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The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget

This August marked the third year ANT-Hiroshima has helped organize free performances of the recitation play The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget (Natsu no Kumo wa Wasurenai). This year, members of Natsu no Kai, the group of actresses who have been performing the play across Japan since 2008, gave three performances for students from Hiroshima’s public junior high schools. Around 2,300 students saw the play.

ANT-Hiroshima first became involved with The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget after staff and volunteers were moved by a performance of the play. They had been searching for effective ways to convey and hand over the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to younger generations through art and thought The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget was an excellent way to do so. ANT-Hiroshima coordinates with Natsu no Kai, local educators, and venues to hold the free performances. More and more schools and students have participated since ANT-Hiroshima began the project three years ago; in past years elementary school students have also attended.

Morii-san and Takemura-san visiting a junior high school (2016)

Takako Morii and Ikuko Takemura, both hibakusha, spearheaded the project in order to give a greater number local students the opportunity to learn about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Morii-san and Takemura-san lead fundraisers to support the project, and the money goes directly toward implementing performances. Many donors are hibakusha themselves. Along with fundraising, Morii-san and Takemura-san visit audience members’ schools to further deepen the play’s impact as peace education. They discuss the events described in the script and provide more context through sharing their own experiences.

The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget‘s script comprises of testimonies and poems written by hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as American photographer Joe O’Donnell. Perhaps the most well-known work included in the script is Sadako Kurihara’s poem “Let us be Midwives!” Along with testimonies written from an adult’s perspective, there are also shorter ones from children, which are read by five or six local junior high school students who join the production. The play ends with “Words of Farewell”: The performers trade off saying victims’ last words, which are as simple and poignant as a call for mother or asking a soldier “Why has this happened?”

A performance at Gion Higashi Junior High School

Although one might expect a recitation play to feel less polished than a memorized performance, the staging of The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget was impressive and professional. Six chairs were the only setting, and the actresses deftly moved them between scenes to change the atmosphere. The lighting was dynamic, using changing color or a shifting spotlight to convey more movement than the actresses themselves, who were always still while speaking. At the beginning of each scene, the title and author of each testimony or poem was projected on a screen at the rear of the stage.

The six actresses, all of a venerable age and with storied careers, gave subtle and contentious performances. During a question and answer session between the actresses and around 15 students following one of the performances, a student asked how the actresses put their own emotion into their recitation. One actress replied, “We do not try to express our own emotions. Rather, we imagine the feelings of the writer and try to convey their voice. That’s why we don’t raise our faces when we read from the script.” The recitation play’s medium is an integral part of its message.

Although they prioritize the voices in the script and are not themselves from Hiroshima or Nagasaki, the actresses said they all have experienced war. Their approach to performing does not emphasize their own emotion, but their motivation for performing is grounded in personal experience.

A flyer for The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget

The question and answer session began with all the students sharing a short reflection about the play. Many students’ comments included a confirmed belief that war is wrong, that they could better imagine what the atomic bombings were like, and that they also wanted to do something to tell this story. The actresses said this last comment is what they are happiest to hear from people who watch The Clouds in Summer Won’t Forget. 

In his reflection, one of the students connected the play with his worry about North Korea, which had launched a missile over Hokkaido only the day before. An actress responded that Japan was once a military nation not so different from today’s North Korea. From comments and experiences like this, hopefully the students can gain a nuanced historical perspective, improve their critical thinking, and develop a similarly nuanced and open-minded view of the present. An actress said, “From now on, you have to decide for yourself what’s true.”

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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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Green Legacy Hiroshima