“To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.” Pope John Paul ii
In Japan, the ministries of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) are now mostly in the Hiroshima Diocese. In 1981, during a visit to Hiroshima as a pilgrim, Pope John Paul II gave his impressive Appeal for Peace to the world. Collaborating with the Church in Japan, Sisters of Notre Dame are challenged to be peacemakers. With our co-workers, we are educating young people to be peacemakers. Although most of our students and staff are not Catholics or Christians, in all Notre Dame schools, we do have religious education classes, pray together, study the Gospel and the spirit of our foundress, St. Julie Billiart. Peace study is an essential part of religious education in our schools. We teach and encourage students to be peacemakers. In 1950, with the prayer for peace, Japanese and American Sisters opened Notre Dame Seishin Junior and Senior High School (NDSH) in Hiroshima. Today, this school has a six-year program of peace studies.
Senbazuru ~ Symbol of Peace
Students have opportunities to hear experiences of the atom bomb from graduates; Sr. Agnes Hirota, SNDdeN is among these witnesses. All students visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park “to remember Hiroshima.” Before their visit, they prayerfully make paper cranes. After sustaining serious injuries from the atom bomb, a girl named Sadako, as a prayer for her recovery, made 1,000 paper cranes (Senbazuru) before she died at age 12. Since then, other young people fulfill her desire and continue this practice with paper cranes which have become a symbol of peace. Every year, more than ten million Senbazuru are offered to the Peace Park. Students in our school join the Recycling Project of Senbazuru by creating mosaic arts with messages for peace and send them to Catholic Schools in Korea and the Philippines; to our Heritage Centre in Namur, Belgium as well as to a Junior High School in the Japan Disaster Zone
Challenge from the Disaster Zone
On March 11, 2011, the Great Eastern Earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan with many deaths and heavy immediate and long-term economic and environmental damage. Official records list 15,882 deaths; 2,668 people are missing and 315,196 people are still taking refuge after two years. The tsunami caused destruction to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and released wide-spread radioactivity that has become a severe health hazard. Even now, the 100,000 people, evacuated from this area, live in fear and anxiety. People worry about the effects of radiation on their children. After World War II, Japan chose The Peace Constitution and economic development instead of strong military power. The choice resulted from an earnest desire never to send Japanese children to the battle field nor allow the children ever to starve again. Eventually, the priority for this goal changed to profitability and efficiency, strengthened by the progression of Globalism. With these trends, national policies promote more nuclear power plants, even though scientists predict new disasters, due to other earthquakes or tsunamis. All 50 functioning nuclear reactors in Japan, with some on the active fault, are at risk for more horrific accidents. Without a more secure environment, the people doubt survival for the next generation.
SNDdeN Collaborate with the Church
As Catholics, we are only 0.3% of the whole population. Yet, in 16 dioceses in Japan, we are united and challenged to respond to the call from the Disaster Zone. The Sendai Diocese (three disaster prefectures) organized the Support Center for victims and formed 9 bases. All dioceses send volunteers and raise money for the Support Center. Caritas Japan supports the Center financially. All Catholics, including bishops, priests, religious and lay people are serving together and sharing resources. At first, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious Sisters sponsored a “Sisters’ Relay” to have Sisters from each Congregation join the volunteers for one week or more at the Support Center. During the second year, the women religious had a relay of prayer. Many Catholic schools collected donations and sent the students as volunteers. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan proclaimed: “Abolish Nuclear Plants Immediately.” Many dioceses encouraged parishes to study more about nuclear power.
To help victims of natural and nuclear disasters and to change our own life styles are constant challenges. Sisters in Japan are responding to the call. Each community decided on concrete targets in daily life to save electricity and live more simply. We sent Sister Mitsuko Shoji to the Sendai Support Center as a runner of Sisters’ Relay for a month and other Sisters joined with her in prayer. Notre Dame schools also sent volunteers. Sister Johanna Saiko Nakamura joined with ten students last summer in efforts to remove the debris. These experiences help the students to think about their own lives now and in the future.
Sisters in Higashi Hiroshima belong to a satellite Parish Church. At a gathering to understand more about the plight of the victims, a graduate of our school described her work mostly for children. The local welfare commissioner, responsible for taking care of the families from the Disaster Zone, shared her experiences. All attending the meeting, Christians, Buddhists and other denominations prayed the Rosary together. At the opening of the Year of Faith, the Bishops pointed out the current social situation in Japan. They asked Japanese Catholics to “share ideas with each other, and search for measures and expressions for New Evangelization with people inside and outside of the Church, while listening to the voices of suffering people.”
Students and young people at Tokyo’s Sophia University discuss the Nov. 23-26 2019 visit of Pope Francis to Japan. Credit: Suzuka Oiwa/CNA
Tokyo, Japan, (CNA).- “Most of Japanese people don’t know we exist,” Minori Takeuchi told CNA last week.
“Or they think we are connected to cults. They think, ‘You must be dangerous! Or crazy!’ They don’t say it but –”
Minori, 22, is the college student who started Tokyo Christian Vox, a Youtube channel aimed at providing more religious content for Catholics in Japan. She translates, shares, and uploads videos on Catholicism for a Japanese speaking audience.
