'wish To Atone': Hiroshima Doctor Carries On Father's Legacy Of Treating Korean Hibakusha

'Wish to atone': Hiroshima doctor carries on father's legacy of treating Korean hibakushaAs Japan and South Korea marked 50 years of normalized diplomatic relations on June 22, one doctor continues to quietly undertake work involving the two countries that his father began over 40 years ago: bringing Korean hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) to Hiroshima, and treating them free of charge in an effort aimed at historical atonement.

The doctor, Yuzuru Kawamura, 71, is carrying on the legacy of his father Torataro, who passed away in 1987 at the age of 73. Torataro was born in Korea, where he graduated from the faculty of medicine at the former Keijo Imperial University. He returned to Japan after World War II, opening an internal medicine clinic in the city of Hiroshima near the Atomic Bomb Dome.

Attending a symposium in Hiroshima in 1968, Torataro learned about the distress suffered by Korean hibakusha who had returned to their home country after the war. He later traveled to South Korea as part of a delegation of doctors, where it came to his attention that there were A-bomb survivors who were suffering with conditions such as anemia in conjunction with their exposure to the atomic bombing -- but were too impoverished to seek medical treatment.

Because the Japanese government's position at the time was that the matter of financial compensation for Korean hibakusha had already been resolved through the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea that was signed in 1965, Torataro began treating the patients himself -- paying their travel expenses to Japan out of his own pocket.

"I was born in Korea as an invader," Torataro once told Yuzuru's wife Sumiko. "I am doing this (treating the Korean hibakusha) because I wish to atone for the fact that I did not understand the suffering that Koreans were enduring."

Following subsequent negotiations that took place between the Japanese and South Korean governments, Korean hibakusha began traveling to Japan to receive medical treatment in 1981. Their period of hospitalization was limited to a maximum of two months, however, and in response to requests for follow-up care, Torataro established in 1984 what was known as the Hiroshima Committee to Invite Korean A-bomb Survivors to Japan for Medical Treatment. After this initial program concluded in 1986, he continued to provide private medical treatment utilizing donations received from citizens.

Torataro's style included carefully listening to his patients' concerns, prompting one hibakusha who traveled from South Korea to comment with satisfaction, "My illness cleared up just by having the doctor listen to me and really take in what I was saying."

Following Torataro's death, Yuzuru began carrying on his father's legacy by continuing to serve as the head of the committee that he had founded. "The Korean hibakusha are living testimony, who know the history of what Japan did in the past," Yuzuru commented.

The committee has brought a total of 569 Korean hibakusha to Japan for treatment to date, but as the survivors continue to age, the present figures have fallen to only about six per year. Most of them were either babies or in utero at the time of the atomic bombing, moreover -- meaning that it is becoming increasingly difficult to hear live testimony in this regard.

According to "Hiroshima, Nagasaki no genbaku saigai" (Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Physical, Medical and Social Effects of the Atomic Bombings) which was put together by the Committee for the Compilation of Materials on Damage Caused by the Atomic Bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and published by Iwanami Shoten in 1979, there were a total of some 30,000 hibakusha from the Korean Peninsula in Hiroshima, and 10,000 in Nagasaki -- although the Japanese government did not conduct an official inquiry.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has stated that as of March 2014, there were a total of some 4,440 persons living overseas who were officially designated as hibakusha, of which 3,050 -- or around 70 percent -- were in South Korea.

Meanwhile, Yuzuru Kawamura says, "I will continue seeing Korean hibakusha patients for as long as they wish to continue having treatment in Japan."