• Kyodo


Prior to the announcement Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima later this month to attend the Group of Seven summit, mayors of the only two cities to have been attacked with nuclear weapons had long sought the landmark event.

The mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have jointly requested that Obama visit the two cities by handing over invitation letters through U.S. ambassadors to Japan five times since he assumed the presidency in 2009.

In the latest move, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui and Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue met with U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy last Dec. 24.

“We would like for you, a leader of a nuclear superpower, to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the occasion of the G-7 Summit of next May in order to listen to hibakusha’s testimonies and wishes for peace, and deepen your understanding of the actual damage wrought by a single atomic bomb,” the latest letter said.

After Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on April 11 along with other G-7 foreign ministers, becoming the first U.S. secretary of state to do so, Obama’s visit to the city started to be thought of as something that could actually take place.

Apparently with that in mind, Matsui, the child of hibakusha, took advantage of the opportunity to speak to a U.N. working group on nuclear disarmament in Geneva earlier this month to invite world leaders to the city, where about 140,000 people are estimated to have died by the end of 1945 from the atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, at the end of World War II.

One of the political obstacles to Obama going to Hiroshima was a long-standing view in the United States that a president’s visit to the atomic-bombed Japanese cities could be interpreted as an apology for the bombings.

But Mayor Matsui helped lower the hurdle for Obama’s landmark visit, by explicitly saying at a news conference last month that he would not seek an apology.

At the same time, Matsui expressed hope that the president would meet with atomic bomb survivors while in Hiroshima.

The Peace Declaration read out at the annual commemorative ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park has served as one of the best opportunities for successive Hiroshima mayors to convey their messages to the world.

Matsui, who became Hiroshima mayor in 2011, mentioned Obama’s name in the 2014 and 2015 Peace Declarations. In last year’s declaration he said, “President Obama and other policymakers, please come to the A-bombed cities, hear the hibakusha with your own ears, and encounter the reality of the atomic bombings.”

Last year, Matsui said the G-7 summit in Mie Prefecture on May 26 and 27 and the G-7 foreign ministerial meeting in Hiroshima in April “are perfect opportunities to deliver a message about the abolition of nuclear weapons.”

The history of urging U.S. presidents to visit Hiroshima dates back nearly 35 years.

The late Takeshi Araki became the first Hiroshima mayor to call for world leaders to visit the city in his Peace Declaration in 1982, when the city marked the 37th anniversary of the atomic bombing, saying, “We propose that the leaders of the nuclear powers and other nations should visit Hiroshima to confirm the true nature of the disaster of the atomic bombing.”

Former Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, Matsui’s predecessor, drew public attention by launching a series of “Obamajority” campaigns to back Obama’s commitment to abolishing nuclear weapons in 2009.

Akiba named people seeking to eliminate nuclear weapons around the world “Obamajority” citizens, a word coined by combining “Obama” and “majority.”

Akiba said in his 2009 Peace Declaration: “We have the power. We have the responsibility. And we are the Obamajority. Together, we can abolish nuclear weapons. Yes, we can,” an allusion to Obama’s famous slogan from his 2008 election campaign.

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