Mayors of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki deliver a Peace Declaration every year on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of their respective cities — Aug. 6 for Hiroshima and Aug. 9 for Nagasaki.
Although the declarations’ histories and the ways in which their citizens became involved in the draft-making process differ, the two declarations have played a significant role in representing the voices of the cities hit by the devastating attacks to the world.
But the messages of the two cities may be harder to spread with scaled down ceremonies amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
With this year marking the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings, Chugoku Shimbun, based in Hiroshima, and Nishinippon Shimbun, which covers Nagasaki, look into the histories and the present situation surrounding the peace declarations of the two cities as part of a joint project.
Messages from Nagasaki
The Nagasaki Municipal Government sees the Peace Declaration, read out by the mayor, as representing the voices of the people of Nagasaki. The declaration includes messages and words carefully considered by a draft committee, which consists of hibakusha and people with various titles from all walks of life.
According to the city’s peace promotion division, the declaration tries to incorporate words that everyone can readily understand with the same interpretation. With this idea, the Nagasaki Peace Declaration often uses forthright language.
“It wouldn’t be persuasive enough without such graphic description or the real voices of survivors,” one committee participant said. “We should stress that the risk of nuclear weapons use is increasing,” indicated another.
Attendees made numerous comments on this year’s draft submitted by Mayor Tomihisa Taue at the first meeting held in early June. The draft committee consists of 15 members, including hibakusha, second-generation A-bomb survivors, experts on nuclear issues, and university graduate students. All meetings, which only the media outlets were allowed to observe until five years ago, are now open to the public.
The late Hitoshi Motojima, the mayor of Nagasaki from 1979 to 1995, was the first to express “Nagasaki’s ideas” in the declarations. During his first year in office, he touched on the responsibility of the United States for the atomic bombings, posing the question, “Why have we left unquestioned U.S. responsibility for the atomic bombings that indiscriminately killed and wounded so many people?”
The first Nagasaki Peace Declaration was delivered three years after the end of World War II, when Japan was still occupied by the Allied forces. Back then, the declaration included phrasings such as “the atomic bombing of Nagasaki put an end to the war.”
Slowly, the content changed with the times, and started to incorporate criticisms of nuclear testing and the Vietnam War, which saw many civilian casualties. Motojima’s unfiltered criticism of the U.S., nonetheless, was unusual.
Members of the original draft committee, composed mainly of city officials, were replaced with physicians and scientific researchers involved in the medical treatment of A-bomb survivors. In 1981, when the three nonnuclear principles were under pressure for change, he appealed to then Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki by name: “Please let the Japanese people know the truth.”
In 1988, he told a city assembly meeting, “I believe the emperor is responsible for the war.” In the Peace Declaration the following year, he mentioned that the Pacific War started with the Pearl Harbor attack and ended with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, expressing deep regret for Japan’s wartime aggression. Motojima continued to insert the concept of “regret” in his peace declarations until he was shot dead in 1990.
Noboru Tazaki, 76, a former city official who worked with Motojima back then, said that he felt that Nagasaki gradually started to receive recognition at international conferences and other venues at around that time.
This same liberal spirit was taken up by the next mayor, the late Iccho Ito. In 2005, he criticized the U.S.’s negative stance toward the abolition of nuclear weapons.
“They ignore international consensus and don’t even attempt to change their stance of adhering to nuclear deterrence.”
The current mayor, Taue, also reproaches the Japanese government for not trying to end the dependence on the nuclear umbrella, an attitude that “the A-bombed cities will never understand.”
Masao Tomonaga, 77, honorary director of the Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki Genbaku Hospital and a committee member since 2001, said, “Together with the mayor, we polish the speech after hearing the opinions of each of the members. I feel that the ideas and opinions of the citizens certainly tend to be directly reflected in the language of the Peace Declaration.”
“We, Hiroshima’s citizens, renew our commitment to establishment of peace, expressing our burning desire for peace,” noted Hiroshima’s first Peace Declaration, which was delivered by then-Mayor Shinso Hamai at the first Peace Festival (now the Peace Memorial Ceremony) in 1947. The declaration — which came just two years after the atomic bombings — served as an appeal aimed at consoling the souls of the victims and renouncing war.
There were years when there was no Peace Declaration. With the outbreak of the Korean War, the Hiroshima Peace Festival was suspended in 1950 following orders from the General Headquarters for the Allied Forces (GHQ). Although the Peace Memorial Ceremony was held the next year, the mayor simply delivered a welcome address. Thereafter, the Peace Declaration has been delivered by the mayor of Hiroshima every year since 1952, the year in which the occupation of Japan formally ended.
The current mayor, Kazumi Matsui, holds a total of three closed-door meetings from May to July every year to gather the opinions of A-bomb survivors, university professors, and representatives of peace groups. He develops a draft of the Peace Declaration with city staff based on those opinions. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first such meeting consisted only of participants submitting their opinions in writing.
According to the city’s peace promotion division, ideas including a warning about the “my country first policy” amid the spread of the novel coronavirus were submitted by seven committee members. A second such meeting where ideas were submitted in writing rather than in person has already been held. Committee members are scheduled to gather in mid-July for the third meeting.
After assuming office in 2011, Matsui called for its citizens to submit their experiences of the atomic bombing and formed a selection committee consisting of community leaders. The committee selected the accounts submitted by two hibakusha to be incorporated into the Peace Declaration.
During his second term, he halted the collection of such accounts and replaced the selection committee with informal meetings. Matsui’s Peace Declaration has more direct citizen involvement compared with the declarations of past mayors. Last year, he cited a Japanese tanka poem composed by a survivor, and two years ago he incorporated into the declaration the stories of two survivors.
The Peace Declaration, composed with consideration paid to current international circumstances and the global status of nuclear weapons, is regarded as a message delivered in the name of the mayor, a representative of Hiroshima’s citizens.
Takashi Hiraoka, 92, served two terms over the span of eight years as Hiroshima mayor. After assuming the post in 1991, he referred to Japan’s “colonialization and war” in Asia and in the Pacific region, offering an apology for such actions. He said in an interview, “While the mayor invites a broad range of opinions from the public, in the end the mayor takes responsibility drafting the document.”
Tadatoshi Akiba, who served three terms as the city’s mayor for 12 years from 1999, called for the “realization of the abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020.” The individuality of each mayor and historical background are reflected in the Peace Declaration document. In recent years, arguments surrounding the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) have found their way into the declaration.
The Peace Declarations in 2017 and 2018 did not include language urging the Japanese government to sign and ratify the treaty. Last July, six A-bomb survivors’ groups in the prefecture, including two separate organizations that go by the same name, the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo), submitted a request to the Hiroshima Municipal Government.
Pushed by their requests, Matsui demanded that the national government sign and ratify the treaty as the “wish of A-bomb survivors.”
Toshiyuki Mimaki, 78, the deputy chairman of one of the Hiroshima Hidankyo groups (chaired by Sunao Tsuboi) said, “I want the mayor to implore the Japanese government based on his own will and in his own words. That would serve as encouragement for the survivors.”
This feature was published by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region, and Nishinippon Shimbun, the largest daily in the Kyushu region. The original article was published on June 29.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.