The Life and Activities of an A-Bomb Survivor, Numata Suzuko
Seventy-five years have passed since the horrific nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, and today only few of the A-bomb survivors with vivid memories of the tragedies of the nuclear holocaust are still alive. There are many so-called Hibakusha (A-bomb survivors), but the majority of them were small children at the time of the atomic bombing. Mostly, they entered the cities of Hiroshima & Nagasaki with their parents shorty after the cities were destroyed to search for relatives and friends, so their recollections of the catastrophic destruction is muted.
The following essay is based on the keynote speech (in Japanese) I presented at the memorial gathering in Hiroshima for the late Numata Suzuko, a remarkable A-bomb survivor and peace activist, who passed away in July 2011. Conveying the memories of war tragedy survivors to subsequent generations is a difficult task and those of the A-bomb survivors are no exception. I hope this essay will help you consider how we can keep these memories alive as long as possible in order to create and maintain peace.
Sharing Pain Generates Hope for the Future:
The Life and Activities of an A-Bomb Survivor, Numata Suzuko
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 killed over 230,000 people in total by the end of that year. Among them were about 30,000 Koreans in Hiroshima and 10,000 Koreans in Nagasaki. It is thought that 30,000 Koreans (20,000 in Hiroshima and 10,000 in Nagasaki) survived the nuclear holocaust, and approximately 23,000 of them returned to Korea shortly after the war. The welfare of these people was, however, completely neglected not only by the U.S. government but also by both the Korean and Japanese governments for many years for two main reasons: there was political upheaval in post-war Korea and subsequently during the Korean War which continues to this day; and there was intense social discrimination of A-bomb survivors. As a consequence, these people endured extreme hardships and many perished in despair in the 1950s and ‘60s.
In the early 1970s, a small group of relatively young Japanese A-bomb survivors formed an organization called “Citizens’ Association for Supporting Korean A-bomb Survivors” and started promoting a political campaign demanding that the Japanese government adopt a medical and social welfare scheme for affected Koreans living in Japan as well as Korea.
About ten years later, Numata Suzuko, a woman who lost her right leg as a result of the atomic bombing, joined this group, and quickly became a leading activist. Soon her activities expanded beyond Korean affairs, and started emphasizing Japan’s responsibility as the perpetrator of war atrocities committed against Koreans, Chinese and many other Asians. She also became an iconic figure in a movement that promotes planting seeds from an A-bomb surviving Chinese parasol tree by school children throughout Japan.
This essay closely examines the life and philosophy of this remarkable woman, whose immense influence on many peace activists in Japan as well as many other nations continued until her death in July 2011 at age of 87.
The History of Korean A-bomb Survivors and Their Struggle for Justice
At 8:15am on August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was attacked by the world’s first atomic bombing by the U.S. forces, and at 11:02am on August 9, the same year, Nagasaki became the target of the second atomic bombing. The bomb used on Hiroshima was a uranium type atomic bomb, while that used on Nagasaki was a plutonium type. The atomic bombs annihilated many people in an instant. The victims of the bombs were not only Japanese nationals, but also many Koreans and Chinese who were living and working in Japan, as well as some prisoners of war from the Allied Forces captured by the Japanese military. Tens of thousands of others died soon after the bombs were dropped, due to injuries suffered from the bombs and a lack of medical supplies. By the end of 1945, an estimated 160,000 people had died in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki. Since 1945, scores of thousands of others have died as a result of various after-effects. Many of those who experienced this “hell on earth” also suffered serious physical, social and psychological damage.
Radiation from the atomic bombs damaged genes, which later became the cause of cancer and left various other physical impediments that scientists still do not fully understand. Today, 75 years after the end of the war, new after-effects are still appearing and the survivors and their offspring live in constant fear. It is further thought that damage to health, particularly from radiation, has in some cases been passed on to children and grandchildren. Disfigurement also brought about many forms of anguish and discrimination. Marriage and employment became difficult and life for many became cut off from healthy society. The atomic bombings made it impossible for many surviving hibakusha (A-bomb victims) to live normal lives.
