Connecting the World with Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 76th anniversaries of the Atomic Bombings

Aug 16, 2021

August 2021 marked 76 years since the atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were the first anniversaries since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force in January 2021, a historic moment that Hibakusha worked toward for decades. Peace Boat Executive Committee Member, Kawasaki Akira attended the official memorial ceremonies organized by the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on behalf of Peace Boat and the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), of which Peace Boat is an international steering group member.  As the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic prevented many from taking part in the commemorations in person, particularly from overseas, Peace Boat collaborated with ICAN to connect Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the world virtually.

Activities included a roundtable held on August 5 with Japanese parliamentarians which focused on the first Meeting of State Parties (MSP) to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to be held in early 2022 and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. It was organized by the Japan NGO Network for Nuclear Abolition, and facilitated by Kawasaki Akira. The roundtable  featured representatives from all Japanese political parties, United Nations Under-Secretary-General of Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu and Ambassador Alexander Kmentt of Austria, President-designate of the MSP. Each parliamentarian expressed that Japan should attend the first MSP as an observer, an important step for the debate within Japan.

An online Hibakusha testimony session was also held on August 9, the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, with survivor Mitamura Shizuko. This event was organized in cooperation with the Mayors for Peace French Chapter and ICAN France, and is part of the ongoing project “Every Second Counts for the Survivors! Peace Boat Hibakusha Project Online”.  A feature article on Peace Boat’s online testimonies was published by Kyodo News with the title, "Peace Boat goes virtual with A-bomb survivors' stories amid pandemic."

ICAN Instagram Lives

A key highlight around the anniversary was the live broadcasts on ICAN’s Instagram account, giving people around the world the opportunity to share in the commemorative events and to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Please see below for a summary of these Lives, which are all also available online here.

Hiroshima, August 6 morning

The morning of August 6 began with an Instagram Live hosted by Peace Boat’s Hatakeyama Sumiko, who guided participants through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, including the A-Bomb Dome. One single bomb that the United States dropped that day killed hundreds of thousands of people in an instant. It is said that approximately 140,000 people died in Hiroshima by the end of 1945.
The morning was a typical Japanese August morning: sunny skies, hot and humid weather, and the loud noise of cicadas. Sumiko recalled, “Many survivors of the atomic bombing, hibakusha, have told me how it was “very hot” on “that day” in Hiroshima back in 1945.” At 8:15 AM, the exact time the bomb was detonated 76 years earlier, a series of bells were rung. The usually lively park seemed to stand still in time as everyone nearby, as well as those joining online, took a moment of silence to honor the victims of the bombing.  Second-generation Hibakusha Higashino Mariko then joined the broadcast. Her mother was exposed to the bomb in Hiroshima, and passed away just before the nuclear ban treaty entered into force. Ms Higashino felt that the treaty was the wish of all Hibakusha, and was certain her mother was happy about this development. She also acknowledged all other nuclear survivors around the world, and that this treaty is also for them.

Viewers from around the world shared their impressions and comments live, including questions about the residual effects of radiation both on the city of Hiroshima and on second and third generations of Hibakusha. In closing, Sumiko shared that “Today, from Hiroshima, I would really like to urge you to think for a moment about the immense suffering the atomic bombs have caused to hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and whether anything can justify the continued existence of such inhumane weapons.”

Hiroshima, August 6 evening

The August 6 day of remembrance concluded with a live musical performance featuring two  instruments that had survived the bombing: Akiko’s Piano and Mr Palchikoff’s Violin. The musicians playing these amazing instruments were Mihara Yuki (piano) and Saka Sunao (violin). Akiko Kawamoto was a student who loved playing the piano. She experienced the atomic bombing in Hiroshima, narrowly escaping death but dying the following day due to radiation. The a-bombed violin belonged to Sergei Palchikoff, who fled post-revolution Russia and arrived in Hiroshima in 1923. He taught music at Hiroshima Jogakuin School before the war, & the violin was donated to the school by his family. Serendipitously, Yuki’s grandmother actually studied music under Mr Palchikoff during her youth.

