Hiroshima, Nagasaki Survivors’ Fear Lingers
Kanji Kuramoto, his voice cracking with emotion, recalled his frantic search through the rubble of Hiroshima 44 years ago for his missing father.
At his side sat nearly a dozen Japanese and American doctors, all assembled in San Francisco to administer the latest round of medical checkups to people who survived the atomic bomb blasts that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
No one in the room stirred as Kuramoto, 63, related his story. His father was never found.
Kuramoto--born in the United States 19 years earlier--was in Kyoto on Aug. 6, 1945 when the bomb was dropped.
Rushing back to Hiroshima, young Kuramoto witnessed the worst horror of his life--the remains of a devastated city, the bodies of the thousands killed in the blast and the wounds of those who survived.
Contaminated by Radiation
Kuramoto spent weeks in Hiroshima, trying to put his life in order. In the process he became contaminated by radiation.
Today, he is one of an estimated 1,000 hibakusha --or survivors of the bombings--living in the United States.
None of them gets any aid from the U.S. government, but doctors from Japan have traveled to the United States every other year since 1977 to give them free medical examinations and offer medical treatment in Japan.
Kuramoto told the doctors at a news conference recently at UC San Francisco Medical Center that he had been healthy until January, when he suddenly felt weak and started gaining weight.
“I thought I was having a heart attack, but my doctor examined me and told me something was wrong with my kidneys,” he said.
Invited by Japanese for Exam
In April, he was invited by a doctors’ association in Japan to undergo further testing at the Hiroshima University Hospital. At the end of a four-week stay, he was told not only that his heart was weak, but he was suffering kidney problems.
Returning to California, he retired early from his job as a state engineer.
“While I was in the hospital, I don’t know why, but I had nightmares in which I relived the horrors of the bomb,” he said. “I saw the bloody struggle of life and death and heard the cries for help and water.”
He woke up in a sweat, he said.
“It was just a dream this time, but we hibakusha who are still alive today must keep reminding the world that the nightmare must never, ever happen again,” Kuramoto said.
Kuramoto says he and other hibakusha live in constant fear of getting sick and slowly dying of radiation-related diseases.
Kuramoto, president of the Committee of Atomic Bomb Survivors in the USA, said American bomb survivors have been trying for 17 years to get assistance from Washington for their medical expenses.
In the meantime, they look to Japan, which has provided free medical care since 1956 for all hibakusha residing in Japan.
For the last 11 years, any survivor of the bombings who travels to Japan can get a diagnosis and treatment there. Japan spends about $500 million a year for the care and welfare of its hibakusha.
Dr. Katsumi Hirata, who headed a team of nine Japanese doctors and medical specialists on their latest trip to the United States, said the examinations were offered to foreign hibakusha for humanitarian reasons.
In addition to the United States, Japanese doctors travel every year to South Korea and less frequently to five South American countries. There are an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 atomic bomb survivors in Korea and about 200 to 300 in South America.
More than half of the American hibakusha were teen-agers who were visiting relatives or going to school in Japan when World War II began. Some of the remainder are Japanese women who married U.S. soldiers.
Hirata said the Japanese doctors, besides offering their expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of radiation-related ailments, give the foreign survivors psychological support.
“Psychological counseling plays a significant role,” he said.
Doctors said medical problems of the bombing survivors are still surfacing. Most hibakusha are already known to be suffering from stomach ulcers, liver and heart disease, thyroid problems, gynecological disorders and diabetes.