Of the 230,000 people who died by the end of 1945 there were about 30,000 Koreans in Hiroshima and 10,000 in Nagasaki. It is thought that 30,000 Koreans (20,000 in Hiroshima and 10,000 in Nagasaki) survived the nuclear holocaust, approximately 23,000 of whom returned to their homeland shortly after the war. The welfare of these people was, however, completely neglected by both the Korean and Japanese governments for many years. There were two main reasons for this: the political upheaval in post-war Korea and the subsequent war; and the intense social discrimination against Koreans in Japan, and A-bomb survivors both in Korea and Japan.
Korean hibakusha, who returned home after the war, faced two forms of discrimination: physical and attitudinal. Initially, people, including hibakusha themselves, were unaware that exposure to radiation causes various illnesses, including unsightly physical disfiguration. Those returning from Hiroshima and Nagasaki were thought to be suffering from leprosy or other contagious diseases. In addition, Koreans generally regarded their fellow citizens, who had moved to Japan before and during the war and returned after the war, as traitors of the nation, despite the fact that most of them had been forced to migrate to Japan by the Japanese colonial authorities. In particular, children, who were either taken out of Korea before properly acquiring their mother tongue or those who were born in Japan and thus could not speak Korean well, were badly treated by those in their homeland.
Even once they returned home, having lost all their possessions in the atomic bombing, most of them had no means of a livelihood, such as agricultural land or relatives who could help them resettle. Many became day labourers and endured extreme poverty throughout their live. An additional cause for hardship was the Korean War that brought death and destruction in the years 1950-53. For Japan, however, this war ignited an economic boom, which spurred the recovery from the destruction of its national economy and cities. As a result, although many Japanese hibakusha suffered from the same illnesses caused by radiation as well as the difficulties of daily survival, the situation for their Korean fellows was far worse. Indeed, many Koreans endured extreme hardship, while large numbers also perished in despair in the 1950s and ‘60s.
By the mid 1960s, however, some Korean hibakusha in Korea slowly began banding together, and in February 1967, the “Association For the Support of Korean A-Bomb Victims (hereafter AFSKAV)” was established. The main aims of this organization were: to gain medical and financial support from the Korean government; to obtain Japanese government compensation for damage to their health; and to have medical and rehabilitation facilities provided by the Japanese and the US governments. The establishment of this hibakusha organization was in part a reaction to the Japan – Republic of Korea Basic Relations Treaty concluded in 1965, which failed to include any agreement on the compensation for Korean hibakusha. Despite their repeated request to both Japanese and Korean governments in the early 1970s, Korean hibakusha were completely neglected. The Japanese government claimed that all war compensation issues had been settled by the Japan – ROK Basic Relations Treaty, and there was no room for the discussion on Korean hibakushas’ demands.
AFSKAV began with about 800 members in Seoul but quickly grew to 9,362 in 1973 with branch offices in Kiho, Kyongbuk, Hapcheon, Kyungnam, Pusan, and Honam. From October 1975, it embarked on comprehensive surveys of health and living conditions of members, and by 1978 the survey covered 800 people. Based on this record, the Association again submitted demands for compensation to the Japanese government. Yet again these were rejected. The Korean government was also unsympathetic to the plight of its own citizens who were victims of the atomic bombing, as it had an official policy of unconditional support for the U.S. nuclear strategy against North Korea. Between 1963 and 1979, South Korea was under the military regime of President Park Chung-hee. This made it almost impossible for hibakusha to conduct a political campaign as victims of the atomic bomb because of South Korea’s close military alliance with the U.S. Thus, AFSKAV continued mainly as a mutual aid group, although it persisted with its demands for proper compensation from the Japanese government.
In 1968, a year after AFSKAV was established, a small number of Japanese hibakusha, both in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, started a movement to support their Korean fellows. They collected donations and invited some Korean hibakusha for medical treatment at the A-bomb Hospital in Hiroshima. In October that year, “the Japan–Korea Association for the Support of A-bomb Survivors” (hereafter JKASAS) was established in Hiroshima, backed by the National Council for Peace and Against Nuclear Weapons (NCPANW), an organization affiliated with the Democratic Socialist Party. It started promoting a political campaign demanding that the Japanese government adopt a medical and social welfare scheme for their affected Korean counterparts.
