Time to seek cooperation between atomic bomb survivor organizations

by Kenji Namba, Senior Staff Writer

There is a growing movement by victims of air raids in the Pacific War to seek legal redress from the government. The National Air Raid Victims Liaison Council, the first organization of its kind, was founded this summer in order to shatter the government’s notion that war victims must “endure” their hardships and to seek the enactment of a relief law based on government compensation.

Meanwhile the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), which has sought government compensation for A-bomb survivors since its formation, this spring announced a proposal calling for revisions to the current Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law. Cooperation is essential if air raid victims and A-bomb survivors, who are simultaneously seeking government compensation, are to broaden their movement. At the same time this raises questions about the state of atomic bomb survivor organizations, including the two Hidankyo organizations in Hiroshima Prefecture, which remain divided after a split.

Demonstration with air raid victims to seek government compensation

On the chilly afternoon of October 24, A-bomb survivors residing in Tokyo and family members of Tokyo air raid victims gathered under cloudy skies for a one-hour march in the vicinity of Sensoji Temple, a popular tourist spot in Asakusa. The group of more than 100 called for government compensation under the slogan “Compensation for all war victims and their families.”

This marked the fifth year of the “Asakusa Walk,” which began in 2006. It is jointly sponsored by the Tokyo Air Raid Bereaved Families Association, the Tokyo Federation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Toyukai) and Peace Ring, a citizens’ group.

“This year was a little different,” said Tadahito Yamamoto, 38, director of Peace Ring. “Until last year the A-bomb survivors had focused their efforts on a class action lawsuit for recognizing people as sufferers of radiation sickness. But this year they called for revisions to the current law that will provide for government compensation. The air raid victims also created a nationwide organization and have said they will seek the enactment of a relief law. The walk started out as a loose-knit collaboration, but this year it seemed like the groups joined forces at the top level.”

Just after the air raid victims’ liaison council was formed, the Toyukai decided to join it. Their idea was that both groups could work together to bring about the relief laws each group seeks by exchanging views with members of the Diet and experts as well as in other ways.

Prospect for international organization remote

But this kind of cooperation is seldom seen outside of Tokyo. The Kure Sensai o Kiroku Suru Kai, an organization dedicated to recording the history of the air raid on Kure, is one of 22 member groups of the National Air Raid Victims Liaison Council (as of November 1). Kunio Asakura, 74, the organization’s president, has high hopes for the national group’s efforts. “We still don’t know much about Kure’s war victims. If the movement proceeds at a nationwide level, a survey will be conducted, and that will give victims a chance to come forward.”

Mr. Asakura has had frustrating experiences concerning cooperation with A-bomb survivors. In 1984 the 14th nationwide gathering for members of liaison councils dedicated to recording air raid and war experiences was held in Kure. Mr. Asakura recalled that representatives of atomic bomb survivor organizations in Hiroshima Prefecture were asked to serve on the organizing committee and participate in other ways, but none agreed to do so.

Keisaburo Toyonaga, 74, has been involved in the effort in Hiroshima to provide relief for A-bomb survivors living overseas. About 20 years ago he attended a gathering of war victims from all over Japan. He was the only A-bomb survivor there.

He has other unhappy memories. In 1978 the Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of Son Jin Doo, who immigrated to Japan illegally from Korea and was exposed to the atomic bombing. The Supreme Court ruling in 1978 on the Atomic Bomb Medical Relief Law in effect at the time stated the law was based on the principle of government compensation. “Atomic bomb survivor organizations didn’t take any major action against the government at that time,” Mr. Toyonaga said. “I don’t think they thought the ruling applied to them.”

“The atomic bomb survivors’ organizations must be more open,” he added. “I’d like them to throw open their doors to survivors in Korea, the United States, and Brazil as well.”

Hiroshima Prefecture: 50 years since split, efforts to seek alliance

There are two atomic bomb survivor organizations with the same name in Hiroshima. One, called the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization in English, is led by Sunao Tsuboi, chairman. The other, the Hiroshima Council of A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, is under the leadership of Kazushi Kaneko, chairman. Both are referred to as “Hidankyo” in Japanese and are differentiated by referring to them as the “Tsuboi Hidankyo” and the “Kaneko Hidankyo.”

The two groups were originally one but split in 1964 when the nationwide ban-the-bomb movement divided into the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs and the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs. Nearly 50 years have passed since then.

Some people feel it is more important to focus on how the younger generation can carry on the mission of the A-bomb survivors rather than reuniting the two organizations, while others say that the two groups should work together when they can and build on those efforts.

