NAGASAKI – As Nagasaki marked the 72nd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing on Wednesday, Mayor Tomihisa Taue demanded that the Japanese government join a recently adopted treaty banning nuclear weapons.
Taue’s call for Japan’s inclusion in the treaty, which was adopted by 122 United Nations members last month, followed an appeal on Sunday by the mayor of Hiroshima for the government to “bridge the gap” between nuclear and non-nuclear states to help achieve a ban on nuclear weapons.
In Nagasaki’s annual Peace Declaration at its memorial ceremony, Taue called the government’s stance “incomprehensible” and pleaded for Japan to join the treaty along with nuclear weapons states plus other countries under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
The government’s “stance of not even participating in the diplomatic negotiations for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is quite incomprehensible to those of us living in the cities that suffered atomic bombings,” Taue said at the Peace Park.
“As the only country in the world to have suffered wartime atomic bombings, I urge the Japanese government to reconsider the policy of relying on the nuclear umbrella and join the nuclear prohibition treaty at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said.
Taue also called on the government to “affirm to the world its commitment to the pacifist ethos of the Constitution of Japan, which firmly renounces war,” at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is seeking to formally propose a constitutional amendment.
Abe avoided any explicit mention of the treaty in his speech at the ceremony, as he also had in Hiroshima on Sunday, but stressed that nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear states need to be on board if efforts toward nuclear abolition are to succeed. “Japan is determined to lead the international community … by continuing to appeal to both sides,” he said.
Representatives of nearly 60 nations and the European Union attended the ceremony, including all five recognized nuclear powers — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — as well as undeclared nuclear weapons state Israel.
Izumi Nakamitsu, the U.N. undersecretary general and high representative for disarmament affairs, read out a message to Nagasaki on behalf of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres noting “growing differences among countries about how to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons.”
“I hope that the adoption in July of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will give renewed momentum to achieve our shared goal,” the message said.
In Hiroshima’s ceremony on Sunday to commemorate its atomic bombing, Mayor Kazumi Matsui stopped short of demanding that Japan join the treaty but urged the government to do “everything in its power to bridge the gap between the nuclear weapons and non-nuclear weapons states, thereby facilitating its ratification.”
A plutonium bomb named “Fat Man” was dropped over Nagasaki by a U.S. bomber on Aug. 9, 1945, three days after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and exploded at an altitude of around 500 meters at 11:02 a.m.
Japan surrendered six days after the bombing of Nagasaki, ending World War II.
An estimated 74,000 people died from the Nagasaki bombing by the end of the year. In Hiroshima, about 140,000 were killed.
The survivors of the bombings, called hibakusha, totaled 164,621 as of March. Their average age was 81.41.
On Wednesday in Nagasaki, people from around Japan and overseas climbed the gentle slopes leading to the Peace Park starting early in the morning, at one point braving a blustery downpour that ceased ahead of the ceremony.
Sayaka Akagi, 30, came in memory of her late grandfather, who lived through the bombing. “I’m a school teacher in Nagasaki, and every year I make a lesson for the children based on the mayor’s peace declaration and get them to think about it,” she said.
Filip Deheegher, who works for the city of Ypres in Belgium, came to the park having been deeply moved by exhibits at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum earlier in the week. Noting that his hometown was the site of a series of devastating battles in World War I, he remarked, “What took a few months to destroy in my town took two seconds in Nagasaki.”
Shortly after dawn, members of a high school student peace ambassador program that began in Nagasaki 20 years ago gathered near the park around a monument directly below where the bomb had detonated. The 22 student ambassadors, along with dozens of other students who have collected signatures from around Japan in support of nuclear abolition, formed a circle around the monument.
Nagasaki student ambassador Daiki Mizokami, 17, whose grandparents lived through the bombing, spoke of the importance of listening to the stories of hibakusha and hailed the adoption of the ban treaty.
“The next big step is to reduce the nuclear weapons that still exist now,” he said.