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Book Review: Shigeko! A Girl from Hiroshima Crosses the Ocean

In her book Shigeko! Hiroshima kara umi wo watatte (Shigeko! A Girl from Hiroshima Crosses the Ocean), Seiko Suga chronicles the life of Shigeko Sasamori, a woman who was badly scarred in the atomic bombing, received reconstructive surgery in Tokyo and the U.S., and later permanently moved to the latter. The nonfiction book, published in 2010, is framed by Seiko meeting with Shigeko in Hiroshima to learn about her life; the chapters then switch to Seiko narrating Shigeko’s experiences in third person. Although Shigeko! is unavailable in English, the Japanese, targeted at children in late elementary school, is easy enough to understand without perfect knowledge of the language.

Shigeko’s story begins on August 6, 1945, when she was 13 years old. After being exposed to and horribly burned by the atomic bomb near Tsurumi Bridge, Shigeko managed to walk to what is now Danbara Elementary School, where she laid semi-conscious for four days without receiving medial attention, food, or water. She continuously mumbled her name and address, and finally someone told Shigeko’s family where she was. After bringing her home, Shigeko’s family nursed her back from the brink of death, but she still had severe keloid scars on her face, neck, and hands, the latter of which would give her a lifelong slight handicap.

Monument to Norman Cousins in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

After meeting Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto at Nagarekawa Methodist Church, Shigeko joined a group of young women all scarred by the bomb. Some of them traveled to Tokyo to receive reconstructive surgery; it was then that the term “Atomic Bomb Maidens” became widely publicized in Japan. Through Reverend Tanimoto’s introduction, Shigeko met journalist and writer Norman Cousins, who was visiting Hiroshima with his wife. Cousins raised money for 25 young women from Hiroshima, including Shigeko, to undergo more surgery New York City in 1955. Inspired by both her time in the U.S. and in hospitals, Shigeko decided to return to the States in 1958 to study nursing. She became Cousins’ adopted daughter.

The book then follows Shigeko as she works hard to master English, become a nurse’s aide, help difficult but ultimately gracious patients, and raise her son. Over the years, Shigeko began to do more and more public speaking. After retiring from nursing, she visited schools, universities, and other functions to share her experience of the atomic bombing and advocate for peace. Shigeko also visited Chernobyl to speak with people affected by the nuclear disaster there.

The author closes the story with two examples of Shigeko speaking to students in the U.S., one at an elementary school and the other at Winona State University, from which Shigeko received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2009. In her talks, Shigeko spoke about hating and fearing war itself rather than the country that dropped the atomic bomb, about young people’s potential to create a peaceful world, and about the necessity of living one’s life with courage, action, and love.

Shigeko and her son (Photo taken from the book)

Shigeko! rewrites “Atomic Bomb Maidens” as “Hiroshima Girls” in more than just name. While undergoing surgery in Tokyo and before their departure to the U.S., Japanese media referred to the group by the former moniker. However, Shigeko and the other young women didn’t much like that phrase — “As if there was nothing more to our lives than the atomic bomb.” Americans often called Shigeko and the others “Hiroshima Girls” instead, which made Shigeko feel more accepted as a person and free in her identity. The bombing of Hiroshima, the people she met, and her experiences in the U.S. all shaped Shigeko’s life, and all are given due weight in Shigeko!

Despite the scope of its story and open view of identity, Shigeko! sometimes lacks complexity. Perhaps simplicity is just a characteristic of children’s literature, but it occasionally feels like something is being left out of the book. Embracing more emotional and social complexity could, in turn, develop readers’ own nuanced understanding of the people and events the story describes.

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Model Toy Libraries as Peace Centers Project Underway in the Philippines

ANT-Hiroshima is partnering with the non-profit organization ABA Trainings Inc. for the latter’s project Model Toy Libraries as Peace Centers, which will set up Toy Libraries in 20 elementary schools in Zamboanga City, Philippines. The project, also supported by the organization Philippine Toy Library, is spearheaded by Aldrin Bucoy Abdurahim, ABA Trainings Inc.’s founder and president.

