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Nobuto Hirano, a peace activist born to a hibakusha family in Nagasaki, is determined to nurture young people so they will take over the work of passing on memories of the tragedy and hopes for peace to future generations.

“It is our generation’s responsibility to nurture people who will lead peace activities in the next generation,” Hirano, 73, said, noting that those who survived the atomic attacks are aging.

Hirano has been supporting the “high school peace ambassador” movement since it began 23 years ago.

The movement has sent over 270 Japanese high school students to visit the U.N. office in Geneva and other places across the world to convey the voices of hibakusha and call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Nagasaki was devastated by a U.S. atomic bomb Aug. 9, 1945, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in the closing days of World War II.

Hirano started thinking about the bombing seriously when he was a high school student after his friend from childhood suddenly died of leukemia. Everyone suspected that his death was caused by the effects of radiation from the atomic bombing.

The experience guided Hirano toward peace activities.

After graduating from a university in Tokyo and working for a company, he became a teacher in Nagasaki and started playing a leading role in peace activities as a child of hibakusha.

In 1998, the peace ambassador movement started, prompted by nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan that year.

Hirano was the one who suggested sending young people to the United Nations. “I had a sense of crisis because peace activities did not involve many young people,” Hirano recalled.

“I thought I had to nurture young people,” he added.

Some of Hirano’s peace-promoting peers were skeptical about the idea, he said. Even a hibakusha asked him, “What can young people do?”

But Hirano brushed aside their objections and launched the movement, believing “nothing starts if we keep saying such things.”

In 1998, two first high school peace ambassadors visited the U.N. headquarters in New York and called for the elimination of nuclear weapons in English.

The movement gradually started attracting international attention. It was nominated as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate in 2018 and 2019.

“Persistence led us to success,” Hirano said confidently.

However, there are challenges in helping young people grow into leaders.

Hirano has lost touch with some of the young participants. “Some take part only while they’re serving as peace ambassadors,” he said.

Nevertheless, Hirano feels great about continuing the movement each time he dines with about 20 to 30 former peace ambassadors in Nagasaki on Aug. 9.

“I’ve been spending every Sunday over the past 23 years to raise them,” Hirano said. “I have strong confidence in their future.”

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