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Hibakusha: Painting pictures of the A-Bomb Dome with a heartfelt message

Hiroshi Hara displays his paintings of Hiroshima's Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima's Aki Ward on Nov. 7, 2016. (Photo by Naohiro Yamada)

Hiroshi Hara, an 85-year-old survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, completed his 3,403rd painting of the Atomic Bomb Dome at his home in the city's Aki Ward on Sept. 9 this year. On it he wrote a protest message in red ballpoint pen:

"Resolutely opposed to North Korea's nuclear test!" It was an expression of anger toward North Korea's fifth nuclear test.

Hara has been painting pictures of the dome for 32 years. When North Korea went ahead with its first nuclear test on Oct. 9, 2006 he similarly wrote on his painting at the time, "Protesting against North Korea's nuclear test."

Prodding Hara on as an artist is his wish to convey the spirit of the dome, with its message that nuclear weapons and humans cannot coexist, he says. Over the years he has traveled by train and other means to the dome, which is about 40 minutes away from his home, scooped up water from the Motoyasu River, which was once filled with the bodies of A-bomb victims, and gazed at the dome before setting his brush to work. At one stage, he completed seven or eight paintings of the dome in a week.

Now however, his legs have grown weak and he hardly ever visits the dome. He can't get by without a rolling walker and even making it to the local hospital several hundred meters away is a struggle. He suffers from double vision, and his hands shake. But he still takes up his art brush. Sitting on his bed, he looks at his previous works and creates a picture on colored paper. As he looks out the window, he notices the autumn coloring of the leaves of cherry trees and muses, "I guess the trees in front of the dome have started to change color," and adds a different hue to his work.

"The image of the dome has sunk into me, but it's different when you're painting it at home," he says.

Hara has started to cut back on giving talks to visiting students about his experience in the atomic bombing of Aug. 6, 1945. Recently he phoned a school that had wanted him to come and talk and turned down its request, saying another person would go in his place.

"It pains me," he said. "To overstate the point, I'd say I really have to convey the message as long as I'm alive. I think that's the mission of those who survived. It's tough to turn (the speaking requests) down."

When U.S. President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima in May, Hara watched a live broadcast of the visit on TV at home. At Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where Obama gave his speech, the president made his way toward the Atomic Bomb Dome, but stopped several hundred meters away from it on the opposite side of the river.

"Unless you get close and witness the terrible nature of the bomb blast and the heat, you don't get a feel for the actual conditions. It was all a formality," he said angrily.

On a picture Hara painted on Aug. 10 this year, he wrote, "Seventy-one years have passed since that day, but the prayer of the dome has not reached the world."

Still, in October this year, Hara held hopes for a resolution against nuclear weapons at the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, which deals with disarmament. The resolution called for the start of talks in 2017 to outlaw nuclear weapons.

"The Japanese government, which opposed the resolution, splashed cold water on it from behind, but 123 nations agreed with the establishment of a treaty. The world's people have to move the United Nations with a coalition against nuclear weapons," Hara says.

Hara ends his talks to children about his experiences in the atomic bombing in the following way:

"I'll do my best while I'm well, but from now on the responsibility of creating a world without nuclear weapons lies on you, and you and you. Please do not forget this. (By Asako Takeuchi, Hiroshima Bureau)

***

This year, 71 years since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, international society has progressed and regressed in moves toward achieving a world without nuclear weapons. Barack Obama visited Hiroshima -- the first time for a sitting U.S. president, but North Korea went ahead with two nuclear tests. We want to continue to lend an ear to the calls to eliminate nuclear weapons from atomic bomb survivors, or hibakusha, who have laid their lives on the line.

U.S. President Barack Obama visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on May 27, 2016, when he came to Japan for the Ise-Shima Summit. He briefly visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and observed a moment of silence at a centotaph for victims. Referring to the world's nuclear stockpiles during a 17-minute speech, Obama said people "must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them." Obama spent a total of about 50 minutes at the park. A message and folded cranes he donated are on display at the museum.

Profile:

Hiroshi Hara was exposed to radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima after entering the city the day after the bombing. There, as a 13-year-old boy, he saw awful scenes of dead and wounded people. After the war he worked for Japanese National Railways. He has talked about his experiences in the atomic bombing and continued to paint pictures of the Atomic Bomb Dome since 1984. He is representative of a group providing testimonies on experiences in the bombing.

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