Toyonaga Keizaburō and His Contribution to the Movement to Support Korean A-bomb Survivors
In 1971 Toyonaga Keizaburō, a high-school teacher in Hiroshima, was invited, together with eight other Japanese school teachers, to Korea by the Korean government to establish friendship ties with high school teachers in that country. Toyonaga was selected, as he had long been involved in the anti-discrimination movement of Korean and Buraku (untouchable) students in Japanese schools. Among the students in his own school, he found many Koreans who disguised themselves as Japanese by adopting Japanese names in order to avoid discrimination. Through those students, he learned that many of their parents were hibakusha.
Toyonaga was nine years old at the time of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. He was away from his home in the city centre on that day and was therefore not injured. But the following day, he entered the city to search for his mother and three-year-old brother. (His father had died in 1942.) Toyonaga wandered around the city for two days, exposing himself to high levels of radiation. Eventually he found both his mother and brother alive, although his mother’s face and body were severely burnt by the heat caused by the bombing. His brother was uninjured, as his body was covered by his mother as soon as the blast hit them. All three soon started suffering from acute radiation sickness, although all recovered eventually. Despite the family’s struggle to survive poverty in the immediate post-war period, Toyonaga managed to complete university education and gain a teacher’s certificate.
It was this personal background that made Toyonaga interested in meeting Korean counterparts during his trip to Korea. He visited AFSKAV’s head office in Seoul and established a relationship with them. On his return to Hiroshima, he set up “Citizens’ Association for Supporting Korean A-bomb Survivors (hereafter CASKAS),” a nonpartisan civil organization. He recruited many fellow teachers, most of whom were non-hibakusha who shared his philosophy of anti-discrimination. Others who became members of the organization were hibakusha, peace activists and concerned citizens.
As the Democratic Socialist Party increasingly became inactive in the 1970s losing political influence on labour union organizations and other parts of Japanese society, so too, did JKASAS. CASKAS, on the other hand, continued its steady and consistent activities to help Korean hibakusha, despite its small membership. The main focus of its activities was to aid Korean hibakusha who wanted to come from Korea to Hiroshima for medical treatment, by helping them to obtain an hibakusha certificate. The certificate was issued by the city council and officially identified someone as an hibakusha. It was necessary in order to receive free treatment at the A-Bomb Hospital or other hospitals approved by the city council for treatment of hibakusha. Obtaining this approval was a long and arduous administrative process, and thus difficult for Koreans not living in Hiroshima to undertake. (Even today, this process is basically still the same as it was 50 years ago.) If someone failed to obtain a certificate, CASKAS would appeal to the Hiroshima District Court on behalf of the applicant with the help of local lawyers. Over the years, a small group of lawyers also became members of CASKAS and provided pro bono services as a result of many court cases.
In the late 1970s, Toyonaga and other hibakusha from CASKAS joined “The Hiroshima Testimony Club.” This was a group of hibakusha who talked about their personal experiences of the atomic bombing to school children from all over Japan when they were visiting the A-Bomb Museum as part of a peace education program. In 1983, a woman hibakusha, Numata Suzuko, joined the group and quickly became a prominent member. Subsequently, she also joined CASKAS and enthusiastically participated in its activities. Surprisingly, until 1982, she was virtually unknown among hibakusha in Hiroshima, not having taken part in any hibakusha activities or anti-nuclear movements previously.
Numata Suzuko’s Background and Her Ordeal as an A-Bomb Survivor
Numata Suzuko was born on July 30, 1923, in Osaka, the daughter of a journalist. She had a brother, who was seven years older, and a sister, who was one year younger. When she was five years old, her family moved to Hiroshima because of her father’s work. In 1931, when she was in the second year of elementary school, the so-called Manchurian Incident occurred, and Japan embarked on the 15 year long Asia-Pacific War. Suzuko grew up as a “typical schoolgirl” in wartime Japan, receiving a patriarchal and nationalistic education and accepting emperor ideology without question. On July 7, 1937, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident plunged Japan into full-scale war, leading to the occupation of large areas of China, and in December that year Japanese forces entered Nanjing, the capital city, where they committed mass rape and massacre. Shortly after December 12, the day that Nanjing was completely taken over by the Japanese forces, a big celebration parade took place in every major city throughout Japan. Suzuko joyfully participated in the parade in Hiroshima.
