Sunao Tsuboi (right) talks to former President Barack Obama.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File

TOKYO (AP) — Sunao Tsuboi, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing who made opposing nuclear weapons the message of his life, including in a meeting with President Barack ObamaHe died in 2016. He was 96.

Tsuboi passed away on October 24th in Hiroshima, southwestern Japan. Anemia caused an irregular heartbeat was the cause of Tsuboi’s death. This is according to Nihon hidankyo, the national group of atomic-bomb survivors that he led until his death.

When Obama made his historic visit to Hiroshima, Obama and Tsuboi held each other’s hand in a long handshake and shared a laugh. A translator was available. Tsuboi, a gentle yet passionate man, recalled he tried to talk fast, to tell Obama he will be remembered for having listened to atomic bomb survivors, known in Japanese as “hibakusha.”

“I think he is such an earnest person or has the heart to feel for others,” Tsuboi said of the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima.

Atomic bomb survivor Sunao Tsuboi stands in front of the Atomic Dome in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in this 2005 file photo.
Sunao Tsuboi, a survivor of an Atomic Bomb stands before the Atomic Dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. This file photo was taken in 2005.
Junko Kimura via Getty Images

Tsuboi had just turned 20 when the U.S. bombed his town on August 6, 1945 in the final days of World War II.

One ear of his hearing was completely destroyed by severe burns. He was unconscious for 40 days and the war was finished when he came out of it. His injuries were so severe that he needed to practice crawling on the floors because he was already weak.

“They wanted to kill us. No mistake about that,” Tsuboi said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2013.

The world’s first atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people instantly and within months. A few days later, U.S. forces dropped another nuclear weapon on Nagasaki killing an additional 75,000 people. On August 15, Japan gave up its surrender.

Tsuboi was clear in stating that Hiroshima’s events were terrible.

“Here it was about annihilation,” he told the AP.

Tsuboi was a teacher in junior high schools. He was so intent on educating youngsters about anti-nuclear proliferation his nickname became “pikadon sensei,” combining the “flash-boom” onomatopoeia Japanese use to describe the bomb and the word for “teacher.”

“Never give up” was his trademark phrase, especially for his fight for a world without nuclear weapons.

Akira Kawasaki of ICAN, or the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of non-government organizations, said the death of a man who had been the poster boy for anti-nuclear proliferation left him with a “big hole” in his heart.

“We must not only mourn the death of a great leader for our cause, but we must also continue in his path, undeterred, and always remember his words,” he told Japanese public broadcaster NHK TV.

Tsuboi was survived by his two daughters, and a son. A wake and funeral services were held with immediate family Monday and Tuesday, in respect to Tsuboi’s wishes to keep ceremonies low key. Tsuboi’s group remains undecided about a memorial ceremony.


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