Peace ribbon assembly that passes on A-bomb victims’ wishes to be held indoors on August 1, avoiding COVID-19 infection

by Miho Kuwajima, Staff Writer

On August 1, a Hiroshima citizen’s group is planning a “Peace Ribbon” gathering, in which participants will hold up banners expressing their wishes for a nonnuclear peaceful world. Female A-bomb survivors started the event 30 years ago, and the participants have gathered surrounding the A-bomb Dome every five years since that time. This year, however, to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections, they have decided to hold the gathering indoors, limiting the number of participants to only those involved in the organization. After Miyoko Watanabe, who had long supported the organization’s activities, passed away, Sadae Kasaoka, 87, a resident in Nishi Ward, has continued Ms. Watanabe’s wish.

Some of the banners show the word “peace” on a blue planet, and a pigeon picking up a four-leaf clover on a red heart. On July 16, four members of the Hiroshima Peace Ribbon organization held a rehearsal at their event site, the Peace Museum’s Memorial Hall. Ms. Kasaoka arranged various banners of 50 centimeters by one meter, which were created using paint and appliqués, one by one. She said, “We have shared our hatred of wars and nuclear weapons with Ms. Watanabe.”

Ms. Kasaoka was exposed to the atomic bomb at her house in Eba-machi (now part of Naka Ward) located 3.5 kilometers from the hypocenter, when she was 12 years old. She lost her parents to the atomic bomb in the center of Hiroshima City, and she had to cremate her father, who was severely burned to death, with wooden pieces. Her mother, who was reduced to bone fragments, was taken home in a paper bag. After the war, her elder brother left school and raised her while he was working. Fifteen years ago, being invited by Ms. Watanabe who lived in the neighborhood, Ms. Kasaoka started talking about her A-bomb experiences with school students who visited Hiroshima on school excursions, functioning as a Hiroshima City A-bomb survivor witness, and conveying to them her “Never allow wars and nuclear weapons” wish.

“Peace Ribbon” is an anti-nuclear movement that originated in the United States in 1985 during the Cold War. Ms. Watanabe, who was inspired by the movement, called on A-bomb survivors to form a similar group, and the “Peace Ribbon organization in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima,” the forerunner of the current Hiroshima Peace Ribbon organization, was established in 1990. Every time a nuclear test was carried out somewhere in the world, members sat down in anger in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims in the Peace Memorial Park, holding up peace ribbon banners.

Every five years, the members also gathered in front of the A-bomb Dome the day before August 6. Ms. Kasaoka participated in all the gatherings. She invited some Girl Scout members, whose activities she had long supported, as well as school students on a school excursion to work together, increasing the number of banners.

In December, 2015, four months after the last gathering at the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing, Ms. Watanabe passed away at the age of 85. When Ms. Kasaoka visited her in her sickbed, Ms. Watanabe handed some 2,000 peace ribbon banners to Ms. Kasaoka, saying that she might not be able to work together any more. Ms. Kasaoka asked Ai Kadoyama, 47, a resident of Aki Ward who is involved in the Girl Scout organization, to work with her, and established a new organization to pass on the desires of A-bomb survivors to the next generation.

At the seventh event to be held this year, Ms. Kasaoka will talk about her A-bomb experiences while about 2,000 banners displayed on the seats at the event venue will be swapped one after another. Originally, the members were planning to parade along Peace Boulevard from Nishi-Hiroshima Station (Nishi Ward) to Peace Memorial Park. However, they were forced to give up the plan due to the coronavirus pandemic and decided to limit the number of participants. They will, instead, dispatch their messages actively to people at home and abroad using the social media networks (SNS, or social networking service). Gatherings of people who will hold up the banners are scheduled to be held in Tokyo and New York.

Ms. Kasaoka says, “We must never forget that we owe what we are today to the many lives lost to the atomic bombs.” Ms. Kadoyama stresses, “While we expand the younger generation’s participation, we would also like to convey our firm desire to create a peaceful world to people all over the world, including those who suffer from civil wars and poverty.” Until July 25, the organization will collect image data of peace ribbon banners created by various people in their own ways. For details, please contact girl-scout.h15@outlook.jp.

(Originally published on July 19, 2020)