She’s also a student at Sophia University, Japan’s premier Catholic college, whose reputation rivals even that of National Universities, the Japanese equivalent to the Ivy League.
Minori called together a ragtag group of students and local parish members in the small library of Joseph Hall for an interview with Catholic News Agency a few days before Pope Francis arrived in the country for a visit Nov. 23-26.
Some spoke English, some spoke Japanese, and some switched rapidly between the two.
The group of about ten Catholic youth leaders talked to CNA about the state of the Church and the problems that young Catholics are facing in Japan today.
“When I was in junior high school, I was in the baseball club. I was not able to go to church except for Easter and Christmas,” said Kazuki, 20, a Sophia student.
“Japanese people don’t want to be different from others.”
Juno Matsumoto, 22, was in the basketball club around the time of her First Communion. In order to attend her own ceremony, she was required to miss an important basketball game, an uncommon and generally unaccepted experience in Japanese society, in which youth participation in clubs is heavily emphasized.
Juno’s parents forced her to skip the match and Juno became upset at how it would affect her and her team. She cried and refused several times to receive the Eucharist.
“I still have trauma,” she said about the struggle.
Juno believes that social media’s popularity in Japan can be an opportunity for young believers to feel “normal,” and develop a network of friends in a country where meeting young Catholics can be tough.
“I used to stay away from the Church when I was a junior high school and high school student,” said Yuhki Iizaka, a 26 year old Catholic in Tokyo. Yuhki had attended Mass weekly while in elementary school, but moving into junior high school culture changed him.
“What got me back to church was music. Somebody said there will be a folk Mass, so I heard that you could play the drums. I played the drums and everyone seemed happy to see me again.”
“For me, music is a bond to the church.”
Joshua Kurniawan, 24, works in Tokyo and participates in youth-oriented Catholic events.
Joshua told CNA he was looking forward to an upcoming discussion among Catholic youth on using their natural talents for the propagation of the faith. The small seminar featured a speaker from the Philippines, singing, and bonding exercises for those in attendance.
However, for every student and worker in the community forming strong bonds within the church, there are many more hovering on the outskirts and not engaged fully with the group.
Naoya Okuda, 25, is a student leader at Sophia University, and oversees several group chats on the popular messaging app Line. The chats are geared towards forming groups of support for Catholic students. But not everyone who signs up is active.
“In my [parish], half of them don’t come [to] church. They don’t comment on Line, they don’t come,” he said.
“We have 60 or 70 members, but half of them –,” Naoya cuts off. “It’s difficult to say they lost interest, but they’re busy with a job, or children.”
Naoya also manages a student group on Facebook with 165 members.
Shiori Kimura, 34, a Catholic woman who works as a nursery school teacher in Tokyo, runs a Youtube radio show called “KatoRaji.” The name is Japanese portmanteau that means “Catholic Radio.”
On the show, she regularly talks to a priest about the liturgy. They use the show as a way of educating non-Catholics on the basics of Catholic theology, but it’s also an attempt to reach out and catch those who feel for one reason or another that they can’t make it to Sunday services.
“We want to reach people who are too busy to go to church,” Shiori said with a sad, polite smile.
Shiori also spoke up about an issue she sees in the way the Japanese media has addressed Pope Francis this visit.
“The news calls him the ‘Roman Pope,’” said Shiori. “It’s weird to hear.”
Many news outlets in Japan and some social media users attach the “Roman” label to Pope Francis’s title, specifying his domain. Shiori feels that this unnecessarily limits someone who should be seen as a universal spiritual leader, the leader of a faith transcending borders.
The nomenclature used for the pope in Japanese is a frequent source of irritation for Catholics who speak the language.
This month, news outlets have been reporting heavily about the change of houou, or “Lawful King” to kyouko, roughly “Emperor of Teaching” or “Emperor of Scripture” as the official terminology for the pontiff. The latter term has been in regular use among Catholics for a long time.
Minori struggled to convey her thoughts into precise English, saying, “The pope is like the Emperor of Japan – he has such authority. But we see him like close family.”
“People think we serve him,” Minori continued, “but he’s our servant leader. He serves us.”
Despite a general lack of understanding or aversion to Christianity, Japan has had a long love affair with its superficial decorations. Japanese pop culture is overflowing with references to the religion.
Crosses and crucifixes are extremely popular among Japanese youth, usually worn as jewelry or other accessories. Shirts and sweaters also often bear crosses or depictions of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, or angels.
Anime and manga in Japan make frequent use of the Catholic Church as a convenient plot element. Popular media franchises can carve out niche stories from Catholic and general Christian lore, such as the manga Vatican Miracle Examiner, which follows two priests who aim to stop a nefarious shadow organization from overthrowing a fictionalized, magical Vatican City.
It’s safe to say that Japan loves pieces of Christian culture, but do they actually appreciate the faith?
“I don’t think it’s connected,” said Damien Adorable, 25, a Filipino who has been living and working in Tokyo for years.
