Groups of A-bomb survivors forced to disband, while efforts are made to convey A-bomb experiences to future generations

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

The number of people who hold the Atomic Bomb Survivor’s Certificate now stands at less than 200,000. This means that those with direct experience of the atomic bombing are aging and dying. Some survivors’ groups in Hiroshima Prefecture, after spearheading campaigns to urge the Japanese government to improve relief measures for A-bomb survivors and call for the abolition of nuclear arms, are disbanding. At the same time, with anxiety over the future growing, there is a surge in efforts to convey the memories of the atomic bombing.

The Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi, held a general meeting in downtown Hiroshima on May 27. According to the group’s executive office, some members from areas with a high percentage of senior citizens say they have no choice but to disband their groups.

The Kochi Atomic Bomb Survivors Association, located in the city of Higashihiroshima, dissolved last August. The group once had more than 500 members, but the number dropped to 200. An 83-year-old man, a former officer of the group, said, “If a group has no active members, you can’t keep it going.” He added that, with the decline in their membership, they could no longer afford to offer condolence money for members who pass away.

The survivors association in Saijo, Shobara, in northern Hiroshima Prefecture, now stands at a crossroads. The association in the Tojo area in the same city has already disbanded. Atsushi Takeshita, 83, chairperson of the Saijo association, is taking care of his hospitalized wife. “I hope our association will continue to exist, but I wonder whether it will endure until next year,” he said.

The other group bearing the same name, the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organization, chaired by Kazushi Kaneko, shares the same problem. The number of registered survivors who can share their experiences with citizens or students on school trips has dropped by half, to 13, over the past 20 years. It can now be a challenge finding survivors to share their A-bomb accounts. Kazuo Okoshi, 74, secretary general of the group, said, “We can’t swim against the tide of the times. We have to have second-generation survivors take over the main role in our movement.” Almost half of its board members were born after the war.

More than 250,000 people, including students and tourists, listen to testimonies by survivors each year. In fiscal 2012, the City of Hiroshima launched a program to train a group of people who can convey A-bomb experiences in the place of A-bomb survivors. A total of 162 people in the first and second cohorts are now undertaking their training. An official at the city’s Peace Promotion Division said that the city has a responsibility to continue conveying the survivors’ experiences and their desire for peace in the future. Members of the first training group will begin offering A-bomb accounts in the spring of next year, the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing.

(Originally published on May 28, 2014)