The Key to a World without Nuclear Weapons: The Power of Younger Generations, Part 4

High school students seek to expand their signature drive for nuclear abolition

by Kanako Noda, Staff Writer

On July 7, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the United Nations. But the nuclear weapon states and countries like Japan, which are under the nuclear umbrella, did not support the treaty. The road to nuclear abolition remains long and uphill, and it is vital that Hiroshima continue to convey its message to the world. Seventy-two years have passed since the atomic bombing, and the A-bomb survivors who have provided momentum for the adoption of the treaty are growing old. At the same time, younger generations have begun to hand down the sentiments of the survivors. The Chugoku Shimbun reports on how these younger generations are contributing to the cause of advancing a world without nuclear weapons.

On July 29, a week before the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, junior high and high school students from Hiroshima prefecture stood along the Motoyasu Bridge, located near the A-bomb Dome in Naka Ward, to collect signatures in support of nuclear abolition. One of them was Yuta Takahashi, 16, a second-year student from Eishin High School, located in the city of Fukuyama. He is the president of the Human Rights Club at his school. At one point, an elderly woman who signed her name told him, “I’m really happy to see younger people like you taking action to abolish nuclear weapons.” Yuta tells himself that “This world can change if we keep up our efforts.”

Delivered 488,829 signatures to the United Nations

The “Nuclear Abolition Now! Signature Drive by Junior and Senior High School Students” was launched in 2008 by three six-year secondary schools: Hiroshima Jogakuin Junior & Senior High School (Naka Ward, Hiroshima), Okinawa Shogaku Junior & Senior High Schools (Naha, Okinawa prefecture), and Eishin Junior & Senior High School (Fukuyama, Hiroshima prefecture). It was intended as “a way for students to contribute to peace.” In 2017 the campaign is marking its 10th year. With the cooperation of other schools that also support the aim of nuclear abolition, the students have collected and delivered 488,829 signatures to the United Nations.

With regard to this campaign, Yuta relates a story that has been handed down from older students at his school.

When an elderly woman, an A-bomb survivor, once added her name in response to the students’ appeal, she told them, in tears, “The atomic bomb is evil.” In fact, she had passed by the group of students the day before, but the painful memory of losing family members to the bomb came back to her and she couldn’t step forward to sign the paper. So she returned the next day.

Yuta stresses the weight of each signature, gained from their appeal on the street, because one signature is the basis of an effort that can help move the world.

Such signature drives to abolish nuclear weapons have become established grassroots activities both at home and abroad. The Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo) launched the “Hibakusha Appeal for a Nuclear Ban Treaty” last spring with the aim of appealing to the nations of the world to realize a treaty that will outlaw and eliminate nuclear arms.

Mie Higashi, 51, who runs a beauty salon in Nishi Ward, learned about this global signature drive from one of her clients. She put signature sheets in the salon and asked people for their signature along with a member of her staff, Yoshiko Tanaka, 55. They collected 245 signatures.

The late grandmother of Ms. Higashi’s husband was an A-bomb survivor. When she was alive, she told Ms. Higashi that she was at home at the time of the atomic bombing and pieces of shattered glass were still embedded in her legs. “The suffering from the atomic bomb has lasted for a long time,” Ms. Higashi said. “With their children’s and grandchildren’s generations in mind, people were glad to add their signatures to the sheet. I’m happy to know that others feel the same way I do.”

Drawing up documents in five languages

With the A-bomb survivors, who have led the nuclear abolition movement, now aging, a signature drive is an activity that anyone can do and feel a stronger sense of solidarity with the survivors. One person that has touched Yuta’s heart is Sunao Tsuboi. The student from Eishin High School met Mr. Tsuboi, the chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hidankyo) last March to listen to his account of the atomic bombing. The interview, which lasted five hours, was conducted to compile a booklet about the experiences of A-bomb survivors.

Mr. Tsuboi cursed the atomic bombing during the interview, then two months later, in May, he met Barack Obama when the former U.S. president came to Hiroshima and Mr. Tsuboi shook his hand. Later, Yuta met Mr. Tsuboi again for a follow-up interview and asked if he hates the United States, the country which dropped the atomic bomb. Mr. Tsuboi replied, “Of course, deep down inside, I feel bitter toward the U.S., but I won’t speak about it because I dearly wish that nuclear weapons can be eliminated for the good of all human beings.” Yuta was deeply moved by Mr. Tsuboi’s words, which reflect how he contains his anger and wholeheartedly longs for peace.

“We are the last generation who can hear the survivors’ experiences in their own voice,” Yuta said. “It’s our duty to carry on their messages to the next generation.” Yuta believes that the nuclear weapon ban treaty, which was adopted at the United Nations on July 7, offers “strong hope” because it was realized through the efforts of citizens around the world who worked in solidarity in response to the A-bomb survivors’ persistent appeal for nuclear abolition. High school students involved in the signature drive have drawn up documents in five languages, including Chinese and German, to expand their campaign overseas. They are seeking ways to grow their circle of support for the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on July 30, 2017)