Category Archives: Japan

On World Day of Peace, stories of sisters who survived Hiroshima bombing

by Gail DeGeorge
Global Sisters Report

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Sr. Masako Miyake, left, talks to Sr. Estelle Kazuko Takabayashi, who was sharing her memory book. (GSR photo / Gail DeGeorge)

(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.

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From left to right, Sr. Agnes Elenor Kazuko Hirota, Sr. Anna Cecilia Yukie Sakimura, Sr. Lucia Joseph Akie Aratani, Sr. Estelle Kazuko Takabayashi, all Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and Sr. Maria Teruka Onojima, a member of the Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls. (GSR photos / Gail DeGeorge)

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.”

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Sr. Anna Cecilia Yukie Sakimura stands next to a bust of St. Pope John Paul II, who visited the Memorial for World Peace Cathedral Feb. 25, 1981. (GSR photos / Gail DeGeorge)

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.

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Sr. Lucia Joseph Akie Aratani; Sr. Agnes Elenor Kazuko Hirota pose on the grounds of the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace in Hiroshima, or Noborimachi Catholic Church, built 1950-1954. On the right is the 1915 Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, which was damaged in the bombing and left as a memorial. It is commonly referred to as the Atomic Bomb Dome, or Genbaku Domu. (GSR photos / Gail DeGeorge)

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.”

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Left, Memorial to Sadako Sasaki and the many children who died in the A-bomb attack or from effects afterwards: Sasaki was 2 years old during the bombing and had no apparent injuries, but developed leukemia nine years later. She kept folding paper cranes, believing they would help her recover, but she died Oct. 25, 1955. Thousands of school children joined in folding the cranes while Sasaki was battling the disease and continued afterwards in her memory, including Sr. Maria Teruka Onojima. Right, the Genbaku Domu. (GSR photos / Gail DeGeorge)

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 gdegeorge@ncronline.org. 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.]

 

Ten Days For Peace Message from Bishops of Japan

Independent Catholic News

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:

japanIn 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

Japan marks fifth anniversary of tsunami and nuclear disaster

The Guardian

Emperor leads tributes to 19,000 people killed after earthquake, and PM says reconstruction is making steady progress

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

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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.

Across the devastated region, people observed a moment’s silence at 2.46pm on Friday, the exact moment in 2011 when a magnitude-9 earthquake – the biggest in Japan’s recorded history – unleashed a tsunami that engulfed entire towns and villages. Continue reading Japan marks fifth anniversary of tsunami and nuclear disaster

Okinawa sues Tokyo in bid to stop move of US air base

AlJazeera

Move deepens decades-long row over American troop presence on southern Japanese island, many residents want base removed.

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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

Japan passes law allowing troops to fight abroad

Al Jazeera
Upper house passes law allowing troops to fight on foreign soil for first time since World War II, despite protests.

There were scuffles in parliament as protesters and politicians tried to physically stop the motion [Reuters]
There were scuffles in parliament as protesters and politicians tried to physically stop the motion [Reuters]
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.

Fierce opposition

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.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Mayors Plead for a Nuclear Weapons Free World

Interpress Service
By Ramesh Jaura

The mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, presents the Nagasaki Peace Declaration, saying that “rather than envisioning a nuclear-free world as a faraway dream, we must quickly decide to solve this issue by working towards the abolition of these weapons, fulfilling the promise made to global society”. Credit: YouTube
The mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, presents the Nagasaki Peace Declaration, saying that “rather than envisioning a nuclear-free world as a faraway dream, we must quickly decide to solve this issue by working towards the abolition of these weapons, fulfilling the promise made to global society”. Credit: YouTube

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.

Edited by Phil Harris

Message from Japanese Bishops 70 Years after the War

Catholic News Service

Mount Fuji, Japan
Mount Fuji, Japan

Japan’s Catholic Bishops have issued the following statement to mark the 70th anniversary of World War Two. Blessed are the peacemakers – Now especially, peace must not depend upon weapons.

To our Brothers and Sisters in Christ and to All Who Wish for Peace

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan issued messages marking the end of the Second World War in 1995 (Resolution for Peace — On the 50th. Anniversary of the End of the War) and 2005 (Peace Message After 60 Years From the End of War World II — The Road To Peace Based On Nonviolence — Now Is The Time To Be Prophetic). In this year in which we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, we wish to once again declare our commitment to peace.

1. The Church Cannot Remain Silent in the Face of Threats to Human Life and Dignity

For the Catholic Church, this is a noteworthy year because it marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
In the first half of the Twentieth Century the Christian Church centered in Europe experienced two world wars and genocide against the Jews by Nazi Germany. Reflecting on these tragedies, the Church cannot close itself up with merely “religious” concerns. We have realized that the problems of humanity are our problems. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, issued at the end of the Second Vatican Council, is a clear example of this insight, opening with the following words.

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.

From the end of the Second Vatican Council up to the papacy of Pope Francis today, the Church has actively faced the issues of human life and dignity, especially of those who are excluded or oppressed.

