“Youth Communicators” from Japan visit other nations and call for a nuclear-free world

by Jumpei Fujimura, Staff Writer

One year has passed since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched the program “Youth Communicator for a World without Nuclear Weapons” to enable young people to serve as advocates against nuclear arms. A total of 35 youth, from high school students to young adults in their twenties, have been selected to engage in various efforts, such as speaking at international gatherings as representatives of the nation that experienced the atomic bombings. At the same time, there are concerns about the program, including the fact that applicants have been limited to those recommended by certain organizations and are not chosen more broadly.

“The Youth Communicators are actively calling for a world without nuclear weapons. I hope that the momentum for nuclear disarmament will continue to expand across generations,” said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who represents Hiroshima’s first district, emphasizing the achievements of the program at a press conference on July 22.

The program was established with strong backing from Mr. Kishida, who realizes that the voices of the aging A-bomb survivors are fading. In principle, Youth Communicators must be from 15 to 29 years old and have some experience participating in activities involving nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation or have conducted research in these fields. Local governments, schools, NPOs, and other organizations can submit applications, and the Foreign Ministry screens the applicants. Those selected by the Ministry are given the title “Youth Communicator,” but the government does not provide any financial support, including travel expenses.

The 35 Youth Communicators are linked to three organizations: 24 are High School Students Peace Ambassadors chosen by citizens’ groups based in the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima; eight have been recommended by Mayors for Peace, for which the mayor of Hiroshima serves as president; and three were recommended by Peace Boat, a Tokyo-based NGO. The Foreign Ministry had expected that young researchers who attend international conferences would show interest in the program, but none have applied to date.

Referring to the fact that applications have been filed by only three organizations, Yasushi Noguchi, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Arms Control and Disarmament Division and supervisor of the Youth Communicator program, said, “Awareness of the program is still limited. We need to promote it so many more people will show interest.” This past June, the Foreign Ministry shared the program with representatives from 82 local autonomies who attended a meeting held in Kanagawa Prefecture to mark the 30th anniversary of the National Council of Japan Nuclear Free Local Authorities.

In what ways do the young people who have been selected Youth Communicators think the program should be improved? Honoka Imai, 17, a third-year student at Hiroshima Jogakuin Senior High School, visited New York in April to attend events in connection with the third session of the Preparatory Committee for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. She suggests that the areas of the activities undertaken by the Youth Communicators should not be limited to the destinations to which they are dispatched.

“As a representative of Japan, I felt a sense of pride and responsibility,” Ms. Imai said. “I was ready to do my very best. When I made speeches with the title Youth Communicator, the reaction of the audience was different, too. If we can use this title back in Japan, when we report on our achievements, I’m sure our activities will then become more productive.”

Akira Kawasaki, executive committee member of Peace Boat, commented, “In order for the program to grow and be sustainable, those that are selected must be given special training on the international conditions involving nuclear issues and on giving effective presentations.” He also proposed that the national government actively seek out potential candidates by promoting the program at various opportunities, such as the anniversaries of the atomic bombings, working with the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and involving the Youth Communicators.

(Originally published on July 27, 2014)