far.

Looking back, one of the association's chairmen, Hitoshi Hamasaki, 79, said, "We've been able to carry on our activities because we have maintained the association's basic principles."

From its early days, Dr. Tatsuichiro Akizuki (1916-2005) served as chairman of the association, and Professor Sadao Kamata (1929-2002) was responsible for planning and business affairs in his capacity as editor. Upon the occasion of the group's 20th anniversary, Mr. Kamata wrote the following:

"What was the source of the energy to sustain the group and move forward? It was found in our pledge to those who died that that day's tragedy — in which the land was instantly denuded and people were killed like mere worms — would never be repeated. It also lay in our outrage at the delusion of the favorable influence and power of nuclear weapons, such as nuclear deterrence."

Based on this aim, the group has maintained the following principles:

1) To be an autonomous, non-partisan citizens' movement
2) To be a self-directed grassroots movement that receives no government aid
3) To stand firm in rejecting the atomic bomb and in providing relief to the atomic bomb survivors
4) To produce writings and testimonies that can withstand all forms of criticism
The group has also expressed its desire to see the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs and the Japan Congress Against A-and H-Bombs reintegrate into one organization.

Two A-bombed cities

In 1967, the year before the movement got underway, the former Ministry of Health and Welfare released the results of its survey on the situations of the A-bomb survivors. Its report stated that there were no significant differences between the health and everyday lives of A-bomb survivors and others. Hiroshima and Nagasaki strongly objected to this finding. Volunteer survivors, researchers and teachers launched their own survey. This, in turn, led to the effort to record the testimonies of survivors.

Around that time Dr. Akizuki had the following experience.

He had participated in the effort to provide relief and medical services to the survivors starting just after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. In the summer of 1966 he published "Nagasaki Genbakuki" ("A Record of the Nagasaki Atomic Bombing"), an account of his experiences in the year following the dropping of the bomb. In 1968 an exhibition on the A-bombing of Nagasaki was held in Tokyo under the sponsorship of a nationally distributed newspaper. Dr. Akizuki delivered a speech, and the audience was greatly moved. But he had a startling experience, which was recorded in the first volume of "Testimonies of Nagasaki."

"There were a lot of books at the venue about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, but I was surprised to find that there was not one book about Nagasaki. Not even my book 'Nagasaki Genbakuki' was there." (from "Genbaku to Sanjū Nen" ("Thirty Years Since the A-bomb")

"I felt that those of us in Nagasaki had not said enough about our experiences. We needed to talk about them at length. It was our duty to talk about them." (from the first volume of "Testimonies of Nagasaki")

This shock prompted Dr. Akizuki to take the lead in the effort to gather the testimonies of survivors.

The two A-bombed cities used to be referred to as "angry Hiroshima and prayerful Nagasaki." Hiroshima took the lead not only in gathering testimonies of survivors and publishing them but in other efforts as well. Having gotten a late start, Nagasaki was under pressure to have solid principles and goals for its movement. It can be said that this led to the activities that have been carried out over the intervening years.

Awareness of war responsibility essential

The movement to gather testimonies from Nagasaki's A-bomb survivors is also characterized by the "conceptualization" of the A-bomb experience.

At a panel discussion in 1975, Mr. Kamata, who served as the association's editor, said, "The atomic bombings are viewed as the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not as shared experiences of the Japanese people. That is because the war and the atomic bombing experience have not been integrated. The problem lies in an awareness of and pursuit of responsibility for the war. As a result, if we don't point up the reality of the atomic bombings, our activities will be limited to only certain people." The attempt to consider the atomic bombing experience from the standpoint of foreign victims was also carried out with an awareness of "conceptualization."

Masahito Hirose, 80, a former high school teacher, was the group's first executive director and is now one of its chairmen. He said he has always understood the meaning of "conceptualization" this way: "By writing about and recounting their experiences, the A-bomb survivors commit themselves to the anti-nuclear movement."

Dr. Akizuki told Mr. Hirose, "We must gather accounts of the experiences of everyone who was in Nagasaki when the atomic bomb was dropped so that the whole picture of the disaster caused by the atomic bombing can be revealed, like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.” This is what the movement to gather testimonies is all about.

When gathering testimonies, Mr. Hirose found that many people were reluctant to participate, saying that their experiences were of little significance. When that happened, he described the jigsaw puzzle concept to them and persuaded them to take part, saying, "Your experience is valuable to the people of the world. Your testimony is essential to ensure that this tragic history is never repeated." Recounting and recording even the slightest experience is part of "conceptualization," he says.

The testimonies that have been compiled over the years have generated new citizens' movements.

Each meeting of the Nagasaki Global Citizens' Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, which was launched in 2000, is attended by more than 3,000 people from Japan and abroad. The gatherings are held about once every three years. They are also part of the peace education movement of the citizens of Nagasaki.

In 1998 the High School Student Peace Ambassador program was begun in order to make the voices of the atomic bomb survivors heard at the United Nations. By its third year the movement had expanded to become a campaign to collect 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for a world without nuclear weapons and war. Now the students take between 70,000 and 80,000 signatures to the United Nations Office at Geneva every year.

As a means of passing on, without fail, the desire for the abolition of nuclear weapons to the next generation, the movement to gather testimonies from its atomic bomb survivors has become deeply ingrained in Nagasaki.

Excerpts from an interview with Masahito Hirose, chairman of the Association for Testimonies in Nagasaki

Strengthen and support new movements

You can't talk about the Nagasaki Testimony Association without mentioning Sadao Kamata. Tatsuichiro Akizuki was the association's "face," but it was Mr. Kamata, the editor, who came up with proposals for various projects to promote our cause and who led our efforts.

Mr. Kamata liked to say, "Our cause is non-partisan." Until his death eight years ago he continued to hope for the reintegration of the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs and the Japan Congress Against A-and H-Bombs. And he consistently pursued the "conceptualization" of the A-bomb experience.

What does "conceptualizing" the A-bomb experience mean? It's hard to explain, but it includes urging both A-bomb survivors and people who have had contact with A-bomb survivors and their testimonies to undergo a personal transformation and take action in an effort to bring about the abolition of nuclear weapons. For that reason, Mr. Kamata tried to get an overall grasp of Nagasaki's atomic bombing experience, including the history that led up to what happened on August 9 and how people's lives were transformed afterwards.

When I think about the future of the association, I always ask myself, "If Mr. Kamata were alive, what would he do?"

Mr. Kamata said that he gathered testimonies in order to address the challenge facing humanity of bringing about a 21st century without nuclear weapons or war. As long as the 400 members of our association are living, I would like to continue to record and publish testimonies. In order to do that, we need new people to conduct the interviews and must get younger members into the association.

The gathering of testimonies has been the basis of our efforts in Nagasaki, but fortunately new movements are developing, and members of the Nagasaki Testimony Association are very involved in all of them. I would like to continue to carry out a quality effort to gather testimonies that will strengthen and support these other movements.

(Originally published Oct. 4, 2010)