Before the performance, Mary Popeo of local organisation Peace Culture Village guided viewers around the Peace Memorial Park. Before the bombing, this area of Hiroshima was not a luscious green park. Rather, it was a bustling commercial area with shops, shrines and temples, and children playing in the streets. This Hiroshima was destroyed in an instant. Now, the park serves as a constant reminder, and as an image of peace.  The Aioi Bridge, at the entrance to the peace park is a well-known location in Hiroshima, said to have been the target of the bombing for its unique T-shape. After the bombing, many survivors made their way to the river to find water to drink or to escape the flames, and many sadly perished there. Today it has become a custom to write wishes for peace on lanterns and release them into the river.

During the performance, each instrument was masterfully played in solos as well as together in accompaniment. The beautiful music had a powerful effect on the viewers. It connected the performers to not only the instruments but also their previous owners and all other Hibakusha who had suffered from the nuclear bomb.


Nagasaki, August 9

To commemorate the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, Peace Boat’s Watanabe Rika and Matsumura Masumi presented a bilingual virtual tour in both English and Spanish. One single bomb exploded around 500m above Matsuyama district and killed tens of thousands of people in an instant. It is said that approximately 74,000 people died in Nagasaki by the end of that year.

The livestream was joined by people around the world, with many tuning in from countries in Latin America. Visitors were guided through the Shiroyama Elementary School, located only 500 meters from the hypocenter. The three-story reinforced concrete school building, which was standing on top of a hill, suffered major damage from the intense heat rays, shock waves and blast from the atomic bomb. In the fire which followed, the second and third floors of the building were burnt to the ground. About 1,500 students enrolled at the school then, and around 1,400 are thought to have died in their homes or elsewhere in the school district. 120 students were at the time mobilized to work at the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Arms Factory, which had been partially relocated to the school grounds. Of them, 100 perished in the bombing. Today, the school has been rebuilt, and in 1999, the staircase, the only part of the old school which had remained, was made into a museum to educate visitors about the tragic history.

Viewers first saw the school grounds as they are today, including where students gather monthly for a ceremony to honor the victims of the bombing. Here, they marvelled at the colorful paper cranes displayed by the entrance. At 11:02 AM, the exact moment the bomb was detonated, the loud cries of an air raid siren could be heard, followed by the sound of the school bells. Following, a moment of silence was held to honor the many lives that ended that day. These different sounds mixed to create an intense moment at the school.

The tour then entered the museum, filled with photos, models, artefacts, and written testimonies that serve to show the horror of the bombing. Teachers and parents were forced to cremate the deceased children.  Our hosts asked, “Can we imagine what it was like for parents to cremate their children and teachers to cremate their own students in the garden and school ground?” Viewers sympathized with the feelings of the survivors, imagining themselves in their shoes. What little remained of the school stood in a vast sea of rubble and destroyed buildings. The surviving teachers knew the importance and worked to restore the school and began peace education projects. In the museum, viewers saw displays of correspondence between Italian and Japanese students on the dangers of nuclear weapons and the importance of peace, along with more origami cranes.

Leaving the school building, we visited the outer grounds. Rika and Masumi explained that prior to the war this had been a playground, and during wartime the teachers grew vegetables there. This was, however, replaced by cremated bodies after the bombings. The area is now home to numerous beautiful cherry blossom trees, donated by Hayashi Tsue, a mother, to memorialize her daughter Kayoko who died at the school in the bombing. The live tour ended with a recommendation for visitors to come in the spring to see the blossoms and their message for peace in full-bloom, and messages of thanks and eager wishes to make the pilgrimage in various languages.

Proud to collaborate with ICAN to make these Instagram Lives possible, Peace Boat will continue to work to connect people around the world with survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Particularly, “Every Second Counts for the Survivors!- Peace Boat Hibakusha Project Online” will continue to share Hibakusha testimonies in various languages in online events with partner organizations. Please contact us if you are interested in hosting a session with a survivor, or being involved in the project in any way!

This article features reporting by Peace Boat US interns Elijah Cook and Farrah Hasnain.