By Ryan Masaaki Yokota
CHICAGO – I remember quite vividly the televised news of the 2011 earthquake that hit the Tohoku region. Like most of the world, I watched in horror at the destructive force of the tsunami that swept away whole regions of the Japanese coast.
My first thoughts went to relatives in Fukushima City some distance away, whom I had been able to reconnect with just the previous year. Yet, when news came of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant’s reactor meltdowns, I was struck with an even deeper sense of sorrow arising from personal outrage that, once again on Japanese soil, a new generation of hibakusha had been born.
It may be surprising to many people that there are in fact two major categories of “hibakusha” and this is a subtlety that is not captured in the English use of the word. Typically when one hears the word hibakusha in English, one thinks of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II and those people, such as my own paternal grandparents, who survived the nuclear bomb blasts.
However, when written in kanji, slightly different combinations are used depending on whether one is a survivor of nuclear weapon blasts or whether one is a survivor of exposure to nuclear radiation. I think that it is important for us to bear this distinction in mind so that we can begin to open up our definition to be more inclusive of survivors of the effects of both nuclear weapons and nuclear radiation.
In sum, we must make our “No More Hibakusha!” appeal more comprehensive in our approach not only to nuclear weapons but also to our opposition to nuclear power plants, which continue to create new hibakusha. It is my opinion that the very future of our standing as a human race depends on how we address these critical questions today.