“Many of them like to play games, but… this is just my opinion, but maybe they want it just because it looks cool. They have no idea that the cross is a Christian thing,” said Damien. “It’s nothing serious.”
Minori said that she had heard the visit of John Paul II more than 38 years ago gave a small boost in the numbers of Catholics around that time. She hopes Francis’ visit will make an impact on church attendance and bring back to the faith people who have strayed away.
Minori has had negative experiences with foreign Catholic reporters before. According to her, these American and European writers often assume that Japanese believers are somehow deficient or bizarre in their version of the shared religion.
“Most of the time with foreign reporters, they start [the interview with], ‘Do you pray every day?’” said Minori, annoyed. “They think ‘We are the real Catholics!’ That is so rude.”
These interview experiences have made her jaded towards Western journalists.
“That fact hurts us. It’s not just Japanese people who hurt us,” muttered Minori.
The pope concluded his tour of Japan on November 25th, the first apostolic journey to the country in close to forty years.
After speaking at Tokyo Dome and offering a mass for the thousands in attendance, Pope Francis also met with college youths at St. Mary’s Cathedral, one of the busiest churches in Japan.
LOWELL — Shigeaki Mori was only 8 years old when the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, in the final weeks of World War II.
At the time of the blast, he was only 2 1/2 kilometers from the epicenter of the explosion, he said at a Memorial Day ceremony in Centralville Monday morning.
“Luckily, I was on the bridge on the way to the school, and I was blown into the river,” Mori, 81, said in Japanese, translated to English by “Paper Lanterns” documentary producer Nobuko Saito Cleary.
Mori wasn’t hurt. His wife, Kayoko Mori, was about 4 kilometers from the blast, and suffered a permanent hip injury, he said.
Shigeaki Mori could have hated the U.S. for dropping the bomb and the lasting effects it had on the Japanese people.
Instead, Mori “transcended the enmity of war” between the countries and reached “across the battle lines to honor the memory of the Americans, the so-called enemies, who were killed in Hiroshima,” said Japan Society of Boston President Peter Grilli.
“It’s a story that we should all keep in our hearts, because it’s a story of a kind of love and humanity that unites us all,” Grilli said.
“Paper Lanterns,” directed by Billerica native Barry Frechette and Max Esposito, follows the stories of the 12 American prisoners of war who died at Hiroshima — with a focus on Lowell native Normand Brissette and Kentucky native Ralph Neal — and the decades of efforts Mori undertook to honor them.
Frechette said Mori was the thread that brought it all together, bringing a voice to those who no longer had one.
Mori — who is traveling around the U.S. with the film team for a series of events, flanked by several major Japanese media outlets — came to Lowell to participate in the unveiling of a new monument in memory of the 12 U.S. Army Air Force and U.S. Navy airmen at the Centralville Veterans Park on Ennell Street. The men either died in the blast or in the following days due to radiation.
“They were truly patriots who fought and sacrificed their lives for their country. I am here now because I want the people of the United States to know about the men,” Mori said to a standing ovation.
Mori researched the aftermath of the bombing, double-checked official histories with contemporary newspaper reports and conducted his own interviews with fellow survivors, said Mayor William Samaras.
“He spent 40 years researching the American POWs, searching through thousands of boxes of records and placing hundreds of long-distance phone calls in hopes of contacting next of kin in America,” Samaras said. “Mr. Mori sought to not only share their stories but also have them recognized as victims by the Hiroshima Peace Museum.”
Through his dedicated work to honor and preserve the memories of the American soldiers, in 1999 Mori finally got his wish for a memorial plaque at the site of the military detention center where they’d been held.
“From their families, we thank you for something you never had to do, but you did it out of your heart,” said City Councilor Rita Mercier. “We’re very, very grateful and we love you.”
Rokuichiro Michii, consul general of Japan in New England, said Mori’s tireless effort has helped to tell “a very important and human story” of so many affected by the bombing.
“Thanks to Mr. Mori and his work, a newfound sense of compassion has been born,” Michii said. “This has helped to bring people together, for the past in order to look toward the future.”
Brissette’s niece, Susan Brissette-Archinski, of Dracut, visited Japan three years ago during the making of the documentary and said it was an experience every American should have once in their life. She called Mori “a wonderful man” and said she was happy he could come to the U.S. and be honored for the work he spent half of his life undertaking.
Neal’s nephew — also named Ralph Neal — traveled from Memphis, Tenn., to participate in Monday’s ceremony.
“He’s made the story known,” the younger Neal said of Mori. “Our mission now as a family is to keep it going, to tell the story, that we don’t do it again.”
He and Christopher Golden presented Mori with the gift of an American flag.
The event, emceed by Joe Dussault, park director of operations, also served to honor all veterans who gave their lives in service.
“They fought for their country, they died honorably, and they will never, ever be forgotten, for they gave us their tomorrows for today,” said Bernie Lemoine, president of the memorial committee.
Lemoine asked attendees to keep in their prayers Brissette’s sister, Connie Brissette-Provencher, who died Saturday.