In April 1938, the National Mobilization Law was enacted, and from mid July the following year, high school students throughout Japan were periodically sent away to do various types of “labour service.” Suzuko, who was in the fourth year of high school that year, was sent with her classmates to one of the military arsenals in Hiroshima. There she worked removing rust from artillery shells and polishing them. She embraced this hard work enthusiastically, genuinely believing that she was contributing to the war effort. From time to time, the girls also went to Ujina Port, the major naval port of Hiroshima, to send off Japanese soldiers despatched to various battle zones in China, and to wish them success in their military achievements. She was a nationalist with strong loyalty to the nation and its military.
In 1940, Suzuko graduated from senior school and for a while she worked as an assistant for her father. However, her father subsequently became an employee of the Hiroshima office of Japan Communications Bureau, the public corporation responsible for running mail, telephone and telegram services. It also operated a banking and financial service. From April 1942, Suzuko, too, began working as a clerk at the Hiroshima office of Japan Communications Bureau. Her elder brother was working in the banking section, and her younger sister was also working in a different section of this Bureau.
In autumn 1943, Suzuko became engaged to a 27-year old man, the son of a close friend of her father, who lived in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture. They planned to marry in early 1944, but before they were married, her fiancé was drafted into the army and sent overseas in March that year. She hoped he would make a great contribution to Japan’s military, and looked forward to marrying as soon as the war was over. Shortly after the war ended, however, Suzuko received notification that her fiancé had died together with many fellow soldiers when the ship transporting his unit was sunk somewhere in the south Pacific by Allied naval forces.
Early in the morning of August 6, 1945, Suzuko was already in her office in the building of the Hiroshima office of the Japan Communications Bureau. This was a wooden structure built on top of a large four-storied, reinforced concrete building, just 1,300 meters from the epicentre of the atomic bombing. Although her office was on top of the building, Suzuko thought she would be safe if she could get inside the concrete building and get down to the first floor if US bomber planes approached the area. She believed the reinforced concrete building was safer than a bomb-shelter, so she tried to spend as much time as possible in her office, staying there from early morning till late evening.
Having cleaned her office, she went downstairs to the bathroom on the fourth floor of the building to empty a bucket of water. Just as she reached the door of the bathroom, she was suddenly hit by an extremely bright multicolored flash, then blown over by a powerful blast. When she regained consciousness, she found herself covered in rubble and unable to move. No one knows how long she was there, but at some point, she heard the voice of a man asking if anyone was there. She called for help. Eventually, two men cleared the concrete rubble that pinned her down, dragged her out and carried her down to the ground floor and out of the building. The concrete walls were badly damaged by the blast, but the steel frames of the building survived the bombing.
What Suzuko did not know was that the bone in the ankle of her left foot was completely smashed, and her left foot and leg were held together with just a three centimetre-wide strip of skin. It was of course bleeding, but she felt no pain, as both her foot and leg were numb. She was laid down outside the building, together with many severely injured people and dead bodies. Those who were able, tried to care for the injured, despite almost no medical supplies. Soon, her father who had been in the same building, but was uninjured, found her and took her to a hospital.
