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It must never be forgotten

It must never be forgotten

August 31, 2017

VOX POPULI: A-bomb survivor Taniguchi led a life of pain, but it was not in vain




Sumiteru Taniguchi, a Nagasaki hibakusha (A-bomb survivor), weighed himself every night. Even a slight weight gain had the effect of pulling and ripping the skin on his back, causing excruciating pain. He constantly strove not to gain more than three kilos, according to "Ikiteiru Kagiri Katari Tsuzukeru" (I will keep speaking as long as I am alive), a picture book about Taniguchi by Ai Tatebayashi.


In managing his health, his indispensable partner was his wife, Eiko, until her death in spring 2016.


Every night, Eiko applied an ointment and moisturizer on his back. But he suffered greatly from tumors that kept growing. "It felt like sleeping on a mattress sprinkled with stones," Taniguchi recalled. "The pain kept me awake."


Totally devoted as Eiko was to her husband, she sobbed when she saw his mangled back for the first time. She knew nothing of the reality of the effects of radiation exposure from the atomic bombing. Realizing her husband could not stay alive without her constant support, she committed herself to caring for him.


Taniguchi, who became a vocal activist for a treaty banning nuclear weapons, died on Aug. 30. He was 88.


He was 16 years old when the city of Nagasaki was leveled by atomic bombing on Aug. 9, 1945. He joined an anti-nuclear movement early on, but preferred to remain in the background, refusing to be treated like a freak show specimen.


But he had a change of heart at age 41, when he discovered that he was the boy in a harrowing picture taken by a U.S. research team at the onset of the postwar Allied occupation of Japan. The boy is shown lying prone with vacant eyes, his entire back burned raw and scarlet.


Taniguchi resolved to devote his life to testifying to the horror of nuclear weapons.

Seven years ago, he gave a speech at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, holding up that famous picture that shows his "Akai senaka" (Scarlet back): "I am not a guinea pig, nor am I an exhibit. But you who are here today, please don’t turn your eyes away from me. Please look at me again.”


The photo aroused controversy in Japan as well as abroad. One exhibition was canceled because the image was deemed too graphic and disturbing.


Had Taniguchi himself not begged people to not avert their eyes, the picture probably would have been seen by many fewer people.


Once seen, Taniguchi's back simply cannot be unseen. And it must never be forgotten.

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