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Hibakusha Advocate Remembered at Hiroshima-Nagasaki Service

Prayers for the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were offered at Koyasan Buddhist Temple on Aug. 6, which marked the 72nd anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

A commemoration of the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, held Aug. 6 at Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, was different from past observances because of the absence of one key participant.

Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto explains his painting based on Hiroshima survivor Kaz Suyeishi’s story.

Kaz Suyeishi, a Hiroshima survivor and one of the founders of the American Society of Hiroshima/Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors, passed away in June at the age of 90.

Religious rites were conducted by Rev. Junkun Imamura, bishop and head priest of Koyasan, and attendees lined up to pay respects to the victims of the bombings. On the altar was the Hiroshima Peace Flame, which will burn until the world is free of nuclear weapons.

The guest speaker was Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto, who has overseen biennial visits by a Hiroshima medical team to examine hibakusha living in Southern California. The doctors, who are specialists in radiation-related illnesses, have been conducting the free examinations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu for the past 40 years.

“We miss someone very special today,” Matsumoto said of Suyeishi. “… She preferred to be called Mama-san and she was the heart and soul of the hibakusha organization. I’m sure she’s here in spirit, giving all of you a hug and embrace of love and encouraging all of you to continue this movement of peace and nuclear non-proliferation.”

He recalled Suyeishi’s memory of seeing the B-29 that dropped the bomb on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945. Not knowing the horror that was to come, she thought the shiny object looked like an angel.

The Hiroshima Peace Flame is housed at Koyasan Buddhist Temple.

“That very night [after hearing the story], when I slept, I had a dream, I had this vision … I woke up, I sketched the outline,” said Matsumoto, who displayed a painting he created. The images included an angel of death, skulls and tears of blood, but also a water pond representing peace and water lilies forming the peace symbol.

“If you look very carefully in the water with the reflection of the skull here, even in peace we’re always at risk for another war,” he explained. “I thank Mama-san for giving me that vision. This really is for her.”

Photographer Darrell Miho, speaking for the hibakusha organization, also remembered Suyeishi, saying, “She’ll always be with us … Her message was always love.”

He encouraged the attendees to “think about how you and your family and your friends … can share Mama-san’s love with everyone.”

Miho also announced that a proposed treaty to outlaw the use, possession, development, testing, deployment, and transfer of nuclear weapons has the support of 122 nations.

Dr. Gloria Montebruno Saller of University of LaVerne shared a “beautiful memory” of Suyeishi from an event last March. When a group of performers started singing the Louis Armstrong song “What a Wonderful World,” “she stood up, she started singing along, and she started blowing kisses. You could see in her eyes the happiness, the love, the joy that she had … I want to continue her work of peace education.”

Saller closed by reciting lyrics from the song and saying, “I wish I could give her a big hug now.”

Attendees viewed displays explaining how the two atomic bombs worked and, in graphic detail, the effect they had on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Origami cranes, a symbol of peace, were given out.

Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo

Visitors viewed displays about the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan in August 1945.

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