The hospital was right next to the Hiroshima office of Japan Communications Bureau, and was also run by this Bureau. It was equipped with the best available facilities, but it, too, had been seriously damaged, and many of the doctors and nurses were among the casualties. For three days Suzuko lay on the floor of the ground storey of the hospital, alongside many dying patients, her injured ankle tightly bandaged to prevent bleeding. Finally on the night of August 9, the day Nagasaki was attacked by the atomic bomb, one of the doctors from a medical team from a neighbouring prefecture examined her with a torch. He found that Suzuko’s left leg had gangrene as far up as the knee, and told her and her father that she could be saved only if her leg was amputated. Despite her strong resistance, the following morning her leg was amputated without anaesthetic. The supply of anaesthetics in Hiroshima had been completely exhausted. Suzuko fainted at the start of the operation and when she recovered consciousness she again found herself lying on a dirty floor, surrounded by many seriously injured people, who were groaning or screaming with pain. She also saw many people who had become insane.
Suzuko spent the next year and a half in hospital, during which time her leg was operated on four more times. It was the end of March 1947 when she was finally allowed to go home. Miraculously her family had all survived the atomic bombing, although her younger sister was also injured and hospitalized for a short period. Suzuko, however, had no desire to live any longer. She was deeply depressed and contemplated suicide. Thanks to her family’s compassionate help, in particular her mother’s caring encouragement, she finally overcame her mental crisis. Eventually, she graduated from a teacher’s college and in 1951 became a teacher of home economics at the private Yasuda Girls Senior High School. By then she was 27 years old.
Although Suzuko seemed to regain a normal life as a school teacher, she constantly confronted double social discrimination – discrimination against hibakusha as well as the physically disabled. In 1956, a man, four years younger than her, proposed. Suzuko was willing to marry him, but his parents adamantly opposed the marriage, leading him to commit suicide. This incident made her determined to hide the fact that she was an hibakusha, to concentrate on her work as a teacher, and not to engage in any relationship with men. Such deliberate mental numbing of emotions is common among victims of war tragedies, not only among hibakusha.
However, this method of avoiding personal psychological pain does not solve the problem of anomie. In fact, suppressing one’s emotions like this, leads to breaking off associations with others and ultimately to heightened alienation and the inability to construct or restore relationships.
In 1965, Suzuko was promoted to lecturer in home economics at Yasuda Women’s Junior College, which was established in 1955. In order to obtain tenure as a college teacher she had to gain a higher academic degree. She undertook a graduate course at Hiroshima Prefectural University and specialized in designing clothes for the physically disabled. Through her study and subsequent teaching and research she met many physically disabled people. Undoubtedly, this involvement helped to maintain her humanity, despite her determination to withdraw from society.
After a teaching career that spanned 28 years, Suzuko resigned from Yasuda Women’s College in March 1979, when her elderly mother began to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and required constant care. Caring for an aged and senile mother was extremely difficult for the disabled Suzuko and in May 1980, she moved her mother to an old people’s home. But caring duties did not cease. Each day Suzuko commuted to help care for her mother and assist the staff of the old people’s home. She encountered many other aged hibakusha who were still suffering from illnesses caused by irradiation. She assisted these people too, while caring for her mother, although she had no intention of becoming involved in hibakusha activities.
Numata Suzuko’s “Reformulation” of Her Life By “Reconstituting” Her Existence
On May 10, 1981, Nagai Hideaki, Professor in the Institute of Theoretical Physics of Hiroshima University, visited Suzuko to see a film that he and his fellow activists were planning to screen. The film was shot in Hiroshima by the US Strategic Bombing Survey team in 1946. Nagai and his fellow activists were conducting a movement called “10 Feet Film Purchase,” collecting \3,000 from each contributor, to purchase a 10 foot portion of this film record, which was housed in the US National Archives in Washington D.C. In fact, by this time, they had already purchased 25,000 feet of the film with money collected, but they continued to ask people to donate money for further purchases. (Eventually in February 1982, a film entitled “Ningen o Kaese (Give.Back My Humanity)” was produced by combining many parts of this US film record of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with testimonies of hibakusha. The film won the Blue Ribbon Award at the American Film Festival in 1984.)
In the film, there is a short section in which Suzuko, dressed in a beautiful kimono and sitting in a chair, shows her amputated leg to the camera. It was filmed in March 1946 on the rooftop of the Hiroshima Hospital of the Japan Communications Bureau. At the time, Suzuko felt she could not refuse the request by US Forces to film her. Her mother had persuaded her to wear the kimono that was originally made for her wedding that never took place.
