Aug 31, 2017
NAGASAKI - Sumiteru Taniguchi, an influential survivor of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki known for a picture showing his severe back burns scarlet in color, died of duodenal papilla cancer Wednesday, an A-bomb survivors' council said. He was 88.
Taniguchi, one of the chairpersons of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, barely escaped death in the Aug. 9, 1945 atomic bombing in the southwestern Japan city and stood at the forefront of antinuclear campaigning.
He testified to the horror of nuclear weapons, not only by recalling his memories of the atomic bombing three days after the Hiroshima attack but through his body that bore deep scars from the burns he suffered.
At age 16, Taniguchi was delivering mail in Nagasaki as a postal worker when the atomic bomb exploded 1.8 kilometers away. As he tried to stand up, he noticed the skin on his left arm was hanging loose like a rag. His back was no longer covered with clothes and he felt his skin sliding off like slime.
Taniguchi spent a year and nine months lying on his stomach in a hospital, close to death because of the severe burns. The flesh on his chest became rotten from bedsores.
The pain was so severe that he repeatedly yelled out "Kill me," he recalled. The survivor also remembered doctors and nurses often whispering to each other in surprise that he was still alive.
A U.S. military motion picture film of him taken during hospitalization and released by media in 1970 made him known worldwide. The color photo from the film captured him lying on his stomach in hospital showing his terrible back burns, his skin scarlet.
Discharged from hospital in 1949, Taniguchi started joining other survivors in their push to eliminate nuclear weapons.
He also called for easing requirements to expand eligibility for the government's special medical allowances for sufferers of atomic bomb radiation-related diseases.
Although back pains plagued him even in his daily activities, Taniguchi spoke of his experiences actively, traveling overseas more than 20 times.
In representing atomic bomb survivors, Taniguchi reiterated his call for nuclear abolition at the U.N. review conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2010.
There, he showed the famous picture of himself and called out to the audience, "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."
When a U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons, a long-cherished dream of atomic bomb survivors, was adopted in July this year, Taniguchi said in a video message, "The treaty is useless if each country does not make efforts to abolish nuclear weapons."
"I am worried about what will happen to the world when there are no more atomic bomb survivors," Taniguchi said.
The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are estimated to have killed around 210,000 people by the end of 1945.
Atomic bomb survivors and other acquaintances of Taniguchi in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were saddened by his death.
Sunao Tsuboi, a 92-year-old Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor who is also a chairperson of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, released a comment saying, "I am very disheartened that I have lost a companion with whom I made great efforts (for the abolition of nuclear weapons). I will persevere now with fewer (remaining) people."
Toshiyuki Mimaki, also a Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor who went to New York for an international conference with Taniguchi in 2015, said Taniguchi "has fulfilled his role as a living witness while enduring pain."
"He was a quiet person but he had strong belief about nuclear abolition," Mimaki, 75, said.
Fumie Kakita, senior member of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council, said she visited Taniguchi with her colleague Teruko Yokoyama at his hospital on Tuesday evening. Kakita recalled that Taniguchi nodded repeatedly when Yokoyama called on him to visit the United States together to call for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
"For all the atomic bomb survivors nationwide and for those hoping for peace, Mr. Taniguchi was a big presence," Kakita, 63, said.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, "I pray from the bottom of my heart that his soul may rest in peace."
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