The Toy Libraries are intended to help children learn about peace and value education through having fun. Educational toys, housed at the libraries and used to teach lessons, include books, stuffed toys, science and musical toys, slides, abacuses, puzzles, and cards.

Students at a local school say thanks

In order to set up the Toy Libraries, ABA Trainings Inc. needed book shelves, flooring linoleum, and posters in addition to the toys themselves. ANT-Hiroshima provided funding support for shelves and also plans to send copies of “Paper Crane Journey” to furnish the Libraries.

Aldrin said he was inspired by ANT-Hiroshima, particularly its commitment to building strong relationships, when he visited Hiroshima in 2010 as part of the Philippine delegation to JICA’s Training Program for Young Leaders on post-war reconstruction and peace-building. After participating in the program, Aldrin wanted to strengthen the relationship between Hiroshima and Zamboanga City.

ABA stands for Action Bridges Aspirations, but the name has further meanings. According to Aldrin, the word “aba” means “awakening to something you are good at” in Chavacano, the creole language used in Zamboanga City. The non-profit also carries the same initials as its founder.

Children at one of ABA Trainings Inc.’s partner schools

After being legally recognized as an NGO in 2015, ABA Trainings Inc. established five Peace Crane Centers across Zamboanga City in 2016. The organization works in local schools and communities and conducts programs on education, youth empowerment, leadership development for students, and team-building for teachers. Aldrin said the Toy Libraries project, ABA’s main focus in 2017, was built on the NGO’s engagement with many schools in the region through their other programs.

Currently, three of ABA Trainings Inc.’s peace centers have been converted to Toy Libraries, and the others are in the process of being set up. Aldrin plans to official launch the 20 Model Toy Libraries as Peace Centers on 6 August 2017.

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ANT-Hiroshima Contributes to Build up Nepal

ANT-Hiroshima helped sponsor a Build up Nepal project to rebuild a health post and school in Jyamrung, a village in central Nepal. Build up Nepal is an NGO “dedicated to rebuilding villages and fighting poverty in rural areas of Nepal,” according to their website.

ANT-Hiroshima first became involved with Build up Nepal when Hiroshima Jogakuin University student Ajdari Isooda proposed that ANT-Hiroshima support one of the organization’s reconstruction projects. Ajdari raised 70,000 yen selling udon at Jogakuin’s school festival; ANT then donated the money. Tomoko Watanabe, executive director of ANT-Hiroshima, visited Jyamrung during her trip to Nepal in April 2017.

Tomoko-san at the construction site

The partially constructed health post

ANT-Hiroshima recently received word from Andreas Kölling, Build up Nepal’s social business developer and sales manager, that reconstruction work in Jyamrung is speeding along, with the health post and living quarters already built up to roof level. The two buildings are expected to be completed within the next two months. Once completed, Build up Nepal’s partners Tuki Nepal Society and Tukee Nepal Samaj will use the health post to bring healthcare to Jyamrung and the neighboring villages.

The foundation of the other building project in Jyamrung, a school, is under construction. The school is planned to have 11 classrooms, and roughly 150 local students, currently studying in a temporary tin-shed school, will be able to use the new facility once it is completed.

The under-construction school (photo courtesy of Build up Nepal)

“The reconstruction work has created a lot of interest in all of Jyamrung,” Andreas wrote. “Together we are creating change and a better future for the children and youth there.”

Local students (photo courtesy of Build up Nepal)

Build up Nepal uses Earth Bricks to construct earthquake-resistant buildings. The Earth Brick machine doesn’t use electricity, so it can be used even in remote villages. Around 14,000 bricks are necessary to complete the Jyamrung project.

