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Personal Crusade for World Peace

by Kouichi Matsumoto, Canada

[From the SGI Quarterly

Kouichi Matsumoto, 51, lives on the other side of the world from Hiroshima. Yet the tragedy that struck him and his family in that city 50 years ago has never left his heart. Thanks to his conversion to true Buddhism, however, he has been able to use his great suffering as a springboard for his personal crusade for a peaceful world, one free of nuclear weapons. 

August 6, 1945, was like any other day for the Matsumotos. The family of five infant Kouichi, his father Takio, his mother Chizue, and grandparents had gathered for breakfast on that fateful summer morning. At 8:15, they felt a thunderous blast; the house buckled for an instant, then it collapsed and buried its occupants. The atom bomb, detonated no more than 1,500 meters from the Matsumoto home, had been dropped on Hiroshima.

The atom bomb continued to haunt the family long after it leveled the city. Chizue died in the blast holding Kouichi in her arms; her father was also killed; and Kouichi, due to the radiation he had absorbed, tired easily and was constantly sick. The psychological scars did not seem to heal. Kouichi's grandmother would often weep, saying, "We did all that we could to save your mother, but we failed. Please forgive us, Kouichi."

In 1962, Kouichi entered Ehime University. It was then that an epic turning point came for the Matsumotos: Kouichi's grandfather, desperate to change his family's fortunes, joined the Soka Gakkai. Soon, so did the rest of the family. Kouichi became a member of the student division and eagerly took part in its activities. 

One day, as he read a collection of second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda's lectures, he stopped, transfixed. In a 1957 address, Mr. Toda described the use of nuclear arms as a crime against humanity and called for their total abolition. That was when Kouichi realized that the Soka Gakkai was truly the bearer of justice, and that it was his personal life mission to tell the world of the horrors of nuclear attacks. 

Kouichi excelled academically. In 1967, he left for Canada to begin his master's program in biochemistry at Carleton University. Studying abroad was a trying experience for him financially and socially. He was one of very few Japanese students there at that time. To catch up with his classmates, he spent long nights studying, but eventually he received his degree and went on to University of Michigan for further study. In 1972, he became a researcher at McGill University, Canada's premier institute of higher learning.

As a biochemist at McGill, he received high acclaim from his colleagues for his work, and he decided that Canada was the land of his true calling. In 1984, he returned to Carleton University. One day, soon after marriage, he awoke paralyzed. Every muscle in his body had tightened, and it was painful for him even to turn his head.

Diagnosed as suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, Kouichi spent his honeymoon in a hospital. "At first, I was very worried," recalls Lynda of their marriage's first major trial. "All I could do was to chant and never lose my smile. What gave us courage was the conviction that we knew we would overcome this illness."

After two years, Kouichi did recover, and he poured his efforts into research. In 1991, he was afflicted with an inexplicable form of temporary amnesia; however, he would not let this obstacle defeat him. Since then, his research has yielded a number of beneficial results, from a new medicine delivery system and a water purification system to a quick enzyme immunoassay system to detect salmonella, a deadly bacterial strain.

Fifty years after the Hiroshima bombing, Kouichi is now the only surviving member of the attack in his family. He treasures a small watercolor painting, the only memento of his deceased mother. "I believe my mother had a beautiful heart," he reflects. "My mother gave up her life to protect me; thanks to her, I have been able to live another 50 years. I want to exert my life to the fullest to do my part for world peace, so that my mother did not die in vain."