Stain of Japan's black rain lingers 70 years on

Some Japanese are still battling for recognition that they are Hibakusha, or were affected the by atomic bombings.


    This week, Japan marks 70 years since it became the first and still only nation to be the victim of a nuclear attack - the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    That moment - a little after 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945 - will be marked at the same time this Thursday in a ceremony in the city, led by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

    Many survivors will be present. Others, as in years past, will prefer quieter, personal ceremonies of remembrance away from the crowds.

    My friends died without receiving any help. I must carry their feelings inside me and fight on in court.

    Hidenori Yamamoto, Nagasaki survivor

    But there is a group for whom this is not only a day to look back on past traumas. For them, it will also be another day in a continuing battle for recognition.

    Masaaki Takano is an energetic 77-year-old who moves with the strength of a man 20 years younger.

    He still farms his family land in the hills above Hiroshima, harvesting cucumbers and aubergines by hand, offering the plants a cheery "thank you" as he snips.

    On the day of the attack he was seven. He remembers an intense light in the sky and then the sound of a blast emanating from the city.

    Hours later, he says, came a snowfall like no other. Fragments of paper, banknotes and ash - and then a heavy downpour of black rain.

    "The rain felt greasy," he says.

    "We were wearing short sleeves and short pants. We were soaked in black. The taro roots glistened like oil. It rained so hard."

    Class action

    But Japan's health ministry doesn't accept Takano's story. His village lies outside the government-defined zone in which radioactive black rain is acknowledged to have fallen.

    RELATED: The day Hiroshima turned into hell

    He and nearly a hundred others have launched a class action lawsuit to challenge that position in court. Some are seeking help with medical expenses, incurred by diseases they believe have their roots in radioactive exposure.

    Takano says for him, it is about official acceptance that what he and his friends remember actually happened.

    "With everyone's effort, I hope we can make the truth be recognised. That is my wish."

    News special: Hiroshima 70 years on

    There are about 183,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still alive today. They're known as Hibakusha.

    Government aid for a certified A-bomb related illness stands at just over $1,100 a month.

    To stand a chance of getting that, a patient needs to prove a medical link, and carry official Hibakusha status.

    That means having been, either as an adult, a child or a foetus, within 2km of the blast zone during a period of two weeks from the Hiroshima or Nagasaki explosions, at close quarters with at least 10 irradiated survivors or in an officially designated radioactive fallout zone.

    Campaigners like Takano see these distinctions as arbitrary, rather than scientific.

    For the government, such rules are necessary, given the difficulty of proving levels of exposure in 1945, let alone links with the kinds of illnesses that can be associated with old age as much as radiation.

    What it means, all too often, is that elderly people in failing health are fighting on two fronts - to beat their disease and to prove its cause.

    Nagasaki wounds

    Hidenori Yamamoto survived Nagasaki. Now living in Tokyo, he swears by regular acupuncture to ease stiffened joints and speed the healing of the surgical scars that line his 82-year-old body.

    "She's very modest, but she's very good," he says fondly, nodding towards his doctor. "She was a star even in medical school."

    In recent years Yamamoto has battled back from stomach and intestinal cancer. He lost a court case trying to prove a link to the bombing, only for that decision to be overturned in his favour when the rules defining such links changed.

    This year he has had cardiac surgery after serious heart and circulatory problems. And he is back in court aiming to prove that these too stemmed from his exposure to Nagasaki radiation.

    "I cannot silently watch my friends from elementary school die one after the other," he says.

    "My friends died without receiving any help. I must carry their feelings inside me and fight on in court."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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