Mori was presented with citations from Samaras, state Rep. Tom Golden and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, who also provided citations for the Brissette and Neal families. Samaras also presented Mori with the key to the city.
Mori was visibly moved as Samaras thanked him for helping the families of the 12 Americans to understand the loss of their loved ones and bring them closure.
“You have the keys that open the doors to the city of Lowell, but you also have the keys to our heart because of your great work,” Samaras said. “We so appreciate it, and we are honored to have been able to meet you.”
After the ceremony, Mori said he was “extremely touched” by the warm welcome he received from the citizens of Lowell and many others in the U.S.
Feeling that he has now finished telling the stories of the American POWs, Mori said he has already started another project: Researching the POWs from Australia.
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.
7 July 2017 – Countries meeting at a United Nations conference in New York today adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament to have been negotiated in 20 years.
“The treaty represents an important step and contribution towards the common aspirations of a world without nuclear weapons,” the spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres said following its adoption.
“The Secretary-General hopes that this new treaty will promote inclusive dialogue and renewed international cooperation aimed at achieving the long overdue objective of nuclear disarmament,” Stéphane Dujarric added.
The treaty – adopted by a vote of 122 in favour to one against (Netherlands), with one abstention (Singapore) – prohibits a full range of nuclear-weapon-related activities, such as undertaking to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, as well as the use or threat of use of these weapons.
“We feel emotional because we are responding to the hopes and dreams of the present and future generations,” said Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica, who serves as the President of the conference that negotiated the treaty in response to a mandate given by the UN General Assembly.
She told a news conference at UN Headquarters that with the treaty the world is “one step closer” to a total elimination of nuclear weapons.
The treaty will be open for signature to all States at UN Headquarters in New York on 20 September 2017, and enter into force 90 days after it has been ratified by at least 50 countries.
However, a number of countries stayed out of the negotiations, including the United States, Russia and other nuclear-weapon States, as well as many of their allies. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) did not join the talks either.
In a joint press statement issued today, the delegations of the United States, United Kingdom and France said they “have not taken part in the negotiation of the treaty… and do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.”
“This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment,” they said. “Accession to the ban treaty is incompatible with the policy of nuclear deterrence, which has been essential to keeping the peace in Europe and North Asia for over 70 years.”
In response to questions on the joint statement, Ms. Whyte Gómez recalled that when the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was adopted decades ago, it did not enjoy a large number of accessions.
Opened for signature in 1968, the Treaty entered into force in 1970. Then in 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely. A total of 191 States have joined the Treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon States that are the permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
In the beginning, it was unimaginable that those States would be parties to the NPT, she noted. “But the world changes and the circumstances change.”
She added that the hibakusha, survivors of nuclear bombs, have been the driving force in the creation of the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. The experiences they have been sharing “touch the human soul,” she said, adding that the negotiations were a “combination of reason and heart.”
(December 29, 2017) The world witnessed the horror of nuclear weapons on August 6, 1945, when the United States dropped the ﬁrst atomic bomb on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m., killing about 80,000 people instantly.
By December of that year, the death toll in Hiroshima rose to about 140,000, including those who had died in ﬁres and from injuries and radiation sickness. Hiroshima city oﬃcials say the toll exceeds 290,000 if the count includes those who died after December 1945 of nonacute injuries or radiation poisoning.
On August 9, 1945, three days after the bombing of Hiroshima, the United States dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing more than 70,000. Thousands more from both attacks suffered with lingering health problems.
While in Hiroshima a few months ago, I interviewed ﬁve sisters: three who witnessed the attack and are hibakusha, victims who survived the bombing; one who arrived in the devastated city two days later and also is considered a hibakusha; and one who came to Hiroshima as a small child just six months after the attack. They shared their memories of that day and how it shaped their lives and vocation. In some cases, it was the ﬁrst time they had heard each other’s experiences. January 1 is the Catholic observance of World Day of Peace.
Sr. Agnes Eleanor Kazuko Hirota, 76, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
She was 5 years old and playing outside with friends when the bomb dropped. The house cracked, and she remembers suddenly being under the house. “If I stayed still there, we could all have been dead, but I saw a slight, dim light, so we walked,” Hirota said.
She led her playmates toward the light to a nearby river. Her mother came looking for her and found her near the river, where her father also reunited with them. She lost track of what happened to her friends. She would learn later that she was the only survivor.
“As we were there at the river, the oily rain, the black rain came,” Hirota said. The dark rain, which fell for about 30 minutes after the mushroom cloud formed above Hiroshima, contained soot and dust with radioactive particles from the bomb.
Hirota, her father and her mother went to a nearby tree to take cover. Hirota’s mother was badly injured by falling debris, and her brother brought his friends to carry her mother on a stretcher. She was so little that others could carry her, Hirota said.
While she was waiting for her older brother, people kept going into the river for water. Many who went into the river died — some by drowning, some from severe injuries and others from shock.
“That is something I always carry in my heart: All my friends are gone. God must be requiring me to live diﬀerently,” Hirota said. “So that has always been my question. What is my mission? What is it I have to accomplish?”
