It has been about three months since I returned from Japan. It seems like longer. So much has happened! It looks as though the TPP may pass. Prime Minister Abe’s war bills did pass. And the Abe and Obama administration are relentlessly ignoring the will of the Okinawan people by promoting the relocation of the Futenma air base. It is a scary time–in America and in Japan. I feel lucky that, in the midst of such uncertainty, I can call upon memories of the Peace March and the World Conference against A & H Bombs to fill me with hope and motivation. I can honestly say that it is thoughts of and continued dialogue with my translators, members of Gensuikyo and Shinfujin, and young Japanese activists that sustains me whenever I’m feeling helpless against the powers that be here in the States.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t post in this blog about the World Conference against A & H Bombs, which encompassed the last three days of my visit to Japan. Perhaps I’ve put off writing about it for so long because I’m still processing what I experienced. Here goes–
In the morning, the team gathered at a park for our last day of marching. We were joined by AG and Mags, the two youth marchers who I had met at the party the evening before. It was so fun to march with them!
As we walked through Hondori, central shopping city in Hiroshima, I recognized many locations from when I had spent the summer of 2013 in Hiroshima: the corner with the gum ball machine, the store where I bought several umbrellas when mine kept breaking, the restaurant I would by teishoku (or set meals) for 500 yen. After hearing peace calls led by Japanese activists for the past month, I was even able to lead a chant of my own as we neared the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park. AG and Mags played percussion and all the marchers were super pumped!
When we finally reached the Peace Park, a crowd had gathered to greet us. At long last, we had made it! I was especially happy for Matsunaga-san and Yamaguchi-san, who had been marching for the past three months, as they gave speeches from atop our van to galvanize the crowd!
August 4th was also the opening plenary of the World Conference Against A & H Bombs. There were so many memorable moments at the plenary. It was especially nostalgic to hear speeches by Sunao Tsuboi-san (Japan Federation of A & H Bomb Sufferers) and Haruko Moritaki-san (Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition), since I had met and interviewed both of them when I’d last visited Hiroshima. I was overjoyed to be reunited with my peace mentor and the man who introduced me to peace work, Joseph Gerson (or as he is known in Hiroshima “the man who comes to the Conference every year”). I heard a powerful speech about the repercussions of US imperialism on the Mariana Islands by a strong young woman named Moneka De Oro. And, towards the end of the plenary, Japanese young people who had come to New York for the NPT in April (including Nakashima-san and Tagami-san) came on stage, wearing the bright clothes and face paint they had donned during the Peace and Planet march. The whole event was beautiful: I felt like I was among family, and this feeling grew and grew as the conference progressed.
After the opening plenary, I attended a youth rally called “Ring! Link! Zero”. During the first half of the event, we heard a hibakusha testimony and had the opportunity to ask questions. The second half featured peace calls by different groups of young people from all over Japan. I was shocked by the large number of young people present at the event. I’d never been among so many young people dedicated to peace. As I was part of a group of international youth who attended the event (from Germany, France, the Philippines, Guam, and Australia), it was especially fun when we got to perform our peace call for all the Japanese youth present!
The second day of the conference was mainly dedicated to workshops and field trips. There were so many to choose from, but I finally decided to attend the Youth Forum. Once again, I was amazed at the number of young people in attendance. We split up into groups and had the opportunity to speak with a hibakusha in our groups for over an hour. I remember feeling heartbroken when the hibakusha we spoke with told us that she still had not told her story to her grandchildren, because she couldn’t bear to share with them such an awful experience.
In the evening, Shinfujin hosted the “No Nukes Women’s Forum”. The large gym where the event was held was overflowing with people. Shinfujin chapters from across the country had come with banners, dressed in colorful clothes, and many carried their children. My favorite moment of the night was when the entire room sang “We Shall Overcome” in unison. At the end of the event, I was swarmed by women who gave me gifts like paper cranes, banners, and other trinkets they had made. I was so overwhelmed, as I am only one of the many youth activists working for peace in the US. It was very humbling and inspiring to meet all of these women, and I had the opportunity to eat dinner with many of them after the event was over.
The morning began at the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park with the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony. Although the solemn ceremony was deeply powerful, I couldn’t help but notice a tension in the crowd, especially when Prime Minister Abe spoke. A few people in the audience actually called out, or “booed,” which I thought was very rare for such a formal event in Japan.
The rest of the day was a blur. As the World Conference in Hiroshima came to a close, I saw my friend Nao-san sing in a peace chorus, met with college students involved in the SEALDs movement, and participated in the annual lantern ceremony with an old friend who I had met during the summer of 2013.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was eating dinner at Junko’s house, where World Conference speakers gathered for a celebratory meal. Starting on August 4th, I had the huge privilege of doing a homestay with Junko Kayashige’s family. Although Junko is a hibakusha, we didn’t talk about her experience at all. Instead, over the three evenings I spent with her, we went to some local restaurants, talked over beer and, in my case, umeshuu (Japanese plum wine), watched television, and visited with her family at the dinner table. Honestly, it wasn’t until the last day of the World Conference, when I saw Junko-san on stage with the other hibakusha, that I thought about what she must have experienced.
Junko-san had just entered elementary school when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, one mile from her home. She survived, barely injured, but lost many family members. Junko-san was an art teacher in Hiroshima, and she is also a painter. Her haunting paintings depict her memories, and the foolishness of those who resort to war to solve conflict. I count my time staying with Junko-san as one of the most valuable of my whole trip to Japan.
My experience in Japan this summer has propelled me forward in the fight against nuclear weapons. I am telling many people about my time in Japan and the urgency of eliminating nuclear weapons. Now that I’m back in Boston, I am working hard to engage young people on nuclear weapons issues through an organization called Global Zero. We just started a chapter here in Boston and are also interacting with Japanese exchange students studying in the Boston area.
Next year the United States will elect a new president, and Global Zero members are meeting with presidential candidates, going to campaign events, and asking candidates questions about nuclear weapons. Here in America, we hope that our new president will take steps toward abolishing nuclear weapons and toward a more multilateral and diplomatic foreign policy.
As I write this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I had the opportunity to participate in the Peace March and World Conference. I am still in contact with many of the wonderful people I met this summer. I am especially impressed with little Miyori, a Japanese middle school student who keeps me up to date on all the goings on. In solidarity with the Japanese peace movement and those working for peace here in Boston, I feel more energized than ever to tackle nuclear weapons abolition!