Suzuko was not keen to see the film, but she was curious as to how she looked, so eventually she accepted Nagai’s repeated requests. When she saw the film a few days later, she vividly remembered that an American soldier had asked her, through an interpreter, to take the bandage off the wounded part of her leg. One of the people who came to this screening was Sakamoto Fumiko, who had lost her 15 year-old son and 13 year-old daughter in the atomic bombing. She had managed to overcome her grief by setting up a nursery school called “Senda Hoikuen” shortly after the war. She was also active telling her own tragic experience of the atomic bombing to children who visited Hiroshima on school excursions from all over Japan. Fumiko spoke to Suzuko immediately after the film, saying that the film was proof that Suzuko was a victim of the atomic bombing and that the two of them were destined to live and testify to the carnage of the tragedy. She repeated that this was the case, despite the loss of Suzuko’s leg.
A few days later Suzuko visited Fumiko and learnt more about her life. She was deeply moved by the fact that Fumiko overcame the deep sorrow of losing her children by transforming her grief to a positive energy, aimed at raising as many healthy children as possible through running a nursery school. Seeing her own image in the film taken 36 years before may also have given Suzuko a chance to look back on her life objectively. She suddenly felt she should speak out to testify that she had survived the bombing. Here we can see what Robert Lifton called “re-formulation of oneself by reconstituting one’s existence” – a remarkable transformation of dehumanized victims of war. Suzuko was 57 years old. Although not numerous, there are a few hibakusha like Suzuko who had been silent for many years, and suddenly decided to speak out on behalf of peace and justice.
In May 1982, Suzuko joined a group, which toured the US and Europe screening the film Give Back My Humanity, together with testimonies by a few hibakusha. They visited 14 cites, including New York and London, and travelled to Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Finland, Sweden, England, Canada and the US. The tour was a great success, disseminating information about the horrendous effects of nuclear weapons on human beings and the environment. Suzuko’s contribution was undoubtedly significant. When the group arrived in New York in June, large numbers of anti-nuclear activists were gathering from all over the world, prior to the 2nd Special Session on Disarmament of the United Nations. The film and Suzuko’s speech moved many people, among them Herbert Sussan, one of the film crew of the US Strategic Bombing Survey team which had filmed Suzuko 37 years previously.
After returning from her first overseas trip, Suzuko became actively involved in hibakusha activities. In 1983, she joined “The Hiroshima Testimony Club” and met Toyonaga and his fellow hibakusha, who periodically gave testimonies to children visiting Hiroshima on school excursion. In her talks, she would describe her ordeal in detail. Perhaps because of her physical disability, children were particularly interested in her experience. However, soon she realized that children were simply sympathetic to her disability, and did not truly comprehend what she wished to convey, that is “the importance of life” and “sharing pain” (in other words, internalizing other people’s physical and psychological pain as your own). Suzuko thought these two to be vital elements for constructing a peaceful society.
One day, Suzuko suddenly recalled that a Chinese parasol tree in the courtyard of the Hiroshima office of the Communications Bureau had miraculously survived the intense heat and blast of the atomic bombing. When contemplating suicide shortly after she was released from hospital, Suzuko felt she could see similar elements between the damaged tree with the large black scar in the middle of its trunk and herself. She remembered having felt that the tree was somehow struggling to live despite the heavy damage. She later arranged for this tree to be transplanted to a site just behind the A-bomb Museum in Hiroshima Peace Park. She chose this place to talk to children about her experiences.
Suzuko decided to use this tree that had survived as a symbol of the “restoration of life” and “pain sharing” in her talks. By juxtaposing her personal ordeal and the tree that had survived, her message assumed a symbolic form, conveying a profound humanity on a universal level. Children and teachers were deeply moved by her talks and she became a heroine among school children throughout Japan. Suzuko began to give seeds from this tree that had survived to children visiting Hiroshima to disseminate her message throughout Japan. Later, other visitors from various countries in the world were the recipients of these seeds. Soon the Hiroshima City Council and other civil organizations adopted the custom of giving seeds from offspring of this tree. As a result, tens of thousands of Chinese parasol trees are growing in school-yards, parks, temples and private gardens throughout Japan as a symbol of peace.