On August 8, “we lost our mother. She called me to her side and told me her last message: to stay strong,” Hirota said.
The next day, her father died.
“My father asked me for a glass of water, I brought it to him, he drank the water and passed away,” she said. Her brother and sister weren’t able to be with her parents in their last moments.
“At a young age, I got to see death, and I understand what it is like to die,” Hirota said. “I’m not very scared of death. It is very quiet, it is very austere.”
Without her parents, life was diﬃcult for Hirota. Her oldest brother was 20 and took care of her and her sister. He sent Hirota and her sister to a Catholic school instead of a public one because it oﬀered a better education.
“I took it as a calling, and I became a nun,” Hirota said.
Her brother had four children, so it couldn’t have been easy to pay the tuition, she said. “God has always protected me all the way up to now,” she said.
She said she was less than a half-mile from the epicenter of the bombing and is grateful she has never been hospitalized with any eﬀects from it. At 76, “I am still up and standing and teaching in kindergarten and thankful for the things I can do.”
Throughout her work as a teacher, Hirota said she has felt called to convey the message of peace to her students. “Where there is justice, there is peace,” she tells her kindergarten students.
“I tell the children their quarrels are little wars — even at that young age, they need to learn to make peace,” Hirota said.
“We can grow peace,” she said. “It’s the peace that we should pass down to generations.”
Sr. Anna Cecilia Yukie Sakimura, 80, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Sakimura, then 9, had been evacuated to her aunt’s house outside the city before the bomb dropped. Many parents sent their children to the countryside to protect them during the war.
She saw the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, then learned that something awful had been dropped. On the path near her aunt’s house, she saw people walking or being carried on stretchers to get away from the city.
Because her family was in the city, “I was really worried about the mushroom cloud.” So on August 9, she and an older cousin took a train into what was left of Hiroshima. Amid the vast devastation, she remembers seeing an iron bridge that had fallen and others that were half destroyed.
Her father was away for work in Iwakuni, about an hour from Hiroshima. Her mother and two older sisters were in the city when the bomb fell. Her oldest sister was rescued from a building that had collapsed, but a friend her sister had been with died instantly.
Her brother, who was a soldier in charge of telecom operations, had been walking to the train station when the bomb dropped. His body was never found.
In the years after the bombing, Sakimura’s family lived near a Christian family in Hiroshima that hosted a study group with a German priest. Because of their relationship with the Christian family, Sakimura’s family, which had practiced Buddhism, became Christian.
When she was 13, Sakimura decided she wanted to be baptized, but her parents said she was too young. She waited a year and was baptized when she was 14. Her calling to consecrated life came thanks to Sunday school at the Hiroshima Peace Cathedral. Her older sister also decided to become a sister.
“I read about saints, and the most touching was Francis of Assisi” because of his peaceful and gentle nature, Sakimura said.
“My calling was to be part of this religion,” she said.
Sr. Lucia Joseph Akie Aratani, 82, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
At the time the atomic bomb exploded, she was 11 years old. She was attending a school just outside the city but would return to her house near the Hiroshima train station after.
School started at 8 a.m., but the students had to be at school at 7 a.m. to work in the school’s garden. On the morning of August 6, the students had done their hour of farming work and were on the second ﬂoor of the school in their classroom. Class was about to start.
Aratani was seated in the front row. She remembers seeing her teacher standing up from her desk and going to the podium, and “all of a sudden, there was a ﬂash with a beautiful orange color — bright orange. It was very transparent. . . . I turned my head to the other side and from the window, the white building across the way turned blue from the light. Then all of a sudden, bam! A great sound and all the windows fell with a great noise.”
“I was so scared,” Aratani said. “I was crazy enough to run away from the site.”
She took her backpack with her lunch and her school helmet and ran. She had to be careful walking because of the holes in the ﬂoor, and there was shattered glass everywhere.
She ran to her teacher’s house near the school.
“My mother told me she would come [if there was an emergency], so I just waited at my teacher’s house,” Aratani said.
She went into a storage house and saw her teacher’s brother and others coming up on a hill. She saw people were injured and burned, with some being carried on stretchers.
At that point, “I’m expecting my parents to come ﬁnd me,” Aratani said. Her teacher, who wanted to ﬁnd out what happened to the students, came looking for her. The school was rearranged as an emergency center.
She remembers one scene in particular at the emergency center: “One mother was trying to take care of her baby, trying to feed her. But she was greatly burned and shaking. She was all black and red and must have been in great pain but needing to feed the baby. But the baby wasn’t moving. That scene stays in my mind. I don’t forget, even now.”
Before the light fell, she and some friends wanted to go home, so they walked part of the way to Hiroshima but were sent back — the city was in ﬂames. She stayed at her teacher’s house, then later went up in the mountains to the relatives of her teachers.
“We were looking at the city burning,” Aratani said.
She remembers seeing soldiers on the road, some lying down without hats or hair. They were asking for water. She remembers someone shouting that if the victims were given water, they would die. (Although they were not aware that a nuclear weapon had been used, they had watched people die from shock shortly after being given water.)
