August 6 in Hiroshima: Action needed to take advantage of Obama’s visit

by Kohei Okata, Staff Writer

With reverberations from U.S. President Obama’s visit to the A-bombed city in May still being felt, Hiroshima marked the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing on August 6. Around Hiroshima there are signs that the interest in this city sparked by Mr. Obama’s visit is creating stronger momentum for the aim of “a world without nuclear weapons.”

From early in the morning, more children than usual were brought to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Naka Ward by their parents to pay respects to lost family members. Shortly after the Peace Memorial Ceremony began, the park brimmed with visitors. In front of an aging tricycle that once belonged to a three-year-old boy who died in the atomic bombing, now an A-bomb artifact in the Peace Memorial Museum, a mother told her child about the devastating damage caused by the atomic bomb.

The Peace Memorial Museum exhibits some 400 artifacts from the atomic bombing. At the end of the museum tour route, paper cranes folded and presented by Mr. Obama are currently on display. On August 6, these paper cranes drew a crowd of viewers. The number of visitors to the museum has reportedly increased 40 percent compared to the same period in June and July of last year. The influence of Mr. Obama’s appearance in Hiroshima can clearly be seen in the rising number of people who are coming to the city to learn about the horrific reality of the atomic bombing.

In interviews conducted by the Chugoku Shimbun prior to the A-bomb anniversary, many survivors and family members of the dead said that Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima was a significant event. The true value of his historic visit, however, is yet to be known.

There has been dissatisfaction among survivors and others, though, that Mr. Obama’s 17-minute speech in Hiroshima offered no concrete steps for advancing nuclear disarmament. To what extent will Mr. Obama revise U.S. nuclear policy, now reportedly under consideration, by the end of his presidency next January? The citizens of Hiroshima must carefully monitor this offshoot of Mr. Obama’s visit.

The Peace Declaration read out by Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui also lacked concrete ideas for advancing nuclear abolition.

Since last year, when he began his second term as mayor, Mr. Matsui has included the “principle of action” for nuclear abolition in the Peace Declaration. The “principle of action” last year was “love for humanity” and “generosity,” while this year’s principle is “passion” and “solidarity.” Mr. Matsui said that a phrase from Mr. Obama’s speech which he adopted and incorporated into this year’s declaration expresses Mr. Obama’s passion for a nuclear-free world.

But, in truth, how powerful is the appeal of the Peace Declaration? Standing before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Peace Memorial Ceremony, Mr. Matsui urged the Japanese government, which frowns on a legal framework for banning nuclear weapons, to help create and enact legislation to make manifest the goal of nuclear abolition. But it was apparent that Mr. Matsui would go no further.

In addition to the Peace Memorial Ceremony organized by the City of Hiroshima, a number of memorial services were held, as usual, throughout the day in various locations in the city. At the monument for Hiroshima First Municipal Girls’ School (now Funairi High School), which stands to the south of the Peace Memorial Park, an A-bomb survivor, 85, who lost his sister, a first-year student, to the atomic bomb, said, “We must act to take advantage of Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima” and presented a positive approach toward eliminating nuclear arms.

Are the citizens of Hiroshima capable of bringing together the signs of change now seen in the A-bombed city to promote the abolition of nuclear weapons? The A-bomb survivors and family members of the victims who experienced the bombing first-hand are advancing in age. Time is running out for the people of Hiroshima and their satisfaction with the first visit to Hiroshima by a sitting American president.

(Originally published on August 7, 2016)