Experiences as junior writers broaden horizons of Hiroshima teens

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

"Hello. I'm Kyoko Niiyama. I hope you remember me."

It was August 6, 2009, the 64th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Someone had abruptly approached me in front of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims after the Peace Memorial Ceremony ended. It was Ms. Niiyama, 19, who was one of the first junior writers for "Peace Seeds," a peace newspaper produced by Hiroshima teens and published regularly in the Chugoku Shimbun. Since last September she has been studying at a university in the U.S. state of Ohio. She was with some people from her college, having returned to Hiroshima for the first time in a year.

When Ms. Niiyama was preparing to study abroad, I spoke with her about her plans so I naturally remembered her well. I asked her about life at college. "I'm trying hard to tell people there about the true extent of the A-bomb damage and Hiroshima's hope for peace. I'm doing this through a variety of ways, including A-bomb exhibitions on campus," she told me brightly. "My experiences as a junior writer for about a year were really useful and helped broaden my views."

While in the United States, Ms. Niiyama often checks the website of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center for information on issues related to nuclear weapons and peace. She said this information is useful in discussions with her classmates.

Many American students hold views about nuclear issues and the Iraq War that differ from their Japanese counterparts. Under these circumstances, Ms. Niiyama embraces Hiroshima as a touchstone and her efforts are bearing fruit: an increasing number of people at her university have come to support the renunciation of war and the elimination of nuclear weapons. I was impressed to see how much she had grown as a person in just one year.

Ms. Niiyama remarks that her views have been "broadened." This is not only due to learning more about Hiroshima, including the suffering of the A-bomb survivors and their advocacy for the abolition of nuclear weapons, but also because junior writers cover a wide range of issues in their reporting.

These issues have included: the true conditions involving landmines and cluster munitions, which continue to inflict harm even after war has ended; the millions of children in Africa and South Asia who die of hunger and disease; the degradation of the environment, including water contamination, air pollution and damage caused by deforestation; the refugees stirred by war and conflict; the international contributions that children can make; the "World Children's Summit," an idea proposed by the junior writers to the participants of the G8 Speakers' Summit in Hiroshima; and a campaign to invite U.S. President Barack Obama to Hiroshima.

Every story needs to be researched in depth for the junior writers to write an article about it. In addition, a little courage is needed to cover a story as the teenage writers must choose the topic and pursue it with little help from adults. This is no doubt a difficult task, but the experiences they gain through this process are very valuable to them and contribute to expanding their horizons.

Since the first issue of Peace Seeds was published in January 2007, there have been a total of 41 junior writers, including Ms. Niiyama. The current crop of junior writers is now preparing the 57th edition of the newspaper. In addition, a book containing the first 50 editions of Peace Seeds was recently published and an exhibition on Peace Seeds is being held at the Japan Newspaper Museum in Yokohama until mid-September.

As Rumiko Seya, the secretary general of the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention, who contributed a column to Peace Seeds called "Peace classroom" for about 16 months, has pointed out: it all starts with an interest in something and a desire to know more about it. Whether the topic is Hiroshima or World Affairs, getting involved in that area of interest will naturally lead to the next step.

Once they feel inspired to do something, children can bring to it a lot more power than we think. Children are capable of unique efforts for peace. I would like to call on schools and other organizations to provide more opportunities for children to take part in such activities. I hope the young people of Japan will come to play a more significant role in peacebuilding efforts out in the world by taking to heart the experiences of the atomic bombings and war.