NAGASAKI — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have been the most senior guest of honor at Thursday’s atomic bomb memorial ceremony in Nagasaki, but Mayor Tomihisa Taue was the one many came to hear.
“Today not only marks the anniversary of the atomic bomb, but a new chapter in Nagasaki’s role as a leading international voice for abolishing nuclear weapons. A lot of people are wondering if Taue will assume that role as vigorously as (his assassinated predecessor) Mayor Itcho Ito did,” said Chisako Takabo, 39, a local resident who has worked with nongovernmental organizations against nuclear weapons.
Taue showed Thursday that he was unafraid to criticize not only the international community but also the government, offering harsh words for Abe and those around him who might advocate a nuclear-armed Japan.
It was nine years ago at the International Court of Justice in The Hague that a newly elected Ito held up a photo of a boy who had been horribly burned by the atomic bomb and demanded to know what crime the boy had committed to deserve such punishment. Ito became a champion for abolishing all nuclear weapons and was a well-known figure among international arms control experts and peace activists.
Ito appeared to be heading for victory in April’s mayoral election when he was gunned down in front of his campaign headquarters by a yakuza, an assassination that shocked the city and the antinuclear movement.
Taue, a former city bureaucrat who was drafted as a last-minute replacement for Ito, won the race after declaring he would carry on Ito’s legacy and his policies. But despite the victory, he was considered by most to be an unknown in terms of international efforts to abolish nuclear weapons.
For most residents, the more important issues were the pocketbook issues of jobs and economic growth.
Under Ito, Nagasaki had embarked on a campaign to rebuild and revitalize the city to attract tourists. Two decades ago, all that remained of the old Dutch trading post of Dejima, which was Japan’s only contact point with the West during the Edo Period (1603-1868), were a few ancient, ramshackle buildings in disrepair that drew only the most dedicated of history buffs. Under Ito, the city completely refurbished Dejima and made the area more tourist-friendly.
“Ito recognized that Nagasaki needed increased tourism in order to prosper. Taue will have to continue Ito’s policy of making Nagasaki even more tourist-friendly if the economy is to improve,” said Yasuo Ota, a local taxi driver.
And international tourism, especially from China and South Korea, is also an area local merchants say Taue will have to continue to promote. Compared with just a decade ago, Nagasaki has far more street signs in Chinese and Korean. Advertisements and local media tout Nagasaki’s long historical connections with China, which had its own trade mission in Nagasaki during the Edo Period.
“We always get a lot of Western tourists for the atomic bomb ceremony. But Chinese tourists come in large numbers year-round,” said Akiko Kawamoto, who works in a cafe near JR Nagasaki Station.