When Build up Nepal began work in Jyamrung, it first trained local community members on how to use the machine and build with the bricks, and training to expand the number of locals with building skills is ongoing. The training begins by covering topics such as safety measures, soil testing, machine operation and maintenance, and quality assurance. Next, trainees learn about the construction of earthquake-resistant foundations and how to cast beams and build walls. Using reinforcing bars and mortar in the walls makes the buildings stronger and more earthquake resistant.

Locals constructing Earth Bricks (photo courtesy of Build up Nepal)

Even after the health post and school are built, the community can continue rebuilding other parts of the village. Build up Nepal makes sure to train locals in the whole production process to make sure they can function independently.

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Financial Assistance Sent to Marawi during Crisis

Last week, ANT-Hiroshima sent financial assistance, which helped feed evacuees, to Reconciliatory Initiatives for Development Opportunities, Inc. (RIDO) in Marawi after the city was seized by combined militant groups aligned with the Islamic State. Friend of ANT-Hiroshima Abdul Hamidullah Atar, who works for RIDO, helped people evacuate the city, passing militants multiple times per day. On 31 May, he wrote to ANT-Hiroshima, saying, “Right now, we have been continuing various lobbying activities, urging the government to stop bombing the city, pushing to open negotiations, [collecting the bodies of those killed in] the bombardment and crossfire, and finally prioritizing the evacuation of the remaining populace trapped in the confrontation.”

Bags of rice to be given to IDPs and others in need.

On 23 May, Islamic State militants seized Marawi, located in the southern Philippines, with the goal of declaring an IS territory in Lanao del Sur. After roughly 500 militants attacked the Philippine Army stationed there, Marawi was put on lock-down, with roads leading to the city being blocked by both militants and government forces. Ninety percent of Marawi’s population was evacuated by 27 May, and reports differ between authorities and locals as to how many civilians have been killed by both militants and government airstrikes.

In his email, Abdul highlighted various challenges affecting the situation, such as the government only distributing relief assistance to evacuation centers, even though many IDPs are being hosted in people’s houses and lack food. Furthermore, after President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law on May 23, access to the military became very limited — which proved a problem as government forces sometimes treated innocent civilians as members of the militant groups. Abdul also worried that relationships between Muslims and Christians in the area would worsen after the militants targeted Christians in their attack.

Abdul asked for assistance to provide necessities such as hygiene kits, food, and water for both displaced people and those working to help them. He also emphasized the necessity of documentation of the damage and people’s stories, support for people who lost their homes, and care and school supplies for children.

Workers portion relief assistance.

RIDO used the funds donated by ANT-Hiroshima and other organizations to provide rice and other assistance to over 1,000 families in Lanao del Norte. However, the total assistance RIDO has received is still not enough to provide for everyone who needs help.

People wait for relief assistance to be distributed.

Relief assistance is handed out from a van.

Abdul said he has been “involved not only in humanitarian assistance but also in dialogue with the government to stop airstrikes and bombardment and to observe the rule of law and international human rights.”

We at ANT-Hiroshima would like to express our sympathy for the people of Marawi. Ordinary people are always hurt in war and conflict, and we hope that the current situation can be resolved through nonviolent means so that the people there can live in peace.

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Interview with Anti-Nuclear Activist Mitsuhiro Hayashida

Back in February, members of ANT-Hiroshima participated in a workshop about the current global anti-nuclear movement and Japan’s role therein. The workshop was led by Mitsuhiro Hayashida, activist and campaign leader of the Hibakusha Appeal. I later had the chance to interview Hayashida-san about his activities and some of his thoughts on the anti-nuclear movement. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Hayashida-san!

Hayashida-san speaks at an event for Hibakusha Appeal.

*   *   *

Please introduce yourself.

