Hiroshima City announces Peace Memorial Ceremony to be held on reduced scale with reserved seating only for 880—program will remain same as in typical years

by Kyosuke Mizukawa, Staff Writer

On May 14, the Hiroshima City government announced it would hold this year’s August 6 Peace Memorial Ceremony at a significantly reduced scale, along the lines of last year’s event. Participant seating at the venue at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, in the city’s Naka Ward, will be reduced to approximately 880 people, ten percent of the usual number. Given the current COVID-19 situation, the city determined that infection-prevention measures were necessary to avoid crowded spaces with lots of people in close contact.

According to the city, around 880 seats is the maximum number that can be placed on the grounds while maintaining a distance of two meters between them. Such an arrangement is in line with the guidelines on social distancing required by the national government for outside events that feature crowds of people without masks. A staff member at the Citizens Activities Promotion Division of the Hiroshima City government said, “Although the number of seats is limited, we hope as many A-bomb survivors and bereaved family members as possible can attend the ceremony.”

Seating at the venue will be reserved for invited guests. For the time being, as in typical years, those invited to the event will include bereaved family representatives from prefectures nationwide and ambassadors to Japan from various countries. The city plans to soon send an invitation letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who has expressed willingness to attend this year’s ceremony. If unable to attend, Mr. Guterres will be asked by the city to prepare a video message. Like last year’s event, seating for the general public will not be made available.

The ceremony’s program will remain the same as in usual years and include the Peace Declaration, announced by Hiroshima’s mayor, and the Commitment to Peace, read by youth representatives. The part of the event designed for the release of doves, which was canceled last year due to a lack of preparation and training caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, looks as if it will be held this year after finalization of ongoing coordination with related organizations.

Since May 14, Hiroshima City has posted on its YouTube channel a video of Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui speaking about the scaled-down version of this year’s Peace Memorial Ceremony. “I hope that wherever you are, everyone together in solidarity will participate in the August 6 ceremony and join us in a prayer for peace,” Mr. Matsui says in the video.

A-bomb survivors anticipate announcement of message for peace, call large-scale reduction “unavoidable”

by Junji Akechi, Staff Writer

On May 14, when the Hiroshima City government announced it would drastically reduce the scale of the August 6 Peace Memorial Ceremony for the second consecutive year, the perception widely held among A-bomb survivors was that the reduction was unavoidable. Because 2021 marks the year that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) went into force, some people expressed disappointment about the ceremony’s reduced scale. At the same time, some anticipate the delivery of messages addressing heightened international tensions.

“The pandemic situation this year is even worse than it was last year. It’s regrettable that the size of the ceremony will be scaled down for the second consecutive year. As many events are being canceled, however, I feel grateful that the ceremony will be held at all,” said Toshiyuki Mimaki, 79, acting chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Hiroshima Hidankyo, chaired by Sunao Tsuboi), seemingly taking the city’s announcement in stride.

Following after last year’s event, the number of attendees will be limited to approximately ten percent the number in average years, with no seating provided for the general public. Mr. Mimaki expressed his hope that the youth chorus and other programs involving the participation of younger generations will be continued.

The TPNW went into effect this year in January, with the first meetings of the States Parties to the treaty to be held next year in January. While Kunihiko Sakuma, 76, chair of the other Hiroshima Prefectural Hidankyo, expressed his regret over the scaled-down ceremony this summer, he said, “Now is the time to think about what we can do to combat the coronavirus pandemic.” He added, “It is important to continue the Peace Memorial Ceremony even if its scale is reduced, in order to share with younger generations our will for the abolition of nuclear weapons.”

While the coronavirus runs rampant in Japan, the world situation has grown ever more severe, with tensions rising between the United States and China and armed conflict escalating in the Middle East. Hiroshi Harada, 81, an A-bomb survivor and former director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, said, “The world is watching what kind of message of peace Hiroshima City will send out to the world through the ceremony. As A-bomb survivors are growing elderly, the time is now to intensify discussions about Hiroshima’s role.”

(Originally published on May 15, 2021)