A PIME missionary explains how Japan is preparing to commemorate 60 years since the nuclear holocaust.
Tokyo (AsiaNews) On August 6 sixty years ago the first atomic bomb sent the city of Hiroshima up in smoke. Three days later, the same thing happened to the city of Nagasaki. As Blaise Pascal in his Pensées wrote, "the heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing". And there are events that the mind and words, whether those of science, of philosophy, of the law, know not how to adequately express without the risk of slipping into blasphemy. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are such words.
Hibakusha or the survivors
After so many decades in Japan, there is no event that has left such a mark on my consciousness than the commemoration of August 6 and 9.
Those two days set the two cities apart from the rest of Japan and the world. But they belong neither to the politicians, the historians, the sociologists nor to Japan's government, but rather to the 266,000 survivors or hibakusha, that is those who lived through the atomic bombs and survived to tell stories, written on their bodies, in their blood and in their hearts, wounded by an unspeakable human tragedy.
Shying away from the mantel of the eternal victim, the mayors of the two have lent their voice to the nation and the world in a message that is, I dare say, religious.
What is more, with the know-it-all style of historical analysis stored away, the best Japanese papers have focused this year on educating the new generations.
"Survivors must talk about their experiences," writes Asahi shinbun in an editorial that is a simple but effective summary of what must be done "60 years after A-bomb".
Such a simple demand is convincing and moving because it is nourished by a witness's memory and a school's initiative.
It was only three years ago that Junichiro Nagai, 74, who lives in Musashino in western Tokyo, found himself able to publicly talk about his experiences of 60 years ago.
On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, when Hiroshima was hit by an atomic bomb, Nagai, then a third-year student at the private Sotoku Middle School in Hiroshima, was in a suburban factory where he served as a student worker. He thought he saw a flash of lightning and then felt a blast of wind.
That night, when he went home, he waited in vain for his 13year-old, younger sister, a first-year student at Hiroshima Municipal No. 1 Girls' High School,
Two days later, his parents found their missing daughter lying on the ground in downtown Hiroshima. They could identify the body from a name tag with "Mieko Nagai" written in India ink and sewn onto what was left of her shirt.
For decades, the Tokyo-resident never talked about that terrible experience, not even to his wife and two sons. He could not bring himself to discuss the issue because he felt in debt and guilty for having survived on that fateful morning, when many of his classmates died. He also felt responsible for his sister's death because he had encouraged her to go on to high school.
Afterwards, he was worried that one day, he and his children would become ill from his exposure to radiation. Such an ailment could affect his sons' opportunities for jobs or even marriage.
But such feelings changed three years ago when he found a booklet among the personal effects left behind by his father. It was titled Genbaku to Chojo (The atomic bomb and my daughter).
His father, who had also been reluctant to talk about his experiences, had written down an account of how he found the body of Nagai's little sister.
After three generations, the young had to hear this eloquent account, written 44 years after the event, of a father's chagrin and love.
Since then, Nagai and other survivors go from school to school to speak to kids "the language of the heart" with excellent results.
Absent-minded youth and school
"I am the same age as Mr. Nagai when he waited for his little sister to return. It must have been a terrible shock," one student said after hearing Nagai's story.
The editorial highlights how schools are making an effort to pass down such stories. But a survey conducted five years ago in Hiroshima showed that half of all elementary school students did not know when their city was hit by the atomic bomb. What is worse is that some students think that "peace education" is "dull and boring".
Two years ago, a university student even set fire to folded paper cranes that were placed in Hiroshima's Peace Park as an offering for the souls of the children who perished in the atomic ball of fire.
"When we hear the words atomic bomb, many people conjure up the image of a mushroom cloud. But it is difficult to imagine what was happening under it," the editorial writer said.
Despite such obstacles, several initiatives are underway to prevent memories from fading away over time.
Last year, Meiji Gakuin University's Faculty of International Studies in Yokohama started a "Hiroshima-Nagasaki course", which looks into various issues related to nuclear weapons. This spring, the school invited some hibakusha to give a lecture.
"Hearing first-hand accounts from survivors of the atomic bombing allows students to vicariously share their experiences. Since young people today are sensitive, it's not difficult to make them understand," said Professor Takao Takahara, who set up the programme.
For more than 50 years, the Japanese were more concerned with surviving after the war and then developing their economy. Finding solutions for human problems like war and peace and the moral training of the new generations was left to politicians and government officials.
Today's thoughts and initiatives on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the A-bomb seem to indicate a fundamental shift in attitudes.