Remembering Kenjiro Yokoro
by Michael Christ
We have lost another pioneer of our movement.
Dr. Kenjiro Yokoro was a founding member of the Japanese Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. In the summer of 1985, he agreed to serve as general secretary of JPPNW. Little did he know that a few short months later he’d be thrust onto the world stage when IPPNW won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Dr. Yokoro was a first-year medical student in Hiroshima in 1945. As fate would have it, he was outside the city center on August 6th. He returned a few days after the atomic bombing to witness horrors beyond description. For the next five weeks, he took part in the rescue work, staying at a relief station located about 1,000 meters from the hypocenter.
Dr. Yokoro dedicated the rest of his life to understanding the effects of radiation, to caring for the Hibakusha, and to ensuring that nuclear weapons are never used again.
He served as a professor in the Department of Pathology at the Research Institute for Nuclear Medicine and Biology at Hiroshima University, and later as Head of the Institute, and was involved in experimental cancer research for over 50 years as a specialist in experimental pathology. He engaged in carcinogenesis research involving cancer of a number of different organs, including leukemia caused by radiation and radiation-induced breast cancer, creating the foundation for radiation-induced cancer research in Japan. Through his carcinogenesis research, he contributed to carcinogenesis experimentation and helped to explain the mechanisms by which cancer occurs. He was also deeply involved in the Hiroshima International Council for Health Care of the Radiation Exposed (HICARE), which was established in 1991 to provide health care to people exposed to radiation from nuclear test explosions, nuclear weapons production, or nuclear accidents.
Dr. Yokoro held senior positions in IPPNW over the course of many years, and he was instrumental in organizing the 9th IPPNW World Congress in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1989. He also led JPPNW’s North Asia Peace Initiative to unite physicians from China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and Japan behind IPPNW’s mission of a more peaceful world without nuclear weapons. As a part of this effort, he led several IPPNW delegations to dialogue with doctors and officials in Pyongyang, and helped bring the North Korean affiliate of IPPNW into being.
Ken, as some of us knew him best, was an exceptionally gentle and kindhearted person who loved to laugh with you. Personally, I will always be grateful for the friendship and encouragement that he offered me.
Dr. Yokoro departed this life some months ago, though we only learned of the sad news last night. We believe that he is survived by his wonderful loving wife, though we understand that she is in failing health.
There could be no better way to honor his memory than the successful negotiation of a strong Ban Treaty in 2017.