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Hiroshima Citizens Collect Signatures for Nuclear Ban Treaty

ANT-Hiroshima supports the Hibakusha Appeal, an international signature campaign calling for the ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by all nations.

However, rather than always focusing on the activities of NGOs, activists, or international organizations, today we would like to highlight the work of individual Hiroshima citizens who contribute to the campaign.

Kyōko Fujitaka

Kyōko Fujitaka works at an apparel shop in the Mitsukoshi department store. Two years ago, she began talking with Takako Morii, a regular customer and ANT-Hiroshima volunteer. Inspired by Morii-san’s stories of her work with The Clouds in Summer Won’t ForgetFujitaka-san felt she too wanted to do something for Hiroshima and peace.

Fujitaka-san (left) with Morii-san

Around the beginning of 2017, the two spoke about another peace activity Morii-san was participating in, the Hibakusha Appeal signature campaign. Fujitaka-san agreed to lend a hand. She asked family members, friends, coworkers, and regular customers to sign, as well as acquaintances from her job at a cosmetics company and people she met at work parties. When others wanted to participate, Fujitaka-san gave them blank forms so they could go collect signatures themselves.

Until then, Fujitaka-san had never participated in peace- or disarmament-related activities. She was born and raised in Hiroshima, and her mother and grandmother are hibakusha. Her grandfather, who worked near what is now the Atomic Bomb Dome, died the day of the bombing. Although her grandmother took her to ring the Peace Bell in Peace Memorial Park every summer, Fujitaka-san didn’t think seriously about the atomic bombing or her own connection to it until she was an adult.

Fujitaka-san said the vast majority of people she talks to about the Hibakusha Appeal agree to sign. To her, the strong point of a signature campaign is its simplicity. Everyone can participate. Fujitaka-san asks for signatures without going into too much detail about the campaign and without being part of any official group. She began her work because of her connection to Morii-san, and she believes people agree to sign from similarly simple motives — they are from Hiroshima, and they support nuclear disarmament.

Currently, Fujitaka-san has collected over 200 signatures. She humbly said she is not satisfied with that number, and she will continue doing what she can to support the campaign.

Mie Higashi and Yoshiko Tanaka

Higashi-san and Tanaka-san began collecting signatures two months ago, after ANT-Hiroshima Executive Director Tomoko Watanabe encouraged them participate in the campaign.

The pair run a hair salon in Hiroshima’s Misasa neighborhood, and Tomoko-san has been their client for the past 30 years. As one does at a salon, the three chatted whenever Tomoko-san would come for a haircut, and naturally the conversation would turn to work. After sharing that ANT-Hiroshima was supporting the Hibakusha Appeal campaign, Tomoko-san asked Higashi-san and Tanaka-san if they would participate too.

(From right to left) Higashi-san and Tanaka-san with Tomoko-san

Wishing to do more than just collect family members’ signatures, the two placed blank forms on the front counter of their salon. They ask regular customers, people they already have established relationships with, to sign. So far, no one has refused. Some offer to write the names of their family members as well, while others take home a form to share with acquaintances.

Like Fujitaka-san, this is the first time Higashi-san and Tanaka-san have participated in peace activities. When I asked, “Why now?” Higashi-san responded, “Because of Tomoko-san. We trust her.”

The two also think most people living in Hiroshima, no matter where they were born, would be willing to sign because peace-related issues are part of Hiroshima daily life. Whether or not to actively engage is up to the individual, but there’s no denying that peace education in schools, news coverage around August 6, and a host of other events and institutions have an impact on citizens’ consciousness and identity.

When asked whether they had anything else they wished to convey, Higashi-san and Tanaka-san looked pensive, then simply stated, “We don’t want war.”

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A signature campaign is largely built on trust. As Higashi-san and Tanaka-san pointed out, without it, no one would write their address on the petition form.

A simple act with simple motives is the heart of these citizens’ work. Any attempt there might have been on the part of the interviewer to fish for a more complex story or a hot take on activism was rebuffed. Trust built on personal relationships and the potential for cooperation therein was the message, loud and clear.

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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.

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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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Silent Histories Exhibit Exhumes Scars of War

In a nation called miraculous for its transformation from burned-out desolation to economic powerhouse, the scars of war were quickly hidden by dazzling recovery. Children who suffered physical and mental trauma in the American bombing of Japan during World War II hid their pain and lived quietly, trying not to trouble others. Now, through photojournalist Kazuma Obara’s work, some are finally sharing their “silent histories.”

Originally a self-published — in fact, handmade, with only 45 copies produced — photobook, the photography exhibition Silent Histories was held in Hiroshima at the gallery Intersection611 from 21 April to 3 May.

This man spent most of his life folding his hands as seen on the left, to hide his scars.

The exhibition focuses on the personal stories of a few individuals who were children during WWII and experienced the bombing of Osaka. They suffered permanent injuries or saw family members killed in an instant. Along with portraits of the victims, the exhibit also utilizes aerial photographs of the bombing taken by the U.S. Army and shots of present-day Osaka, taken 70 years to the day after the bombing. Although some 400 Japanese cities were bombed during WWII, killing 330,000 people and injuring another 100,000, focusing on the histories of individuals personalizes the mass bombings that happened during the war. As years passed, reminders of war in Japan faded, although victims’ pain often did not. Now in their 70s and 80s, some victims are only just beginning to share their stories. Obara wants convey the experiences of war young people, to catalyze them to imagine the feelings of and sympathize with the victims.