Hiromi Hasai, 79, a professor emeritus at Hiroshima University who has conducted research on the effects of the atomic bomb’s radiation, said, “If there are constraints, they can unite after the younger generation takes over from the current officers.”

The 200-member Association of Atomic Bomb Sufferers of the Hiroshima Medical Cooperative Society, which was formed in 1966, is not affiliated with either of the Hidankyo organizations in Hiroshima Prefecture. It subscribes to the newsletter of the Nihon Hidankyo and engages in various activities, including collaboration with an organization of A-bomb survivors in South Korea. Hiroshi Maruya, 85, president of the organization, said, “Our feeling is we would like to join Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo if the two prefectural organizations unite.”

In Nagasaki as well, the Nagasaki Prefecture Association for Friends of Registered Hibakusha split off from the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council, which was founded in 1956. Some members later left the new organization to form the Nagasaki Prefecture Fraternity for Friends of Registered Hibakusha. But these three organizations and two others – the Association of Bereaved Families of Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Victims and the A-bomb Sufferers Federation, Nagasaki Peace Movement Center – now cooperate in most efforts.

This collaboration came about three years ago with the formulation of a government plan to protect citizens. A-bomb survivors objected to the preparation of a plan for evacuation in the event of the use of nuclear weapons and worked together to prevent the City of Nagasaki from adopting it. Since then documents protesting nuclear tests are signed by all of the organizations, and they also formed a coalition to oppose a pluthermal power generation plant in neighboring Saga Prefecture.

Hirotami Yamada, 79, secretary-general of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council, said, “The five organizations don’t feel as much of a barrier between them as they used to, and there’s no more discomfort.” He said this is partly because for the past 10 years many citizens’ groups and ban-the-bomb organizations have worked with atomic bomb survivor organizations to jointly conduct the Nagasaki Global Citizens' Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

nterview with Terumi Tanaka, secretary general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations

Obstacles to creation of “Global Hidankyo” remain

The Chugoku Shimbun asked Terumi Tanaka, 78, secretary general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), about the state of atomic bomb survivor organizations and about collaboration with survivors overseas. The following are excerpts from the interview.

Around 1985 I talked to representatives of the two prefectural Hidankyo organizations in Hiroshima and asked them if they couldn’t manage to get together somehow. One had a prefecture-wide organization while the other was a dynamic group with many activists primarily based in the city of Hiroshima, and I pointed out that if they united they could be very effective.

But people who are familiar with what happened at the time of the split have their own ideas, and it’s difficult to change them. One side says, “Those people left the organization. They have to apologize first.” Meanwhile the other side says, “Their policies were wrong. It’s ridiculous to expect us to apologize.”

But there’s no denying that membership in these organizations will dwindle as the A-bomb survivors get older. So I suggest that rather than “get together” they “work together.” They have collaborated on the class action lawsuit seeking recognition for sufferers of A-bomb diseases, on submitting demands to the government and in other areas, but they have conducted their own sit-ins against nuclear tests and sent separate representatives to the review conferences for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. As the representative of the Nihon Hidankyo, I’d like to see to it that they can work together and ask them to do so.

We have also worked with organizations for A-bomb survivors outside Japan, including those in South Korea, the U.S. and Brazil. But Nihon Hidankyo is an organization for survivors in Japan. Our bylaws would have to be changed in order to admit those living overseas.

In relation to the concept of a “Global Hidankyo” that many people have called for, Nihon Hidankyo has promoted collaboration with a variety of victims of radiation around the world, such as atomic soldiers and victims of nuclear testing. About 20 years ago we called for an international petition drive and submitted a joint request to the United Nations.

But the organizations for the radiation victims living overseas have various demands that don’t necessarily include calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. So it would not be easy to create a “Global Hidankyo.” It might work to have these people join on an individual basis and then form a group.

But we need young people in order to start an effort like that. We must create an organization that makes young people think they would like to participate in our activities. That’s another reason the Hiroshima Hidankyo organizations need to unite.


The concept of “endurance” is rooted in the notion that the sacrifices made by Japan’s citizens as a result of the war, including the atomic bombings, must be borne equally by all. This concept was included in a report issued in 1980 by the Conference for Fundamental Problems of Measures for the Victims of the Atomic Bombs (Kihon-kon), a private advisory body to the Minister of Health and Welfare (now Health, Labor and Welfare), and the Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law, which was enacted in 1994, does not stipulate that the relief provided under the law is based on government compensation. This is cited as the basis for the lack of government compensation for ordinary war victims, including victims of air raids. The exception is military personnel and civilian employees of the military who have received pensions and other forms of aid from the government.

(Originally published Nov. 8, 2010)

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