HIROSHIMA – On the eve of U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima, residents and hibakusha on Thursday expressed support for calls to revise the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement following the suspected rape and murder of a 20-year-old Japanese woman in Okinawa Prefecture by a former marine.
They also said they would view Obama’s visit as a success as long as he paid his respects to those who died in the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of the city.
There will be no formal apology for the bombing, which some hibakusha and their supporters have sought.
“Our visit to Hiroshima will honor all those who were lost in World War II and reaffirm our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons, as well as highlight the extraordinary alliance that we have been able to forge over these many decades,” Obama said at joint news conference late Wednesday night with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
That emphasis on the military alliance comes at a time when demands for the U.S. and Japan to review the SOFA, which governs how crimes committed by U.S. military and civilian personnel are handled, are growing in Okinawa after Rina Shimabukuro’s murder this month.
Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a 32-year-old former U.S. Marine employed by Kadena Air Base, has reportedly admitted to the crime.
“I think, and I believe a lot of hibakusha think, that revision of the Status of Forces Agreement is necessary. But neither Japan nor the U.S. seem interested in pursuing revision,” said Sumiko Hayashi, who belongs to a Hiroshima prefectural support group for hibakusha.
“Incidents involving the U.S. military occur repeatedly, and Obama’s visit is a good chance to really do something to stop them.”
Some hibakusha and others in Hiroshima say they are not seeking a formal apology from Obama for the 1945 bombing but do want the president to reflect on what happened.
Others have much lower expectations for what Abe, who will accompany Obama to Hiroshima, might say about the bombing.
“Abe can come to Hiroshima whenever he wants. Just Obama coming by himself is a huge success,” said hibakusha Musohiko Segoshi, 82.
Final preparations were underway in and around Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park for Obama’s arrival, which was expected late Friday afternoon.
The president is expected to lay flowers at the peace memorial, with four hibakusha in attendance. The mayor of Nagasaki is also expected to be on hand representing those who perished in the Aug. 9, 1945, atomic bombing of that city.
Security in and around the peace park was slowly tightening Thursday afternoon, although access was not restricted and groups of Japanese schoolchildren and foreign tourists were able to move about freely.