TOBA, MIE PREF. - Ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima on Friday, the question of whether he will take the opportunity to chat with aging hibakusha during a tour of the memorial park near ground zero is in focus.
Obama will fly to Hiroshima after attending the two-day summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations in Mie Prefecture to wrap up an Asian tour that also took him to Vietnam.
At Peace Memorial Park, Obama plans to deliver brief remarks after offering a wreath at the arch-shaped cenotaph as the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city devastated by an American atomic bomb near the end of World War II.
The Hiroshima municipal office has said that 148,000 people had died in the city by the end of 1945. The toll reached 74,000 in Nagasaki, according to its city office. Japan surrendered in the war six days after the Nagasaki attack.
The White House has yet to announce details about the ceremony, but Washington and Tokyo are considering allowing atomic-bomb survivors to take part in the high-profile event, officials of both governments said.
The leaders of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and many hibakusha in the cities have indicated they understand the purpose of Obama’s unprecedented trip will not be to offer an apology for the world’s first use of nuclear weapons in war.
But some hibakusha said they hope to have a chance to share with Obama what they have experienced for 71 years since the atomic bombings when he makes his historic Hiroshima trip.
The number of people who have a certificate declaring them as atomic-bomb survivors topped 183,000 as of March 2015 and their average age is over 80.
On Tuesday, Hiroshima Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki and Mayor Kazumi Matsui asked Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to help squeeze in an opportunity for hibakusha to talk to Obama as part of the ceremony Friday, they said.
Obama said in a recent interview with NHK that in his remarks he will not apologize for the U.S. atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki on Aug. 9.
Instead, the president said he will take advantage of the trip to promote his willingness to seek a world without nuclear weapons and remember all victims of the war.
The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society said Saturday that Daniel Crowley, a former U.S. Army air corpsman who was captured by Japan during the war, may go to Hiroshima on Friday at the invitation of the White House.
But the White House denied it has formally invited Crowley, according to The Associated Press.