Common ground for quiet Aug. 6 Peace Memorial Ceremony means likely delay of ordinance to restrict loudspeaker volume

by Keiichi Nagayama, Staff Writer

Hiroshima City changes course, prioritizes negotiation

Hiroshima city government seems likely to delay the establishment of an ordinance designed to regulate loudspeaker volume used in demonstrations during the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony. The city government had its sights on enactment of such an ordinance before the ceremony held on August 6 this year, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing. However, A-bomb survivor groups and others took an increasingly cautious stance on the issue, since such an ordinance could violate freedom of expression, a right guaranteed by the constitution. As a result, the city government has changed course and will focus on making a decision based on dialogue with other parties. As many attendees hope for a serene ceremony, the city government together with demonstrating groups have to work to find common ground.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, during a press conference held in December last year, referred to the probability of holding off on submitting a draft ordinance to the regular meeting of the city assembly to be held in February this year. “Even though some might feel this will be difficult,” he said at the time. Enactment of the ordinance before the August ceremony faced an uphill climb, given the extent of regulations protecting freedom of expression, as well as the necessary detailed examination of wording and the time required for informing citizens about the ordinance.

A-bomb survivors call for careful consideration

In late October last year, Hiroshima City once again called on the executive committee of the August 6 Hiroshima Grand Action, the largest group holding demonstrations, to reduce loudspeaker volume during the Peace Memorial Ceremony. The city government positioned itself to make a final judgment on whether or not to enact such an ordinance based on the group’s response. Until that time, the group had refused the city’s request, but indicated it would consider how to deal with the issue based on the condition that the data on noise volume measured by the city around Peace Memorial Park be released. The city has always said that the ordinance was not a foregone conclusion and that it was best to find a solution through dialogue. The city government ultimately changed course and decided to not insist on issuing the ordinance.

The change in the city government’s stance also relates to views openly expressed by members of A-bomb survivors groups. In mid-December, the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi) announced that a cautious approach should be taken regarding the adoption of such regulations. Around the same time, the prefectural chapter of the Japan Congress against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin) called on the city government to resolve the disagreement through negotiations. “We have to maintain an environment where citizens can express their views freely even during the Peace Ceremony,” said Tetsuo Kaneko, the head of Gensuikin, in an expression of his concern that the three non-nuclear principles of the Japanese government could be undermined in the future as memories of the atomic bombings fade.

“We didn’t expect such strong opposition. Opinions from survivors’ groups are of great importance,” admitted one city senior official. Freedom of speech and expression is an essential part of democracy. During World War II, people who criticized the government were arrested based on the Maintenance of Public Order Act. Among views expressed by Hiroshima Hidankyo, the atomic bombing horror resulted from the country’s headlong rush into war amid a situation in which people were not allowed to freely express opinions. This is precisely why the group requested the A-bombed city government to consider the issue carefully.

In a statement made by Hiroshima City, “Only the volume, not the content, of messages will be subject to controls, which is not against the constitution.” Some experts, however, do view the ordinance as a constitutional violation. According to Akihiro Kawakami, a constitutional legal scholar and associate professor at Hiroshima City University’s Hiroshima Peace Institute, freedom of expression can only be restricted, in principle, for extremely limited cases in which other people’s rights are being violated. “Even regulating volume could be unconstitutional,” Mr. Kawakami said.

Risk of constitutional violation

Hiroshima City began exploring regulations including the relevant ordinance in September 2018, when a city assembly member called for ensuring a tranquil environment during the Peace Memorial Ceremony. Regarding this issue, city assembly members who distance themselves from the mayor as well as some in the mayor’s camp began expressing more cautious views. “If an ordinance was to be enacted, it would be brought to court on the question of its constitutionality,” said one moderate city assembly member. “Is such an ordinance that risks violating the constitution really necessary?”

The executive committee of the demonstration group has agreed to discuss loudspeaker volume that is tolerable by ceremony attendees. Mr. Kawakami proposed that “Demonstrators be urged to think seriously about whether there are other ways to convey their message. On the other hand, the city government also should retract the ordinance idea before discussions begin.”


Considering Hiroshima ordinance to regulate loudspeaker volume in demonstrations
In September 2018, the city began exploring ways to regulate the volume of loudspeaker volume following a question raised by a city assembly member. Every year, groups hold rallies and demonstrations around Peace Memorial Park, where the Peace Memorial Ceremony is held, expressing anti-nuclear and peace appeals or government opposition. Their voices carried over loudspeakers can be heard in the ceremony venue. The city government conducted a survey of attendees of last year’s August 6 Peace Memorial Ceremony. Of the respondents, 71% answered that a solemn atmosphere is necessary through the entire ceremony. The city government of Nagasaki, the other A-bombed city, is not considering introduction of regulations in the form of an ordinance because the city’s Peace Memorial Ceremony, held on August 9, is not seriously affected by demonstrations. Okinawa Prefecture, which holds an annual memorial service on June 23 for those who died on Okinawa, is not considering any such regulations.

(Originally published on January 22, 2020)