2. The Decision to Renounce War

Japanese colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula until 1945 as well as acts of aggression against China and other Asian countries caused great suffering and sacrifice among people. The Second World War was a horrible experience for the Japanese people as well. Beginning with the Tokyo air raid of March 10, 1945, large-scale air raids struck many cities in Japan. In addition to the many Japanese and foreign troops who became casualties during land combat on Okinawa, many civilians suffered as well. Then finally there were the atomic bombings of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. These experiences gave birth to a desire for peace that was codified in the Constitution of Japan promulgated in 1946 based on the sovereignty of the people, the renunciation of war and respect for basic human rights. Following this peace constitution, Japan has striven to build relationships of trust and friendship with the nations of Asia.

Against the background of the Cold War and the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall, the Catholic Church throughout the world has made increasingly clear its opposition to the arms race and the use of weapons to resolve disputes.

In his encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII said, “in this age which boasts of its atomic power, it no longer makes sense to maintain that war is a fit instrument with which to repair the violation of justice” Vatican II in Gaudiam et Spes opposed the arms race, and urged peace that does not rely upon military force. In his Appeal for Peace in Hiroshima in 1981, Pope John Paul II demonstrated this clear renunciation of war when he said, “War is the work of man. War is destruction of human life. War is death.”

Given this historical background, it is a matter of course that we Japanese bishops respect the ideals of Japan’s no-war Constitution For Christians, the renunciation of war is demanded by the Gospel of Christ. It is a respect for life that cannot be abandoned by religious people and an ideal that is held firmly by the whole human race.

3. The Japanese Church’s peace vocation

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan knows that it has a special vocation to work for peace. It is not based upon any political ideology. We continue to appeal for peace not as a political issue, but as a human one. Our awareness of this vocation is, of course, influenced by the horrors inflicted by nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it is also born of deep remorse when we reflect upon the attitude of the Church in Japan before and during the war.

During a Mass celebrated on September 26, 1986, at the plenary meeting of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) held in Tokyo, Archbishop Shirayanagi of Tokyo made the following declaration. “We Catholic bishops of Japan, as Japanese, and as members of the Catholic Church in Japan, sincerely ask forgiveness from God and from our brothers and sisters of Asia and the Pacific Region for the tragedy brought by the Japanese during the Second World War. As parties involved in the war, we share in the responsibility for the more than 20 million victims in Asia and the Pacific. Furthermore, we deeply regret having damaged the lives and cultures of the people of these regions. The trauma of this is still not healed.”

These words were not those of a single bishop. He spoke as president of the bishops’ conference, conveying the opinion of the whole conference. As mentioned above, in their messages on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the end of the war, the bishops continued to reflect upon the issue of the Church’s responsibility before and during the war and from that standpoint have expressed their determination in favor of peace.

4. Problems such as recognition of history and the exercise of collective self-defense
Seventy years after the war, memory of it is fading along with memories of Japanese colonial rule and aggression with its accompanying crimes against humanity. Now, there are calls to rewrite the history of that time, denying what really happened. The present government is attempting to enact laws to protect state secrets, allow for the right of collective self-defense and change Article 9 of the Constitution to allow the use of military force overseas.

At the same time, we cannot overlook growing nationalism not only in Japan, but among the governments of other countries in this part of the world. As tensions rise between nations, a strong commitment to improved relations through dialogue and negotiation rather than increased militarization becomes more important for regional stability.

Domestically, the situation in Okinawa presents a particularly serious problem. Compared to the rest of the country, the number of military bases there is especially high. New base construction is underway, contrary to the wishes of the citizens of the prefecture. This demonstrates an attitude that puts priority on armaments while ignoring people and efforts to build peace.

5. Amidst the serious crises facing the world today

Viewing the world today, the tragedies of military conflict and terrorism occur over and over again in many places. In addition to conflicts between nations and ethnic groups, now violence in the name of religion makes it increasingly seem as if throughout the world dialogue has become impossible. In that situation, women and children as well as ethnic and religious minorities are especially threatened and many lose their lives.

In the face of such worldwide destructiveness, Pope Francis has expressed concern that some people seem to speak of a “Third World War” rather than making sure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. The world faces the sorts of crises that cannot but cause people to wonder if force is the answer.

What has become of respect for humanity? However, repeatedly answering violence with violence will only lead to the destruction of humanity.

The world is dominated by the globalization of companies and the financial system. Disparities continue to widen and the poor are excluded. Human economic activity is causing climate change and the destruction of biodiversity. If we wish to realize peace, this situation must change. We cannot ignore the problems of poverty and the environment that produce disparity and exclusion. We are each called upon to overcome our indifference to the world’s problems and change our lives. We cannot solve all the world’s problems at once, but we can patiently continue to work toward peace and mutual understanding.

In Conclusion

We recall the words of Pope John Paul II in his Appeal for Peace in Hiroshima: “Peace must always be the aim: peace pursued and protected in all circumstances. Let us not repeat the past, a past of violence and destruction. Let us embark upon the steep and difficult path of peace, the only path that befits human dignity, the only path that leads to the true fulfillment of the human destiny, the only path to a future in which equity, justice and solidarity are realities and not just distant dreams.”

We are encouraged by the words of Jesus Christ, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt. 5:9). Seventy years after the end of the war and 50 years after the end of the Second Vatican Council, let us renew our determination to seek peace and to work for peace. We Catholics in Japan are small in number, but in union with other Christians and along with believers of other religions and those throughout the world who wish for peace, we renew our commitment to work to make peace a reality.