My morning e-mail brought me news of the loss of Taniguchi Sumiteru and a request for messages for his memorial service.
As the photos accompanying this post illustrate, Taniguchi-san was a remarkably courageous and iconic Nagasaki A-bomb survivor who I was privileged to know and work with. Among other things, he was a co-founder of Nihon Hidankyo, the Japan Confederation of A- & H-Bomb Sufferer’s Organizations.
The photograph of his A-bomb tortured body is iconic, and his life story was fictionalized in the novel The Postman of Nagasaki. Over the past couple of years I was privileged to help with the editing of his memoir “The Atomic Bomb on My Back”, which we hope will be published in English in the coming year.
With morning and loss, I share the memorial note that I prepared this morning,
Rest in Peace Taniguchi Sumiteru
Taniguchi Sumiteru Presente!
I received the news of Taniguchi-san’s death with a profound sense of loss, for myself and for the world.
The Okinawan-American scholar Norma Field once wrote that it is an abused minority who serve as the canary in the mine for democracy. Such people, she explained, have a unique sensitivity to injustice, and the resilient figures among them transform what they have suffered and their pain into steadfast and uncompromising forces for justice.
Taniguchi Sumiteru was certainly such a man. Humble, kind, shy, willing to work and serve behind the scenes, but prophetically courageous. I was privileged to meet Taniguchi-san, to provide forums from which he could teach about the abomination of nuclear weapons and the imperative of creating a nuclear-free world. In recent years, I have had the extraordinary privilege and responsibility of working with and living deeply within his memoir “The Atomic Bomb on My Back.” There I absorbed much of his pain, his courage, his sense of humor, his life story and his resolve, making it my own.
Touch a person’s pain, their love, and – as in the case of Taniguchi-san – their courage, and it becomes yours.
I treasure the times I was fortunate to talk with or to learn from Taniguchi-san and the privilege of having learned how he, Watanabe Chieko, Yamaguchi-Senji and others created Nihon Hidankyo, where and how they shared their searing testimonies, their warning that “human beings and nuclear weapons cannot co-exist,” and the vision of a nuclear weapons-free world that has nurtured and guided Japanese and global movements to ensure that “a third atom bomb never comes.” I marvel, too, at how in 1970, when the photograph of his A-bomb tortured body was finally released from Pentagon vaults, he was able to step into and humbly use his iconic identity in service to us all.
In addition to the photographs of his A-bomb bloodied body, several images of Taniguchi-san, rise now in my mind’s eye. The first must be from 20 or more years ago — when after Taka Hiroshi of Gensuikyo explained to me that this frail man still suffered from open wounds — I was first introduced to this iconic figure.
Then, two years ago, there was an inspiring but painful conversation with this humble hero during the 2014 World Conference Against A- and H- Bombs Government and Civil Society Session at Nagasaki University. Taniguchi was very frail and soft spoken when he told me that traveling to New York City to press for a nuclear weapons free world at the 2015 NPT Review Conference would be, he thought, his last great effort. I felt his commitment and courage, but there was also the painful premonition of the world bereft of his presence.
There are the images from New York, the memory of his graciousness and courage when he and Setsuko Thurlow were honored in the opening session of Peace & Planet’s international conference on the eve of the 2015 Review Conference. Who could not have been struck by the pack of Japanese journalists who followed him closely, hanging on his every word, and by Taniguchi-san’s patience with them? And I treasure the photograph I have of this wonderful man amidst the thousands of other nuclear abolitionists who filled Union Square before we marched to the United Nations.
Finally, there is the image that came via email. The 2015 NPT Review Conference was not Taniguchi-san’s final inspiring act. In a video clip of the official Nagasaki memorial ceremony, on August 9, 2015, we see Taniguchi-san walking slowly and with enormous effort to the Nagasaki Peace Park lectern with Prime Minister Abe nearby. There, this frail, stubborn, angry, loving and courageous small man told those present and the national television audience that Abe’s war laws are an abomination that violates everything the Hibakusha stand for, and that he will resist them to his “last breath.”
In that clip we see the essence of Taniguchi Sumiteru: his pain, his courage and the love that he drew on to struggle back into life, to build a family and a movement, and to inspire all who were privileged to meet and to know him.
Taniguchi-sensei, we mourn your loss.