Are There People Living in Hiroshima?

March 5, 2020 | 9:30 am
Gregory Kulacki
China Project Manager

It seems this question is put to internet search engines with surprising frequency.

The answer is yes, and the people living there have a message for the curious: you don’t want to suffer what we suffered. Save yourselves before it’s too late. Abolish nuclear weapons.

The citizens of Hiroshima gather every summer to commemorate the atomic bombing of their hometown on August 6, 1945. It’s not a nationalist affair. They greeted Prime Minister Abe quite coolly the year I attended. Japan’s authoritarian strongman wants to bring US nuclear weapons back to Asia. He’s also trying to repeal the peace constitution Japan adopted in 1947 after the great power ambitions of Imperial Japan left the country, and Hiroshima, in ruins.

The constitution declares “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.” That means a lot to most people in Hiroshima. They know a future war could be fought with nuclear weapons. They hold their annual ceremony, and host 1.5 million visitors during the rest of the year, to warn the world just how horrible a nuclear war would be. One walk through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum would leave you with little doubt of the war’s horrors.

Who are the Hibakusha?

“Hibakusha” is the Japanese word for the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The shrinking number of those still among us lived every day of their lives watching family, friends and neighbors get sick and die from radiation-related illnesses. They constantly wondered if every new pain or ailment meant they were next. They confronted the stigma of being damaged and unwanted by others who feared becoming attached to someone who might contract a horrible illness, or pass genetic tragedy onto subsequent generations. They’ve watched their children, and grand children, suffer from the same stigma.

It’s been 75 years, but for many the horror of that morning remains vivid in their memories. Reliving it is traumatic, yet some feel obligated to tell their stories. FUJIE Kyoko was nine years old, and in a train tunnel when the bomb exploded.

“When we got home, my mother was wrapped head to toe in sheets. She was wrapped in sheets in order to prevent maggots from breeding, because she had suffered burns over her entire body. My younger sister had suffered burns over her entire face and was burnt black. Her hands and feet were also terribly burnt, so she was also wrapped with sheets. As she was very young, she was scared of how my mother looked and cried all the time.

 My mother spoke her dying words to my grandmother: ‘Mother-in-law, I want to eat a giant potato.’

 To pray for the repose of my mother’s soul, I always participate in the Toro Nagashi (ceremony in which paper lanterns are floated down a river). I make an offering of large boiled potatoes. Even now, when I see a large potato, I think about how I’d like to give it to my mother to eat.”

Many of the survivors have taken an active role in trying to eliminate nuclear weapons. They’ve succeeded, for the most part, in keeping US nuclear weapons out of Japan. They’ve begged the governments of the nuclear weapons states that joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to honor their legal obligations “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Their entreaties continue to fall on deaf ears. The NPT entered into force fifty years ago. The United States and Russia still have about 12,000 nuclear warheads between them. China, the United Kingdom and France still keep several hundreds each. Pakistan, India and Israel refused to join the treaty and North Korea withdrew. Together the governments of the nuclear weapons states are spending trillions of dollars to improve the means of delivering those warheads to targets all over the world. Their leaders frequently threaten to use them.

Supporting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

The non-nuclear weapons states have had enough. They are on the verge of enacting a new treaty that makes nuclear weapons illegal—just like chemical and biological weapons. As the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaches, the Hibakusha have issued an appeal for signatures in support of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). They’re asking you to sign it. Your signature means a lot to them. It will let them know they have not suffered in vain.

Signing is a simple act to support the treaty and show solidarity with the Hibakusha. If enough people respond, especially those of you in nuclear weapons states, it will let our leaders know abolishing nuclear weapons is as important to us as it is to the Hibakusha. Together, we can help ensure that no one ever suffers the horror of nuclear war again.

The featured image in this blog is courtesy UCS.

About the author

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Gregory Kulacki is a Senior Analyst and the China Project Manager for the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Research Center for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (RECNA) at Nagasaki University. He works on improving cross-cultural communication between the United States of America, China and Japan on nuclear weapons and related security issues. Prior to joining UCS in 2002, Dr. Kulacki was the Director of External Studies at Pitzer College, an Associate Professor of Government at Green Mountain College and the China Director for the Council on International Educational Exchange. Gregory completed his doctorate in government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park.