Legacy of war in Asia

Japan to pay travel costs for nuclear attack ‘storytellers’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 February, 2018, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 February, 2018, 10:34pm

The Japanese government will fund from April the travel costs of storytellers, both within Japan and abroad, who will share the testimonies given by ageing victims of America’s nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The cities, devastated by the 1945 bombings in the final phase of the second world war, began training such storytellers in 2012 and have dispatched them to other areas in Japan with recipient entities covering the costs.

To alleviate the financial burden, the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry has earmarked 30 million yen (US$280,000) in the draft 2018 budget to fund the programme. The government will also conduct English lessons for the messengers before overseas trips.

About 100 people – mostly locals, who have been trained to pass on the experiences of the world’s sole nuclear attacks in war – have been assigned by the two cities to give talks in places such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

According to the two museums, there were some 180 requests in 2016 for talks by atomic bomb storytellers at universities and schools. Around 30 per cent came from outside Hiroshima or Nagasaki prefectures, including Fukushima and Akita in northeastern Japan.

But because of the heavy burden of covering transport and accommodation fees, one local government was forced to give up its plan to receive a storyteller.

Sakuko Sasaki, who will become a Hiroshima “atomic bomb legacy successor” in April, said: “I want to inherit the activities of the atomic bomb victims, who have continued to share [their experiences] with the next generations while suffering [at the same time].”

“I am determined to go anywhere if I am requested,” said the 67-year-old.

The National Peace Memorial Halls for the Atomic Bomb Victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki will serve as contact points and receive requests for the storytellers’ dispatch from March 1.

Following the US atomic attack on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, an estimated 140,000 people had died as a result by the end of that year. The second atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later is believed to have killed 74,000 people by the end of the year.

The combined number of hibakusha, people who survived either bombing, stood at 164,621 in March last year. Their average age was 81.4, according to the ministry.