Hiroshima Memo: Efforts by Yuda-en for nuclear abolition and peace should be passed on to the next generation

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

As a percentage of its population, Yamaguchi Prefecture has the third largest number of A-bomb survivors, following the prefectures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A welfare center for A-bomb survivors in Yamaguchi called "Yuda-en," which opened in 1968, played an important role in passing on the spirit for nuclear abolition and peace in addition to providing emotional support for the survivors there. Even today, over 4,000 A-bomb survivors live in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Since 1975, Yuda-en has spearheaded the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Yamaguchi to console the spirits of those who perished in the bombing, in cooperation with the local A-bomb survivors association and peace groups. The ceremony, which is held annually on September 6, is called "Hiroshima Day in Yamaguchi." The fact that a "Peace Declaration" is also delivered at the ceremony, in addition to the declarations made in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is hardly known.

The declaration in Yamaguchi, while describing the horrific experience of the bombing, always includes a warning that addresses the future of the human race.

"With the world facing the reality of dwindling resources, a decline hastened by environment degradation, as well as the increase in population and hunger, it's depressing to think that many other factors also threaten peace."

This passage is from the second Peace Declaration made in 1976, at the height of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. The statement discussed not only the annihilation of the human race and the demise of civilization, it also referred to issues now of pressing concern, including the destruction of the environment. The declaration went on to state:

"Humanity now stands at the crossroads of life and death. It is time for the whole world to work together to eliminate nuclear weapons from the earth instead of perpetuating conflict between nations and races. Human beings must realize that we are all in the same boat and must start working immediately to build lasting world peace based on human dignity and mutual dependence."

This warning, made more than 30 years ago, has become all the more urgent today. No one can dismiss the message made by the people of Yamaguchi, including the A-bomb survivors, as "overblown." For those who experienced the bombing, in particular, they keenly understand the peril.

Many of those who worked for Yuda-en have recorded the accounts of A-bomb survivors, joined sit-ins to stage silent protests against nuclear tests, and engaged in peace activities both at home and abroad to convey the true extent of the A-bomb damage to the world and to appeal for nuclear abolition.

Saeko Ueno, 61, who cared for A-bomb survivors at Yuda-en for more than 40 years, retired from her position as office manager last year. In 1982, as a representative of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organization, she visited five countries including France, a nuclear weapon state, and the former East and West Germany over a period of nearly two weeks.

Reflecting on her visit to Europe, Ms. Ueno later commented for the Chugoku Shimbun: "Many people are eager to spread the message of peace. To make this message heard by the mainstream of the world, grassroots movements that cross borders at the municipal government level and at the civilian level play a key role."

Last year brighter prospects for nuclear abolition emerged, which included the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama and his pledge to pursue a nuclear-free world. However, the grassroots movements by citizens in support of the non-nuclear policy of governments have yet to become a powerful tide. This is true even in Japan, where the memory of the atomic bombings has receded.

Moving to keep the memory of the bombings alive, a new memorial "vowing adherence to the Three Non-Nuclear Principles and nuclear abolition" was erected next to the memorial dedicated to the A-bomb victims built in 1974. The new memorial was unveiled at the Peace Memorial Ceremony in Yamaguchi last year. The message engraved in its granite stone holds the strong will and wish of those from Yuda-en's long history who contributed to building the memorial to appeal for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The Yuda-en facility, a resort where A-bomb survivors could relax by soaking their bodies in the waters of a hot spring, is now gone. Its base of activity has been moved to another building and its staff members and others who have provided support for the survivors are growing older. However, the spirit of pursuing nuclear abolition and peace, nurtured through the many activities spearheaded by Yuda-en, should be passed on to the next generation.

(Originally published on Jan. 18, 2010)