August 6 amid pandemic: Hiroshima City to send message of peace on 75th anniversary of atomic bombings while maintaining guard against coronavirus

by Hajime Niiyama and Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writers

On July 10, the Hiroshima City government revealed an overview of this year’s August 6 Peace Memorial Ceremony. According to the plan, the city will take measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while delivering its message of peace on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city. The city had already announced that the number of participants would be greatly reduced. In addition, to prevent any spread of the virus, it has decided to call on people to refrain from visiting the ceremony venue. As for sending out the message of peace, the ceremony outline will remain basically the same as it has been previously. In addition, however, a video message from Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, will be shown on monitors. The city is still working on making improvements to the plan.

Reducing number of participants, requesting people to refrain from visiting ceremony venue

During a news conference held at Hiroshima’s City Hall, Tadaharu Hashiba, deputy chief of the city’s Citizens Affairs Bureau, said, “You will not be able to attend the ceremony even if you come to the venue, and for that reason we will call on people to voluntarily refrain from visiting. The ceremony will be carried on the internet and television, so please stay put and pray where you can for the souls of the deceased and for peace.”

On May 29, the Hiroshima City government announced that the number of seats for participants at this year’s ceremony would be reduced to a maximum of 880, 90 percent less than in average years, with the aim of preventing the spread of the coronavirus. On July 10, the city government came out with additional measures, including requesting people to refrain from visiting Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where the ceremony will be held in the city’s Naka Ward, expanding the area to which entrance will be restricted, and extending the time of limited entry.

Entry to most of Peace Memorial Park between two rivers will be restricted. The borders will be the road that connects the Motoyasu Bridge and the Honkawa Bridge to the north, the north side of Peace Boulevard to the south, the Motoyasu River to the east, and the Honkawa River to the west. The restrictions will begin at 5:00 a.m., one-and-half hours earlier than typical years, and conclude at 9:00 a.m.

Yoko Kubo, 81, a resident of the town of Kaita, Hiroshima Prefecture, has attended the ceremony for many years. Five members of her family, including her parents, were killed in the atomic bombing. “During the ceremony, I always remembered what my family members looked like when they were alive. At some point during the day of August 6, I hope to at least be able to pray at the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims,” she said.

To respond to similar such requests, the city has decided to create a one-way route that leads visitors past the cenotaph during the period 5:00 to 7:00 a.m. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, in this way the city aims to allot time for people to offer prayers.

The city will have security personnel deployed around the restricted area to ensure that such areas surrounding the ceremony venue will not become overcrowded. Typically, the ceremony is shown at two locations in the International Conference Center Hiroshima and on 14 monitors inside the park, but this year no such arrangements will be made. The city has already informed five lodging facilities and tourism and travel agencies in the city that people are requested to refrain from visiting the venue.

Basic structure of program to be maintained for next generations

The 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima will take place amid the coronavirus pandemic. How to deliver messages calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons and peace in such a situation is a significant challenge for the city government. There will not be major changes to the program, which will again include the Peace Declaration, delivered by Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui, and the Commitment to Peace, read aloud by children representatives. The ceremony this year might take on its most important role to date for the delivery of such messages.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, has given up on attending the ceremony. Mr. Matsui had hoped that Mr. Guterres would be able to deliver a message encouraging policymakers to realize a world without nuclear weapons. Instead, the city will ask him to send a video message that will be shown on the monitors in the venue.

The ceremony will be delivered over the city government’s website, the same as in typical years. The anniversary of the atomic bombing is only one month away, and a crucial issue is how the city will try to heighten focus on Hiroshima. “We will make every effort to ensure that people can pray for peace or for the souls of the victims even though they might not be able to actually visit the venue,” said Akio Masauji, chief of the city’s Citizens Affairs Bureau.

(Originally published on July 11, 2020)