Her sister found her with the teacher’s relatives. “Our houses were all burning — still burning the whole week. A tree trunk kept burning for a week downtown. We’re still in wartime, so the ﬁghter jets were still coming.”
“From August 7 on, the city was ﬁlled with the stench of death,” Aratani said. The bodies were covered with maggots and ﬂies. Three days later, group cremation began.
After the bombing, many priests came to Hiroshima. Aratani’s sister decided to get baptized and took Aratani to church and to catechism class.
A very famous German priest, Fr. Hubert Cieslik, was among a small group of Jesuit priests in Hiroshima who survived the bomb.
“He was a very gentle man,” Aratani said.
The priest spoke in slow Japanese, but Aratani loved his sermons. She didn’t like Mass at ﬁrst — it was in Latin and the priest wasn’t facing the congregation. She didn’t want to go at all, but he helped her understand it.
She was baptized, and her mother came to the ceremony in a kimono. Aratani still has a card from her baptism. “It was a grace from God, and I fell in love with prayer,” she said.
Every morning, she would go to Mass with her sister, walking to the church and to school. She was very impressed with the Catholic sisters who taught and cared for them.
“I wanted to be a sister — from the blood of my heart,” she said. “They took care of us. I never had any doubt.”
Sr. Estelle Kazuko Takabayashi, 90, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
After high school, at age 19, Takabayashi was sent to a factory in Kurashiki, where she was when the bomb dropped in Hiroshima, where her mother and brothers lived. (Her father had died of a cerebral hemorrhage when she was 10 years old.)
She decided to try to go to the city on August 7, taking trains from the countryside into the city in a roundabout way. She arrived August 8. There was no train station and no buildings. Soldiers were trying to clear the streets. She remembers seeing one lady who must have been beautiful, as she was an oﬃcer’s wife, but she looked like a ghost. She was carrying bones in her hands — her father’s bones, the lady told her.
She tried to ﬁnd her mother. Their home had been near a school in the central part of the city where the Peace Park now is. Her mother, she heard later, had gone on an errand to what would become the hypocenter and must have died in the blast. Her body was never found.
She passed a swollen corpse that looked like a horse. As she walked along the railroad, she met many Koreans who had been working in the area who were crying because they had lost their families. She arrived in west Hiroshima and met up with her elder brother.
Her younger brother had been injured breaking up houses to stop the ﬁres that raged in Hiroshima after the bomb. He was taken to a relative’s house in the hills, where there was a long line to see the doctor, who could do nothing to help people. Takabayashi and her brother went back home, and he died on August 11.
“I said, ‘Stop, do not go,’ but he got colder and colder,” she said. “I cannot forget the experience of death itself. Even now, I feel something.”
A few years later, Takabayashi began teaching at a Catholic school, Notre Dame Seishin High School in Hiroshima. Her whole family was Buddhist, but she decided to study the catechism. She went on a retreat and was baptized in 1951. She entered the convent in 1955.
She says she has put her life in God’s hands. “I accept from God everything, and that has given me peace,” Takabayashi said.
“There is tragic news every day with terrorist attacks,” she said. She said she gets peace from faith: “People have forgotten [getting peace through faith] because there is confusion and terrible things still happening in the world.”
Sr. Maria Teruko Onojima, 74, Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls
Onojima is Japanese but was born in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation. When she was 3 years old, just six months after the United States dropped the bomb, Onojima’s mother moved her and her 2-year-old brother to the suburbs of Hiroshima to join their grandparents, who had lost everything in the bombing.
Her classmate, Sadako Sasaki, died of leukemia 10 years after the bomb at the age of 11. Her story is immortalized in Children’s Peace Monument as well as in the symbol of paper cranes: Sasaki believed folding paper cranes would help her recover, and she kept making them during her eight-month ﬁght with the disease.
When Sasaki was hospitalized, “we started making cranes. It was very serious leukemia, so we tried to join her wish. All of us made cranes.”
Onojima’s grandparents were very religious, she said. Onojima remembers her grandmother telling her: “You have to look for your own God.”
“So that was my assignment. That’s what I was looking for,” Onojima said.
She ﬁrst went to the Protestant church, but by her ﬁrst year of senior high school, she was studying with a Jesuit priest who was a pastor in Hiroshima. He introduced her to a sister who was a Helper of the Holy Souls. She was baptized at 18, and at 25, she decided to join the Helpers of the Holy Souls community.
As part of the international congregation, Onojima was sent the Philippines in 1979 during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. She lived in a very depressed area to help build the Christian community. When she introduced herself, she would say she was from Hiroshima.
“They don’t know much about Japan, but they know about Hiroshima,” Onojima said.
After 10 years in the Philippines, she went to the United States for ﬁve years then returned to Japan. “Little by little, [working with hibakusha] became a special mission,” she said. “For me, this is natural.”
