Hiroshima marks 70 years since the bomb

Much of the country remains committed to pacifism, as Codi Hauka reports from Japan

By: /
August 7, 2015
Paper lanterns float in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Aug. 6, 2015 (Reuters).
Production assistant with OpenCanada.org

A weather warning blared out over speakers positioned throughout Hiroshima Peace Park. “It’s very hot today,” said a woman’s voice, “Take precautions. If you have a hat, please wear it.” Volunteers handed out frozen hand towels at make-shift stations set up along the park pathways. Others prepared cups of ice water for attendees. By the time the ceremony began at 8 a.m. on Thursday, the temperature had reached 33°C after accounting for humidity.

But the intense heat didn’t stop thousands of people from attending the ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima city, commemorating those who died during and in the aftermath of the disaster. Programs for Thursday’s events were handed out by children in school uniforms, each booklet containing a small piece of paper for attendees to fold into an origami crane as a symbol of peace.

Attendees of the ceremony joined millions across the country to observe a moment of silence as peace bells rang out at exactly 8:15 a.m., chiming out over the roar of cicadas that covered the park grounds. It was the exact moment the bomb was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945, killing an estimated 140,000 people.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the crowd shortly after, emphasizing the need for nuclear disarmament and commended the city of Hiroshima for rebuilding itself as a place of culture and prosperity. But as Abe spoke, chants roared from the riverside across from the park — a chorus of protest against the Prime Minister’s stance on nuclear energy.

Nuclear power is an extremely contentious issue in Japan. The bombs that brought an end to World War II in Hiroshima and Nagasaki serve as painful memories that forcefully brought the nation into an era of pacifism while destroying so much for so many.

The triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the devastating earthquake in March, 2011, burned a new memory — and revived negative sentiments toward nuclear capabilities — into the nation’s collective mind.

The after-effects of the 2011 disaster are still very much felt in Fukushima, Japan, and in many other industrialized countries around the world — Angela Merkel has called for Germany to cease the use of nuclear power by 2022; Switzerland soon voiced similar plans. The force of the nuclear meltdown could be felt worldwide.

In Japan, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called for a phasing out of nuclear power throughout the country. And for a while, this was the course of action the Abe government was taking.

But those plans have been reversed, with the first of five planned nuclear reactors set to restartthis month as the country struggles to meet energy demands and the country’s economy continues to wade in stagnation.

The Abe administration’s move back to nuclear power has been met with strong opposition from Japanese citizens, and one can’t help but feel that his words marking the anniversary of nuclear devastation seem empty to the people of Hiroshima.

The Prime Minister is no stranger to stirring the pot (internationally and domestically) through controversial policies and actions, from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine to his push to alter Japan’s pacifist constitution — actions serving to reframe the country’s projected international identity.

Despite the context for the day’s ceremony and the mixed feelings towards the Prime Minister, the atmosphere on Thursday was one of determination and hope. “Our world still bristles with more than 15,000 nuclear weapons,” said Mayor Matsui. “To coexist we must abolish the absolute evil and ultimate inhumanity that is nuclear weapons.”

Mayor Matsui asserted the city’s commitment to pacifism by reaffirming a meeting among foreign ministers in Hiroshima next year, ahead of a G7 summit to be held in Ise-Shima, imploring the rest of the world to hear the cries of hibakusha — the name given to survivors of the atomic bombing.

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, anyone could become a hibakusha at any time,” the Mayor said. “People of the world, please listen carefully to the words of the hibakusha and, profoundly accepting the spirit of Hiroshima, contemplate the nuclear problem as your own.”