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A-bomb survivors welcome Obama’s visit to Hiroshima

The Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima, Japan, as seen on June 10, 2015. Survivors of the atomic bombing, known as "hibakusha," are welcoming President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to the city.

JAMES KIMBER/STARS AND STRIPES

By CHIYOMI SUMIDA AND SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 25, 2016

Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, known as “hibakusha,” are welcoming President Barack Obama’s visit to the city.

“I would like to offer hearty welcome [to Obama],” said Shigeaki Mori, who has spent more than half of his life honoring 12 U.S. prisoners of war who died in the Aug. 6, 1945, blast that killed about 140,000 people. More than 70,000 died three days later when the U.S. detonated a second atomic bomb over Nagasaki.

Mori, a hibakusha himself, built a memorial for the Americans at his own expense, registered their names at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and had their portraits placed in the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall.

The purpose of Obama’s visit Friday — the first to Hiroshima by a sitting U.S. president — is to remember all who died in the bombing, he said.

“It is not about the nationality or ethnic background,” Mori said. “For those who died, regardless of their nationality, like Japanese, Americans or Koreans, all the victims must be remembered and commemorated.”

Some Japanese have called for Obama to apologize for the America’s actions.

Yuki Tanaka, a professor for the Hiroshima Peace Institute at Hiroshima City University, told reporters last week at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan that the atomic bombings were war crimes and Obama shouldn’t come to Hiroshima without an apology.

Tanaka said his views are widely held in Japan. However, a recent Kyodo News poll of hibakusha showed nearly four in five atomic-bomb survivors are not seeking an apology.

Tsutomu Nakaso, 77, said Obama has made “a truly courageous decision” to come to the city. He said he was six years old when black rain fell on his home in a mountain village near Hiroshima after the detonation.

“It will be a great first step that the U.S. president sees and feels first-hand the consequence of the atomic bomb,” said Nakaso, who added that Obama’s visit hopefully will promote efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

Kenji Kitagawa, 81, said the president’s visit is “like a dream come true.”

The professor emeritus at Hiroshima University, who has served as volunteer guide at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park for nearly two decades, was 10 years old when the bomb exploded over the city.

The blast shattered the classroom where he was studying, killing most of his classmates, said Kitagawa, who added he was one of a few survivors who crawled out of the wrecked school.

“Seventy years are long, but in our human history, this dramatic event came fairly soon,” he said of Obama’s upcoming visit.

Kitagawa has traveled to the U.S., Europe, China, Russia and India to speak about his experience.

“I have tried hard to let the world know the horror of nuclear weapons,” he said. “What drove me this far is a survivor’s guilt and voices of my classmates who died in the blast, telling me never to let Hiroshima and Nagasaki happen again. President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima gives me a hope — a hope that the world can change no matter how small the steps may be.”

sumida.chiyomi@stripes.com
robson.seth@stripes.com

Yuki Tanaka, a professor from the Hiroshima Peace Institute at Hiroshima City University, told reporters last week at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan that the atomic bombings were war crimes and Obama should not come to Hiroshima without an apology.
SETH ROBSON/STARS AND STRIPES

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