The Key to a World without Nuclear Weapons: The Power of Younger Generations, Part 3

Fulfilling the wish of his late friend to continue gatherings to hear A-bomb accounts

by Yuji Yamamoto, 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.

In September, HIPPY, 36, a Hiroshima-based singer-songwriter, and his friends plan to start holding gatherings where customers can listen to A-bomb survivors’ accounts at a bar in downtown Hiroshima. The bar is where Yojiro Tomie held such gatherings on the sixth of every month before he died of lung cancer on July 3 at the age of 37. HIPPY regrets that he wasn’t able to tell Mr. Tomie that he would take over this effort before Mr. Tomie passed away. HIPPY had needed some time to decide what to do.

Four days before his death

Mr. Tomie began holding these gatherings in February 2006 after he realized that he had difficulty answering his customers’ questions about the atomic bombing. Four days before he died, Mr. Tomie asked HIPPY to come see him. HIPPY found Mr. Tomie in a hospital bed, breathing oxygen, with a look of pain on his face. In a hoarse voice, Mr. Tomie asked HIPPY to maintain the gatherings, saying that HIPPY could do this just for fun.

But HIPPY was unable to respond right away. Because he often works outside the prefecture, he didn’t think he would be able to hold the gatherings every month. “Why me?” he recalled thinking, sharing his honest feelings at that moment.

HIPPY and Mr. Tomie came to know one another in their mid-20s. Mr. Tomie was a free spirit and had a frank, easygoing personality. HIPPY thought he was “cool.” He became a regular customer at Mr. Tomie’s bar and was curious about the gatherings.

When he first heard an A-bomb survivor’s account, he was surprised at how little he knew about the atomic bombing. The fact that some 6,000 students, who had been mobilized for the war effort, were killed while helping to tear down houses to create a fire lane. Or that the survivors faced discrimination after the war ended because of their A-bomb exposure. Above all, he was moved by the appeals that the survivors were making, wanting others to hand down their experiences despite the impulse to bury these terrible memories in the deep recesses of their minds.

Before he knew it, he was taking notes on the reverse side of the questionnaire that was handed out. He wanted to put into words the tragedy of the atomic bombing and the emotions that were flooding through him. Last year, in order to learn more about the bombing, he began taking part in a program run by the City of Hiroshima to train ordinary citizens to serve as “memory keepers” and hand down the accounts of A-bomb survivors. Knowing that Mr. Tomie found it hard to find survivors who would speak at his bar, HIPPY thought that he could help convey the survivors’ memories and their wishes for peace.

Still, HIPPY doesn’t consider himself a “keen peace activist.” He says his nature is more laidback and he enjoys posting a variety of videos on YouTube.

HIPPY to give live performance during special event

“I guess Yojiro felt that I had the right sort of character,” HIPPY said. Mr. Tomie may have thought that if a young man who didn’t seem to be a peace activist held gatherings to hear A-bomb accounts, people would find it easier to turn out at a bar on a neon-lit street. In 2015, Mr. Tomie’s bar was damaged in a fire, and then he became ill. But he continued to hold these gatherings, hoping that more people would come to know how the A-bomb survivors had lived their lives. When HIPPY received the news of Mr. Tomie’s death, he decided that he would do what he could to fulfill Mr. Tomie’s request, as he himself also wanted to hear about the survivors’ experiences.

Thus, he and some fellow “memory keepers” will work together to continue holding these gatherings. “I hope that people like me will find it easy to join our events,” said HIPPY. The August gathering, the 141st, will be a special evening. It will take place at a music club in downtown Hiroshima and feature an appearance by Masahiro Sasaki, 76, the older brother of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who died of radiation-induced leukemia and became the inspiration for the Children’s Peace Monument in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. HIPPY plans to give a live performance that night. The promotional flyers say that the event is being organized by Yojiro Tomie, expressing the wish that he could still be with them.

(Originally published on July 29, 2017)