The Society of Helpers was the only congregation in Hiroshima before World War II, so when the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace was built, the center asked them to send a sister to help manage the church. Since then, sisters of the Society of Helpers have worked at the cathedral, and it is now Onojima’s turn. She has provided spiritual direction and support to hibakusha at the Cathedral for World Peace for 23 years.
“There are so many people seeking the meaning of life and are really suﬀering,” Onojima said.
After World War II, “many adults didn’t have any inner care” — emotional, psychological or spiritual counseling, she said. Adults could not express their feelings even to their families, so relationships with children and parents become strained.
“When I started working here, many were looking for someone to tell their stories, so I continued listening to the stories,” she said. She is not a psychologist but studied spiritual direction and accompaniment in Chicago. “My experience in the Philippines and the States and international congregation and that international experience is very helpful.”
“For many years, [survivors] didn’t want to talk about the war or their experiences,” she said. “But now, they want to talk.”
[Gail DeGeorge is editor of Global Sisters Report. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GailDeGeorge. Thanks to Mariko Komatsu and Sr. Masako Miyake of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur for their help in telling these stories.]
Building peace begins within ourselves, Joseph Mitsuaki Takami, Archbishop of Nagasaki and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan says in the following message:
In response to the strong “Appeal for Peace” at Hiroshima by Saint Pope John Paul II on February 25, 1981, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan designated the days from August 6 to 15 as “Ten Days for Peace.” These days were chosen because the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Memorial Days and the Commemoration Day for the end of World War II all occur in this period. This year marks the 35th time we mark this period.
It goes without saying that our prayers for peace, and the responsibility to learn and think about peace and to act for peace are never limited to this period. For example, we must not forget Okinawa Memorial Day on June 23. We must pray for peace, learn and think about peace and act for whatever is needed for peace throughout the year. And yet, we are required to spend this particular period giving even more attention than usual to peace.
World peace has been shattered and is constantly threatened by such events as the Syrian War, terrorist activities by fundamentalists and others, armed conflicts involving control of resources and hegemonic shows of force. Numerous people including children and women are killed or injured, forced to leave home, deprived of a normal life and even life itself. Terrorist attacks occur in major cities in Europe, the United States or in Muslim nations. Many Japanese people have become victims. Terrorist attacks are waiting to happen at anytime and anywhere in the world. That is why we pray that powers in both Asia and the West will move toward reconciliation rather than a sort of cold war, and that the spirit of peace enshrined in the European Union (EU) will spread globally and tensions in East Asia will be reduced. US President Obama stressed in his speeches seven years ago in Prague and this past May in Hiroshima that we seek and pursue “a world without nuclear weapons.” Continue reading Ten Days For Peace Message from Bishops of Japan→
Emperor leads tributes to 19,000 people killed after earthquake, and PM says reconstruction is making steady progress
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Japan’s emperor has led tributes to the 19,000 people who died five years ago when a powerful earthquake and tsunami struck the country’s north-east coast and triggered a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Move deepens decades-long row over American troop presence on southern Japanese island, many residents want base removed.
Local authorities on Okinawa sued the central government of Japan in an attempt to stop the relocation of a U.S. air base, deepening their decades-long row over the heavy American troop presence on the southern Japanese island.
The Okinawa government says the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism illegally suspended the prefecture governor’s cancellation of approval for reclamation work needed to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a less-populated part of the island called Henoko. Continue reading Okinawa sues Tokyo in bid to stop move of US air base→
Al Jazeera Upper house passes law allowing troops to fight on foreign soil for first time since World War II, despite protests.
Japan’s parliament has passed a law allowing its military to fight on foreign soil for the the first time since World War II.
Japan marks WWII anniversary amid criticism
The upper house of the Japanese parliament passed the law on Saturday despite fierce attempts by opposition politicians to block the move.
The approval makes the legislation into law, loosening post-World War II constraints on the use of force by the military to its own self-defense only.
The legislation, passed by the more powerful lower house in July, sparked sizable protests and debate about whether the nation should shift away from its pacifist ways to face growing security challenges.
The motion, backed by Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition, passed following days of heated debate that at times descended into scuffles and shouting matches between parliament members.
Opposition politicians on Thursday pushed and shoved in a failed bid to stop a committee approving the bills.
Abe has faced fierce criticism for his handling of the bills and there are growing signs the campaign has taken a political toll.
BERLIN/TOKYO, Aug 10 2015 (IPS) – Seventy years after the brutal and militarily unwarranted atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, a nuclear weapons free world is far from within reach.
Commemorating the two events, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made impassioned pleas for heeding the experiences of the survivors of the atomic bombings and the growing worldwide awareness of the compelling need for complete abolition of such weapons.
The atomic bombings in 1945 destroyed the two cities, and more than 200,000 people died of nuclear radiation, shockwaves from the blasts and thermal radiation. Over 400,000 have died since the end of the war, from the after-effects of the bombs.