Suzuko joined CASKAS in 1983, and visited Korea for the first time in 1985. In March that year, a group of eight hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, led by the late Professor Kamata Sadao of the Nagasaki Institute of Applied Science, conducted a study tour to Korea to investigate the living and health conditions of Korean hibakusha. They met some 200 people and recorded interviews with 130. As a member of this group, Suzuko spent eight days, interviewing 24 Korean hibakusha in Seoul, Pyongtaek, Daegu, Hapcheon and Busan. It was an eye-opening experience as she had been totally ignorant of the situation of her Korean counterparts. On her return to Japan, she began serious study of the history of Japan’s colonization of Korea, trying to understand the problems that Korean fellow hibakusha were facing in historical context. In 1989, Toyonaga established “The Association for Interchange between Japanese and Korean Hibakusha” (AIJKH) in order to further augment and strengthen the friendship between the two groups. He organized a tour of Japanese hibakusha to Korea and Suzuko again joined the group, making more friends among those she met. She continued her activities as a member of CASKAS and AIJKH, working to support the Korean hibaksuha movement in its efforts to gain full recognition for victims of the atomic bombing by the Japanese government.
In August 1988, Suzuko joined another civil organization, “The Citizens’ Association for Linking Hiroshima and Okinawa,” and travelled there for the first time with its members. Again she realized how little she knew about the history of this part of Okinawa and that 94,000 people, in fact a quarter of the civilians, were killed during the Battle of Okinawa. Among them was a group of 222 young students known as the “Himeyuri Students” (Lily Corps), along with 18 teachers from Okinawa Daiichi Women’s High School and Okinawa Teachers College, who had been mobilized as military nurses. Because she herself was a teacher of young girls for many years, Suzuko was particularly concerned about their victimization in war. She returned to Okinawa many times after this first visit to learn more about what had happened during this fiercest battle in the Pacific. She wanted to know how people confronted different problems, both during and after the war, when much of Okinawa was occupied by US military forces. As a result of her many visits, she again made numerous friends there, particularly among young girls who respected Suzuko’s strong commitment to peace and justice.
In the six years since coming out as an hibakusha, Suzuko’s life had changed dramatically. She had travelled extensively both inside and outside Japan meeting many people. She had learnt much about other victims of war and had studied the contemporary history of her country, in particular the history of its colonialism and the Asia Pacific War. She was now 65 years old.
Extending Her Moral Imagination to Universal Humanity
Suzuko had another significant experience in August 1988, shortly after her return from Okinawa. On August 15, Commemoration Day for the End of the Asia Pacific War, she participated in a conference organized by a civil group in Osaka known as “The Association for the Concern of War Victims in the Asia Pacific.” Here, she heard speeches by five Malaysians who had survived massacre by Japanese military troops in early 1942. The massacre took place in various parts of the Malay Peninsula immediately after Japanese forces invaded and took Singapore. The victims were mainly Chinese Malaysians, and it is thought that 100,000 people were killed in just one month. The five men invited to Osaka were survivors of a massacre of 4,000 people that the Japanese troops committed in the Negeri Sembilam State. They all lost close kin. Suzuko was shocked to learn that some of the Japanese troops that participated in this massacre were soldiers from the 11th Infantry Regiment of the 5th Division, whose headquarters was in Hiroshima.
Hearing the stories of these Chinese Malaysians, Suzuko found herself viewing the Asia Pacific War from a different point of view. Until then, she had always considered it from the viewpoint of a victim of military violence. Indeed, her friendships with Korean hibaksusha and Okinawans were based on a shared recognition of themselves as war victims like her. Suddenly, she was forced to consider the war from the viewpoint of the perpetrators of war atrocities. Suzuko had never imagined that she also shared responsibility for the war crimes committed by Japan against Asian peoples. She recalled her feelings during the war – her strong commitment to the war effort while working at the military arsenal and her hope that her fiancé would perform well as a soldier. She came to understand that war makes every one a victim as well as an assailant. She felt that she needed to comprehend this duality of war when talking about “sharing pain” with others. Undoubtedly Suzuko's physical disability and the discrimination she suffered as an hibakusha helped her considerably to understand the pain of others and consequently to develop her concept of “pain sharing.”
