| Nobuto Hirano, 67, who leads a support group who helps overseas atomic bomb survivors, was exposed to radiation from the 1945 atomic bombing in Nagasaki while he was an unborn child. He was born in 1946. His mother, grandmother and sister are all direct A-bomb victims. Fortunately for a second-generation victim, he has no significant health issue. However, many of his hometown friends died of leukemia when they were teenagers. It was because of such a personal background that he supported Korean A-bomb survivors.
During his visit to South Korea in 1987, Hirano, who was then an elementary school teacher, first met Korean A-bomb survivors who were forced into labor by colonial Japan during World War II before being affected by the bombing. Although he expected to bond with them as A-bomb victims, the Koreans showed their antipathy toward Japan. They complained that even though they became A-bomb victims while during forced labor in Japan during the war, they had not received any medical or financial support from the Japanese government.
Even more than 30 years after the war at that time, Japanese people thought that they were the only A-bomb victims and had no idea about the existence of Korean victims. Hirano saw the Korean survivors living miserable lives, without any support for medical expenses and even without jobs. Hirano became outraged and disappointed by his government, which provided the cause of their sufferings but failed to take any measures to help them. "That was when I made up my mind to help South Korean A-bomb victims," he said.
At first, he launched fund-raising campaigns. He visited Korean survivors` homes in person to deliver the funds raised from his own salaries and donations by people he knew, shedding tears over the destitution they were living in. So far, he has made more than 300 trips to South Korea.
His activities of helping Korean A-bomb survivors then led to their relief through court trials. He wanted to make the Japanese government take the responsibility, partly because there was a limit in private fund-raising. When a Dong-A Ilbo report visited him on June 28, he was busy preparing for a litigation for a Korean victim. The bulletin board on a wall of his office was filled with court schedules.
In early days, Hirano was heavily criticized by other Japanese. Although Japan started the Pacific War, many Japanese thought that they were victims of the war because of the atomic bombings.
"Korean forced laborers and A-bomb victims reminded Japanese of the fact that they were the inflictors," Hirano said. During the early days of his activities, he had so many protesting phone calls that he had to put his phone on automatic answering.
However, his hard work was also rewarding. Continuing his support work for Korean victims for the 27th year in 2013, he said, "I am glad that although most Japanese people are not aware of the existence of Korean forced laborers or Korean A-bomb victims, many citizens at least in Nagasaki now know about it." In addition to supporting litigations, Hirano is working to enhance public awareness in Japan of the existence of Korean forced laborers victimized by the atomic bombing through various memorial events and exchange programs for teenagers.
So far, Hirano helped Korean victims win all of the 40 lawsuits filed individually. Most of them had to go to third trials. He took care of collecting witness testimonies and making courtroom arguments.
Nevertheless, he still has too many things to do. He said that there are many issues to be addressed, including the facts that the Korean victims have to receive expensive treatments in Japan to be able to get the medical expenses covered by the Japanese government and that the scope for recognizing A-bomb victims is so narrow that many of them are not eligible for treatment support.
August 6 and 9 mark the 68th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. It is estimated that 50,000 Korean forced laborers were killed by the bombings, and another 50,000 exposed to radiation. However, there are only about 2,600 people are registered with A-bomb victims` group in Korea. It is believed that most of them have already died and that many of the survivors avoid registration lest their children or grandchildren be discriminated against. The registered victims are still waging legal battles with Seoul and Tokyo over the proposed establishment of a dedicated hospital and compensations.