“Our world still bristles with more than 15,000 nuclear weapons, and policy-makers in the nuclear-armed states remain trapped in provincial thinking, repeating by word and deed their nuclear intimidation” – Kazumi Matsui, mayor of Hiroshima
As of Mar. 31, 2015, the Japanese government had recognised 183,519 as ‘hibakusha’ (explosion-affected people), most of them living in Japan. Japan’s Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law defines hibakusha as people who were: within a few kilometres of the hypocentres of the bombs; within 2 km of the hypocentres within two weeks of the bombings; exposed to radiation from fallout; or not yet born but carried by pregnant women in any of these categories.
During the commemorative events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reports in several newspapers confirmed that those bombings were militarily unwarranted.
Gar Alperovitz, formerly Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, wrote in The Nation that that “the war was won before Hiroshima – and the generals who dropped the bomb knew it.”
He quoted Adm. William Leahy, President Harry S. Truman’s Chief of Staff, who wrote in his 1950 memoir ‘I Was There’ [that] “the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender …”
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S. president from 1953 until 1961, shared this view. He was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.
Eisenhower stated in his memoirs that when notified by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the decision to use atomic weapons, he “voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”
Even the famous “hawk” Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Twenty-First Bomber Command, went public the month after the bombing, telling the press that “the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all,” wrote Alperovitz.
“The peoples of this world must unite or they will perish,” warned Robert Oppenheimer, widely considered the father of the bomb, as he called on politicians to place the terrifying power of the atom under strict international control.
Oppenheimer’s call has yet to be followed.
In his fervent address on Aug. 6, Kazumi Matsui, mayor of the City of Hiroshima, said: “Our world still bristles with more than 15,000 nuclear weapons, and policy-makers in the nuclear-armed states remain trapped in provincial thinking, repeating by word and deed their nuclear intimidation.”
He added: “We now know about the many incidents and accidents that have taken us to the brink of nuclear war or nuclear explosions. Today, we worry as well about nuclear terrorism.”
As long as nuclear weapons exist, he warned, anyone could become a hibakusha at any time. If that happens, the damage would reach indiscriminately beyond national borders. “People of the world, please listen carefully to the words of the hibakusha and, profoundly accepting the spirit of Hiroshima, contemplate the nuclear problem as your own,” he exhorted.
As president of Mayors for Peace, comprising mayors from more than 6,700 member cities, Kazumi Matsui vowed: “Hiroshima will act with determination, doing everything in our power to accelerate the international trend toward negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention and abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020.”
This, he said, was the first step toward nuclear weapons abolition. The next step would be to create, through the trust thus won, broadly versatile security systems that do not depend on military might.
“Working with patience and perseverance to achieve those systems will be vital, and will require that we promote throughout the world the path to true peace revealed by the pacifism of the Japanese Constitution,” he added.
“We call on the Japanese government, in its role as bridge between the nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states, to guide all states toward these discussions, and we offer Hiroshima as the venue for dialogue and outreach,” the mayor of Hiroshima said.
In the Nagasaki Peace Declaration issued on Aug. 9, Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue asked the Japanese government and Parliament to “fix your sights on the future, and please consider a conversion from a ‘nuclear umbrella’ to a ‘non-nuclear umbrella’.”
Japan does not possess any atomic weapons and is protected, like South Korea and Germany, as well as most of the NATO member states, by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
Failure of Review Conference Brings World Close to Nuclear Cataclysm, Warn Activists
He appealed to the Japanese government to explore national security measures, which do not rely on nuclear deterrence. “The establishment of a ‘Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NEA-NWFZ),’ as advocated by researchers in America, Japan, Korea, China, and many other countries, would make this possible,” he said.
Referring to the Japanese Parliament “currently deliberating a bill, which will determine how our country guarantees its security”, he said: “There is widespread unease and concern that the oath which was engraved onto our hearts 70 years ago and the peaceful ideology of the Constitution of Japan are now wavering. I urge the Government and the Diet to listen to these voices of unease and concern, concentrate their wisdom, and conduct careful and sincere deliberations.”
The Nagasaki Peace Declaration noted that the peaceful ideology of the Constitution of Japan was born from painful and harsh experiences, and from reflection on the war. “Since the war, our country has walked the path of a peaceful nation. For the sake of Nagasaki, and for the sake of all of Japan, we must never change the peaceful principle that we renounce war,” the declaration said.
The Nagasaki mayor regretted that the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) held at the United Nations earlier this year had struggled with reaching agreement on a Final Document.
However, said Taue, the efforts of those countries which were attempting to ban nuclear weapons had made possible a draft Final Document “which incorporated steps towards nuclear disarmament.”
He urged the heads of NPT member states not to allow the NPT Review Conference “to have been a waste”. Instead, they should continue their efforts to debate a legal framework, such as a ‘Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC),’ at every opportunity, including at the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Many countries at the Review Conference were in agreement that it was important to visit the atomic-bombed cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Against this backdrop, the Nagasaki mayor appealed to “President [Barack] Obama, heads of state, including the heads of the nuclear weapon states, and all the people of the world … (to) please come to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and see for yourself exactly what happened under those mushroom clouds 70 years ago.”
No U.S. president has ever attended the any event to commemorate the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller was the highest-ranking U.S. official at the Aug. 6 ceremony. She was reported as saying that nuclear weapons should never be used again.