At an artist talk event at the exhibit, Obara said he was inspired to create Silent Histories after seeing how victims altered photos of themselves. In particular, one woman, who lost a leg when Osaka was bombed, blacked out the lower half of her body with a pen in a class photograph. Obara said that more than seeing people’s actual scars, he was struck by how they hid them. His reaction made him wonder about the extent to which current generations can feel the pain of those victimized in WWII, and he also wanted to explore why victims felt pressured to hide their scars. Often, the answer to the latter was that the victims faced discrimination for their disabilities.

The Silent Histories exhibit at Intersection611. Photo of Osaka on a rainy day — exactly 70 years after it was bombed in WWII.

Below many of the photographs, Obara included quotes from their subjects. They explained what happened to them during the war and how their experiences impact their daily life even now. For example, one of the woman who had lost a leg was quoted saying that the first thing she does every morning is attach her prosthetic leg and that she can’t even reach the bathroom without it. She said that pain is part of her daily life and that she wouldn’t wish this suffering on anyone.

Although Silent Histories focuses on Osaka, the exhibit has particular relevance in Hiroshima, where large numbers of mobilized children working in the city were killed, lost family, or were left with mental and physical scars by the atomic bombing.

Obara also spoke about his work prior Silent Histories. He was the first photojournalist to photograph inside the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Although publishing his work, which also included portraits of and interviews with power plant cleanup workers and photos of the surrounding affected area, proved difficult in Japan, the material was published as Reset Beyond Fukushima with the Swiss Lars Müller Publishers. Obara mentioned that he was interested in the theme of whether a child feels free to say they’re related to a power plant worker, but he stopped the project after realizing the family portraits he wanted to shoot would out workers’ children.

For the past few years, Obara has been working on a project about the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and those affected by the disaster there; he is also interested in how Chernobyl is portrayed in popular media. His series Exposure, which focuses on the story of Mariya, a young woman who was exposed to radiation from Chernobyl while in the womb and who suffered health problems ever since, won first prize in the 2016 World Press Photo contest.

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Oberlin College Holds Event Introducing Hibakujumoku Saplings

Oberlin College recently held an event, titled Spring Thaw, to introduce students to the college’s second-generation hibakujumoku saplings. Oberlin received the wisteria, Chinese parasol (aogiri), and ginkgo saplings from Green Legacy Hiroshima in September 2015. The saplings are currently growing in the sheltered science building courtyard until they become big enough to weather the harsh Ohio winter and be replanted in a permanent home.

Professor Garvin speaks about the saplings.

Professor of Biology Mary Garvin gave a tour of the saplings, adding a scientific side to the hibakujumoku narrative. Attendees, who included college students, faculty, and staff, listened to Professor Garvin speak about how trees transition through seasons and about ginkgo’s robust and resilient qualities. Students were curious as to whether genetic research is being done on hibakujumoku. The group also discussed the symbolic importance of Hiroshima’s parasol tree, the parent of Oberlin’s saplings. The parasol tree is one of only two hibakujumoku in the Peace Park, and its saplings have been sent around the world as messengers of peace even before Green Legacy began its activities. Although ginkgo can handle Ohio’s climate, the more delicate parasol tree saplings need to be handled with greater care.

Attendees also watched a video introducing some of the hibakujumoku back in Hiroshima, shot in early spring by yours truly and which can be viewed below. The video included shots of the parasol and ginkgo parent trees, so that Spring Thaw attendees could see where they came from. The ginkgo, which leans in the direction of the hypocenter, was of particular interest.

Events like Spring Thaw aren’t the only way Oberlin students come into contact with hibakujumoku. Environmental Studies Professor Chie Sakakibara’s class Nature Culture Interpretation watched and discussed the Green Legacy Hiroshima introduction video, and then Professor Garvin introduced the students to the ginkgo saplings and explained how ginkgo’s biological properties helped them survive the bombing.

Spring Thaw attendees

Hopefully interest in hibakujumoku and Hiroshima will continue to grow at Oberlin.

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Nine Introductions to Hibakujumoku

On November 4, Tokyo University of Agriculture Professor Yoichi Kunii, Kuniko Watanabe, and myself traversed the streets, gardens, hills, shrines, and temples of Hiroshima to gather data on hibakujumoku (atomic-bombed trees).

Professor Kunii plans to use his findings to visually represent the trees using 3D computer modeling. His models, in connection with University of Tsukuba Professor Masakazu Suzuki’s articles on hibakujumoku, will allow readers and students to quickly visualize Professor Suzuki’s findings. Creating 3D models of the hibakujumoku that still stand in their original location can clearly show the direction the tree is leaning, the direction of its branches and roots, and any other characteristics that may be a result of exposure to the atomic bomb. Professor Kunii hopes also to bring his students to collect data on the trees. Not only will it be a great learning opportunity for his students, but locals (for example, children at Myojyo-in Nursery, in whose schoolyard stand two hibakujumoku) will learn about the trees through interacting with the researchers.

Click “Continue reading” below for photos and introductions to the hibakujumoku we visited.

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Shukkeien’s ginkgo leans toward the hypocenter of the atomic blast.

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Green Legacy Hiroshima