YOKOHAMA – For aging atomic bomb survivors, it is a matter of grave concern whether their long-running campaign to see the abolition of nuclear weapons will be continued by the next generation, and just as important to them as passing on their memories of the 1945 bombings.
They may have a ray of hope in a 23-year-old descendant of an atomic bomb survivor who is working for a better future through a range of activities, most recently as a member of the student group that spearheaded last year’s protests against the security laws.
Mitsuhiro Hayashida is one of the founding members of SEALDs (Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy-s), which was launched in May, and has also been deeply committed since his teenage days to the effort to ban nuclear weapons.
“What drives me in my current actions are the words of the hibakusha I have heard all my life,” the senior student at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo told the audience at an event in October to oppose the security laws and nuclear arms.
Born in Nagasaki, Hayashida has been immersed in local peace education since his childhood and grew up listening to the accounts of people who survived the city’s bombing, including his grandfather, who entered the city shortly after the blast and handled dead bodies.
Hayashida was devoted during his high school years to campaigning in and outside Japan against nuclear weapons. He was selected as a High School Student Peace Ambassador in 2009 out of some 110 applicants to promote nuclear abolition around the world.
Hayashida recalled in a recent interview that it was not only a sense of responsibility that motivated him in his activities.
“I was actually enjoying them because I could learn a lot of things by talking with various people and traveling overseas. It gave me a chance to escape from the school’s closed atmosphere,” he said.
His life took another turn following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, which began the day after he moved to Yokohama to enroll in university.
Realizing that civilian use of nuclear power can expose people to radiation just like atomic bombs, Hayashida was drawn to protests in front of the prime minister’s office in 2012. These demonstrations also drew the other youths who would go on to form SEALDs, such as the group’s leading figure, Aki Okuda, who was also attending Meiji Gakuin University.
While Hayashida’s current focus is on repealing the security laws that passed the Diet in September, expanding the role of the Self-Defense Forces overseas, he believes the activities of SEALDs are also connected to his mission to abolish nuclear weapons.
“I think debating national security issues will eventually lead to (the question of whether we need) atomic bombs, so in my mind these two issues are linked,” he said.
As the debate over the security laws heightened awareness among the public about issues of war and peace, it might have been a good chance for the campaign against nuclear weapons to gain steam. Hayashida said that didn’t happen because of deep-seated divisions between the organizations leading the effort for abolishing nuclear arms.
“I have grown up under the influence of existing peace groups and I respect what they have done over the past decades, but I’m also fed up with their ideological conflicts,” he said.
Movements in Japan to ban nuclear weapons emerged in the 1950s, but a key group launched in 1955 split over differences on whether to back the Soviet Union’s nuclear testing, resulting in the birth of another group. Since then, the two major anti-nuclear organizations have rarely acted together.
Hayashida has explored his own ways to stir up interest among his fellow university students and other youths by organizing tours to Nagasaki and the other atomic-bombed city, Hiroshima, every summer since 2011. He also frequently speaks at events at the request of peace groups.
Hayashida, who plans to continue his study of atomic bomb survivors in graduate school, is eager to continue advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons in the future, said he also wants to “create” a new movement with the power to appeal to young people.
He may not have to shoulder the burden of peace campaigning alone, as many youths in Japan now appear to be breaking out of their general image of political apathy.
“What SEALDs has done is it really lowered the threshold (for campaigning against political issues). And I don’t think this change is temporary,” Hayashida said.
The group’s hip style of protest — featuring rap slogans and flashy pamphlets to get its message across — succeeded in attracting young people to demonstrations, which had been characterized by graying people mobilized by labor unions or groups linked to left-wing parties.
SEALDs is expected to disband following the Upper House election this summer, when it will campaign to oust the ruling bloc from power, but Hayashida said he gets excited when he thinks how being a part of SEALDs may affect young people after they finish being students and “go out into the world.”
Positive effects already seem to be emerging.
Mayuu Takahashi, 19, said she has established a “peace action” group at Rikkyo University to join movements to oppose the security laws.
“I didn’t talk about political issues to people around me before, but I have been encouraged to be vocal by seeing SEALDs and scholars and other people,” Takahashi said as she took part in an anti-war march Dec. 6. “I want to continue engaging in these kinds of movements even after SEALDs disbands.”