In Nagasaki, I served on the 10,000 High School Students Signature Campaign executive committee from my third year of middle school until graduating high school. In 2009, I went to the European UN Headquarters in Geneva as a High School Student Peace Ambassador with the same organization, and I also participated in the 2010 NPT Review Conference as a member of [the Nagasaki-based NGO] Global Citizens for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. After entering university, I was interested in learning more about nuclear power and the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets and other security-related laws; at that time some friends and I founded the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ), Students Against Secret Protection Law (SASPL), and Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs). In 2015, I participated in the NPT Review Conference for a second time as the NPO Peace Depo’s youth representative. I’m currently working with hibakusha to demand a nuclear ban treaty.

Please introduce the activities you’re currently involved in. Why were you interested in them, and how did you start participating?

I’m currently serving as campaign leader of the Hibakusha Appeal, which uses a signature campaign to spread the call for a nuclear ban treaty. To that end, I’m in contact with many partner organizations throughout the country to report on our activities in a bulletin magazine, I put on workshops about nuclear weapons to raise awareness about this issue, and I also make posters and graphics. Since I’m the contact point for individuals and organizations, I do phone, email, and in-person meetings, so I’m in communication with many people every day. It can feel like I’m shouldering all of the public relations for the Appeal.

About how I got started: First of all, my background as a third-generation hibakusha from Nagasaki is definitely part of my identity. But I only started to properly face my identity as such when I moved to Tokyo for university. Until then, I was surrounded by so many first, second, and third generation hibakusha that it didn’t seem like a special characteristic. I started to participate in social activism in my third year of middle school thanks to an invitation from a former elementary school teacher. I enjoyed speaking to people I wouldn’t normally be able to in school and became completely absorbed in those activities.

Have your opinions or feelings changed since the time you began participating in peace activism? Did any particular experiences make a strong impression?

When I was a high school student, I had many chances to meet with students coming to Nagasaki on school trips — that left an impression. Through our exchanges, I realized I had grown up in a unique environment, having connections to hibakusha in my daily life and learning about the atomic bombing every summer. At the time, the problem of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal was often raised, and it was frustrating that I didn’t have a good answer when people would say to me, “Japan needs to have nuclear weapons in order to protect itself from North Korea!” That when I started studying nuclear disarmament.

What do you think about the global nuclear ban movement? Within that movement, what is the role of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

It’s been about 10 years since I became involved in these activities, and back then I wouldn’t have thought that in 2017 UN negotiations would be taking place regarding a nuclear ban treaty. We’ve still got a long way to go down this road, but I feel that just being able to see a path is a big development in itself.

One of the main reasons the UN is holding nuclear ban treaty talks is that since 2010 “the inhumanity of nuclear weapons” was the focal idea of anti-nuclear activism. We gained concrete victories using the “inhumanity” argument, and it was important for hibakusha to share their experiences of the bombings with the world in order for our arguments to be based in reality. In particular, I feel it’s necessary to convey how hibakusha had to live in the postwar period, with regard to the long-term social, mental, and physical damage that comes with experiencing an atomic bomb.

Activism related to peace and a nuclear ban is difficult, and there are no easy solutions to the problems of war and nuclear weapons. Against this background, how do you keep up your motivation and a positive attitude toward your work?

Hayashida-san eating chirashi sushi made by a hibakusha … It’s clearly delicious.

The anti-nuclear movement has been one of the largest social movements in Japan since 1955. For this reason, we have associates and friends all over Japan, as well as through many generations of people. The U.S. and Europe-centered anti-nuclear movement that began after the Cold War also exists throughout the world. Allies of this movement throughout Japan and the rest of the world give me great encouragement.

What’s the role of young people in peace activism?

No matter where they come from, young people inherit history and shoulder the burden of the future. Because we young people are the ones who will create society going forward, I think we need to have a vision of what kind of society we want to live in. I think the same principle applies to a world without nuclear weapons. If we can’t envision a world without nuclear weapons, we won’t be able to realize it.

Global problems are of course not limited to nuclear weapons. We could make an endless list of problems like disparity, poverty, religious intolerance, etc. But I wonder if these various problems all have the same root.

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Green Legacy Hiroshima