A-bomb survivors welcome Caroline Kennedy’s arrival in Japan

by Kohei Okata, Michiko Tanaka, and Kyoko Niiyama, Staff Writers

Caroline Kennedy, 55, the new U.S. Ambassador, arrived in Japan on November 15. Following her appointment by President Obama, she has shared her memories of her visit to Hiroshima in 1978 and her desire for peace. The A-bomb survivors who greeted the Kennedy family in Hiroshima back then now welcome her arrival and hope that she will help convey the survivors’ call for the abolition of nuclear weapons to the nuclear superpower.

Ms. Kennedy visited the A-bombed city when she was 20, with family members that included her uncle, the late senator Edward Kennedy, who had been invited by Hiroshima University to speak. At the time, they offered prayers at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims in Peace Memorial Park and toured Peace Memorial Museum.

Hiroyuki Hata, 83, a resident of Nishi Ward, was a professor at Hiroshima University then and welcomed the family at Hiroshima Station. “The media paid a great deal of attention to her, as the eldest daughter of the late President Kennedy, but she kept calm. She was a gentle person,” he recalled. Michiko Sako, 81, of Hatsukaichi City, who had visited the United States in 1955 to undergo surgery for keloids, also met the family at Hiroshima Station. She said, “Ms. Kennedy can serve as a bridge between Japan and the United States. I hope she will visit Hiroshima soon and listen to the voices of A-bomb survivors.”

The late Kaoru Ogura, who was then director of Peace Memorial Museum, served as the family’s guide for their tour of the museum. In a book he wrote in 1979, just prior to his death at the age of 58, he referred to the visit and said that he was surprised to see all of them dressed in plain, casual clothes. His wife, Keiko Ogura, 76, of Naka Ward, who has been working as a volunteer interpreter, said, “The things she saw and heard in Hiroshima must remain at the heart of her desire for peace.”

At a press conference held on the same day, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said he would like to ask Ms. Kennedy to visit Hiroshima in the near future and he hopes that she will encourage President Obama to visit the city as well. “I would also like her to urge President Obama to take concrete actions for the abolition of nuclear weapons,” he said.

Some responses were more reserved. Kazuo Okoshi, 73, secretary-general of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, chaired by Kazushi Kaneko, commented, “We don’t know her view of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or her position on U.S. nuclear policies.” Tomoyuki Mimaki, 71, secretary-general of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi, said that he would like to see how much Ambassador Kennedy can influence President Obama to take initiative for nuclear abolition.

(Originally published on November 16, 2013)