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Hibakusha: Carrying on a message of peace

NAGASAKI -- A bullet-pierced suit and a blood-soaked shirt were among the items on display here between Jan. 15 and 19, at an exhibition paying tribute to former Nagasaki mayor Hitoshi Motoshima, who was shot 25 years ago. Motoshima passed away in October last year at the age of 92.

    "We don't often see something that so strongly shows the struggle between democracy and violence," said Takeshi Yamakawa, 78, as he stood in front of the exhibit on the exhibition's opening day. Yamakawa, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and vice-chairman of an association for educators who were exposed to the bomb, shared a close friendship with Motoshima lasting almost 20 years.

    In December 1988, Motoshima addressed Japan's involvement in World War II, telling the Nagasaki municipal assembly, "I believe that the Emperor (Showa) bears responsibility for the war." At a press conference after the assembly session, he said, "I think that if he had made an early decision to end the war, the tragedies of Okinawa, Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not have happened."

    On Jan. 18, 1990, Motoshima was shot by a leading member of a right-wing group that had protested against his statements. He was badly wounded, a bullet piercing his chest, but survived.

    Motoshima never retracted his statements, even after the city and prefectural assemblies pressed him to do so. "If we cannot speak freely about the Emperor, we cannot have hope for the future of Japanese democracy," he said.

    "There was significance in his refusal to take the statements back. Only he could do it," recalls Yamakawa.

    Every year, on Jan. 1, Yamakawa would join Motoshima in an anti-nuclear arms sit-in at Nagasaki Peace Park. This year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing, the sit-in went ahead as snow danced over the city, but Motoshima was not there. Instead, filling the central spot that he had always taken, was a framed photo of him smiling quietly.

    Yamakawa, who poured his heart and soul into teaching peace, traces his philosophy back to his youth when he received his education under a militarized nation. Whenever the teacher said, "With humble reverence to," it was always followed by "His Majesty the Emperor."

    "(When those words were uttered,) the students always stood to attention, their backs straight. That's because we had been taught that the Emperor was a deity in human form," Yamakawa recalls. As keepsakes, he still has a picture of a tank with the Japanese flag that he drew in class, and calligraphy for "Protect your country," and "Hinomaru," the name of the Japanese flag.

    As someone from the generation that lived those times, Yamakawa has to keep on conveying the foolishness of war. He keenly feels this duty, especially in light of the death of Motoshima, who stood at the forefront of such efforts. When he first exchanged words with Motoshima in 1996, Motoshima gave him a signed book containing the following handwritten phrase:

    "To Mr. Takeshi Yamakawa: Peace is the only legacy that humanity leaves its descendants." (Story and photo by Keisuke Umeda, Sasebo Bureau)

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