Between late March and early April 1989, Suzuko made a study tour to Malaysia with her friend Yoshino Makoto, a fine arts teacher, and his wife. During this trip she met and interviewed many more survivors and people who had lost relatives in the massacre. She offered her sincere apologies as a Japanese citizen, while hardly talking about her own experience as a survivor of the atomic bombing. Again, she made many friends in Malaysia, and these people in turn showed concern for Suzuko’s disability, eventually discovering her hibakusha background.
Through this powerful experience, Suzuko’s ideas about “pain sharing” deepened, extending her moral imagination beyond that of herself as war victim to include other victims, due to her strong sense of responsibility as a citizen of the assailant nation. Yet, the focal point was always the pain suffered by victims. Based on this new idea, in July 1991, she led a group of 10 people from Hiroshima to visit Chongqing to participate in the memorial service for the victims of the Chongqing bombing conducted by Japanese forces during the Asia Pacific War. The Japanese Imperial Navy engaged in the first indiscriminate bombing in the Asia-Pacific region with the January 1932 attack on civilians on Shanghai. Thereafter, Japanese bombers targeted civilians in Nanjing, Wuhan, Chongqing and other cities. Chongqing, in particular, was targeted as the Nationalist Chinese capital after the fall of Nanjing in 1937. There were more than 200 air raids over three years starting at the end of 1938. The death toll reached 12,000. Suzuko was the first, and as yet probably the only, hibakusha to participate in this memorial service. She met victims of the Japanese bombing and offered a public apology as a Japanese citizen.
In any war, it is almost inevitable that the “enemy’s faces” are dehumanized, as too are those of the enemy’s civilian population, even though these people are similar to those of one’s own country. In order to prevent the dehumanization of citizens of any country and thereby reduce acts of violence and terrorism worldwide, it is most important for each of us to examine such acts from the victims’ viewpoint. To comprehend the problems of violence in the eyes of victims, one must listen to the individual stories to interpret and internalize their psychological pain. As Suzuko powerfully demonstrated through her own activities, “sharing memories” in the true sense becomes possible only through this process of re-living and internalizing the pain of others. By focusing attention on these personal stories, the scope for “sharing memories” begins to widen, as they force one to think about the fundamental question of universal humanity.
Suzuko continued to travel throughout Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa, as well as to many overseas countries throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. She conducted public lectures and met many people in each place she visited, and particularly enjoyed interacting with children. In her speeches she always emphasized the restoration of life, the sharing of pain and the creation of hope as the vital elements for peace. Suzuko passed away on July 12, 2011. Yet, her philosophy of peace and justice has been implanted in the minds of many children and adults, just as the Chinese umbrella trees grow throughout Japan and in many other countries.
The meaningful human ties that people like Numata Suzuko and Toyonaga Keizaburō have established and nurtured from a grass-roots level with Korean, Chinese, Malaysian, Okinawan and other peoples cannot easily be destroyed by politicians like Japan’s prime minister Abe Shinzo, who view international relations purely from the perspective of power politics.
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沼田さんは、自分の証言活動を通して多くの人と出会い、「痛み」を分かち合うことで感動し合い、そこに新しい人間関係を発見し、その新しい人間関係から希望のある行動を共に出発させることで、世界の多くの人々と親交を深めました。沼田さん自身がしばしば述べたように、「出会い — 感動 — 発見 — 出発」が、沼田さんのモットーの一つでした。
その意味で、沼田さんの証言・平和活動は、今後の私たち広島市民の反核・反原発・平和運動にとってのモデルを提供しています。新しい人との「出会い — 感動 — 発見 — 出発」を通して、さらには「痛みの共有」、「命の再生」、「希望の創造」に努力することで、平和の絆は必ず広がっていくはずです。
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