Voices of the Hibakusha: Event for the Anniversary of the Nuclear Ban Treaty and “Every Second Counts for the Survivors!”

Jul 16, 2021

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On July 7, more than 200 people watched a livestream dedicated to the Hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) and disarmament advocacy. It marked four years since the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and looked back on the first half of “Every Second Counts for the Survivors! – Peace Boat Online Hibakusha Project”. The host of the event was Peace Boat International Coordinator, Watanabe Rika who opened the stream with joy and hope as she delightfully greeted the viewers, and encouraged them to participate with comments and questions in the Youtube Live Chat.

Kawasaki Akira, Director of the Hibakusha Project and International Steering Group member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), was the first to speak during the event. He thanked everyone for coming to the livestream on the same day as Tanabata or the Japanese “Star Festival”, when children write wishes and tie them to bamboo trees. “Today is a special day”, he said, “On July 7 four years ago today, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the United Nations by votes in favour from 122 countries.”

The first guest was Higashino Mariko, a second-generation Hibakusha from Hiroshima who has told her story in many places, including through online testimony sessions in Mongolia and India. Ms Watanabe asked what Ms Higashino thought about when she spoke with students at Leiden University in the Netherlands about her family’s story.  “World peace is not somewhere far away, but rather, it is something that each of us creates, and I think that coming from the heart is important. I have planted the seeds of peace in the hearts of everyone who heard me. Please take good care of yourselves and make a huge flower of peace bloom.” Ms Higashino said.

Wada Masako, a leading member of the Japan Confederation of A- and H- bomb survivors, Nihon Hidankyo​ spoke about an online event for people in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikstan in April 2021, which also marked the 30th anniversary of the closure of the Semei Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan. Noting that because Kyrgyzstan cannot be visited with Peace Boat by sea, Ms Wada said that she was glad that this kind of event could be held despite the pause on Peace Boat’s voyages. 

Hiroshima survivor Miyake Nobuo then joined the event, together with Wayne Kijner and Japanese-English interpreter, Yoshikawa Michi. Mr Kijner is from the Marshall Islands and attending university in Fiji, where he is the President of MISA, the Marshall Islands Students’ Association. He explained that “MISA is a student organization, basically a grassroots movement to raise awareness among our peers and colleagues at the university and teach them about nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands. Every year since March 1, 2019, we have been hosting an on-campus student-led march, which allows us and students around the region to learn about nuclear testing.”  Reflecting on the online testimony session held in April as part of “Every Second Counts for the Survivors”, Mr Kijner said: “I strongly believe that learning from the past can help us build a better future to avoid making the same mistake over again.”

The next virtual stop during the event was Germany, where Ms Watanabe spoke with  Kunimoto Takashi and Frauke Arndt, who met during the first Global Voyage for a Nuclear Free World: Peace Boat Hibakusha Project when Mr Kunimoto made the documentary, “Traveling with Hibakusha: Across Generations” (2010), and Ms Arndt was the coordinator of interpreters onboard the voyage. Takashi was born in Tokyo and immigrated to Germany 10 years ago. He said he had noticed the difference in Germany where teachers enthusiastically confront the histories of war, and students have mandatory trips to museums and historical sites to be reminded of why this history should not be repeated. These lessons also extend beyond history class, for example by also using literature to convey messages of survivors.

After “departing” from Germany, Rika said “hola” to Latin America where she spoke with Agustin Saiz, Nuclear Issues Coordinator at the NGO Our Voice in Argentina, Miyata Takeshi, a Hibakusha living in Nagasaki, and Imai Yuko, a Spanish-Japanese interpreter. Mr Saiz said that ‘Our Voice’ is grateful to survivors and for the opportunity to hear from them. “We were working on nuclear disarmament from an environmental point of view but after hearing Mr Miyata’s testimony, we have incorporated the humanitarian element. Currently, we are working with countries such as Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and even Italy.” Talking about his impression after hearing Mr Miyata’s testimony, he continued, “We understand that to bring true justice, it is necessary to talk about what happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, especially because the lack of justice [for the Hibakusha] 75 years ago is the root of injustices today.” 

Miyata expressed his gratitude for his Argentinean audience during his online testimony session. He reiterated what Rika had said about the TPNW. “The voices of Hibakusha survivors became a treaty for the world, and the world supported it. Not only in Nagasaki, or in Hiroshima, but people all over the world want to enjoy living on this green Earth, free of the threat of nuclear weapons” 

Christelle Barakat, a university student from Lebanon living in the US and an intern at Peace Boat US, also joined the event to share her journey spreading Hibakusha voices. Through Michi’s interpretation, she shared her thoughts about the testimony session held last December, and its impact on her work with the Youth Champions for Disarmament, a programme coordinated by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs. Ms Barakat not only attended Hibakusha events, but also hosted one herself at her university. “I’m always amazed by their strength to be able to share something that’s so horrifying and so deeply intimate.”


The last international stop was the Philippines, where Ms Watanabe spoke with Loreta Castro, who will host an online testimony session on August 23 in which students and teachers from Miriam College, as well as partnering peace and interfaith organizations, will participate. She hopes that the audience will learn more about the experiences and the advocacy work of the Hibakusha, and that this can inspire them to pursue disarmament advocacy in Asia. 

Ms Watanabe played a video montage of Hibakusha survivors and international Hibakusha supporters expressing why sharing their testimonies is so important.Watanabe’s final stop was in Japan. She spoke with project volunteers Ankita Sehgal (Tokyo), Jun McInerney (Yokohama), and Momoko Takao (Osaka). Their inspiration to work with the Hibakusha derived from their experiences living abroad.

Lastly, Ms Watanabe greeted Yamamoto Naomi, based in Osaka, and Yuko Imai. Naomi said, “Each time I interpret for these events, I am always so moved by the testimonies, and the young people who smile and are willing to participate.”

Ms Watanabe closed the event, thanking everyone for participating. The Youtube live chat was also brimming with positivity, with messages of peace and hope in different languages. 

Peace Boat will continue to host online testimonies throughout this year, as well as some special events from Hiroshima and Nagasaki including on August 6 a musical performance with two instruments that survived the atomic bombing: a piano and a violin. Please follow our journey online and reach out if you would like to participate.

Report by Farrah Hasnain