HIROSHIMA -- Survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima recalled then U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the city ahead of its first anniversary on May 27, appreciating the impact of the historic visit in making Hiroshima known to the world while expressing concerns over the lack of progress in nuclear weapon abolition and a rising sense of crisis over war.
"Mr. Obama smiled to me as if to say, 'Thank you for continuing to live,'" said Sunao Tsuboi, 92, an A-bomb survivor in Hiroshima, during an event for A-bomb survivors to share their experiences on May 10, as he held a photograph showing him and Obama shaking hands at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on May 27, 2016.
Tsuboi takes the picture with him wherever he goes. He recalled that the moment he shook hands with Obama, he instantly "sensed that Mr. Obama is a person who treads the same path as me."
However, he said sources of concern had rather increased over the past year due to President Donald Trump's words and actions and the series of terrorist attacks in different corners of the world. "Everyone should face up to the issue of nuclear weapons and think about peace," Tsuboi says.
He believes Obama's calls for "a world without nuclear weapons" were not meaningless, and wants to ask the former president to come to Hiroshima once again to listen to hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors. "Let's work hard toward our goal together," Tsuboi yearns to tell Obama.
Another A-bomb survivor in Hiroshima, Shigeaki Mori, 80, was invited to attend Obama's speech at Peace Memorial Park on May 27 last year after the U.S. government appreciated his decades-long survey on American soldiers who fell victim to the atomic bombing. Mori, whose hug with Obama following the speech was reported across the globe, has since received about 50 requests for making speeches in Japan and abroad.
After more than 30 years of surveys, Mori managed to identify 12 American POWs who were killed by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Reminiscing on the time he was hugged by Obama, Mori said, "It was the greatest moment of my life." About a week after Obama's visit to the bombed city, Mori received a word of appreciation from the U.S. government, which stated that what he did moved America.
During his speech in Hiroshima, Obama mentioned a "woman who forgave a pilot who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb." The woman purported to be referred to here is Koko Kondo, 72, who experienced the Hiroshima atomic bombing when she was an 8-month-old baby. Later at age 10, she had the chance to meet the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, and learned that the parties that dropped the atomic bomb were also deeply hurt. Kondo has told her experiences to people both in Japan and abroad, calling attention to the tragedy brought about by atomic weapons.
"President Obama's visit to Hiroshima was highly significant in that it served to make the world once again turn its eyes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki," Kondo noted.
Most of the children whom she talked to when she gave speeches in Japan knew about Obama's visit to Hiroshima. "The voices of hibakusha may be reaching out through grassroots activities," Kondo thought. While she is concerned about recent media reports on moves that betray the hopes for nuclear weapons abolition, she hasn't given up on her goal.
"It is important to spread the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, if only a little at a time," she said.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida praised Obama for becoming the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima.
"Mr. Obama made a borderline decision amid a situation where there was also negative public opinion in the U.S. toward such a visit," Kishida said during a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in Hiroshima.
On the final day of the Group of Seven (G-7) foreign ministerial meeting held in Hiroshima in April last year, then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Kishida at a working lunch venue if people in Hiroshima and the rest of Japan would welcome President Obama if he ever visited Hiroshima. In response, Kishida told Kerry, "I'm sure they would absolutely welcome him and would be moved by his visit."
Looking back on that conversation, Kishida told the Mainichi, "The United States was obviously concerned about possible reactions from the Japanese public."
On the day of Obama's visit, Kishida found that the president's expression changed in a short span of time. When Obama arrived at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park, he "looked tense," according to Kishida, but as the president walked in the park and met hibakusha, he appeared more relaxed. Obama was even quoted as telling Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who accompanied him, that it was good for him to have come there.
"The president's visit sent a clear message toward a world without nuclear weapons from the bombed city to the world, and had an enormous impact," Kishida said.
Nevertheless, both the United States and Japan abstained from United Nations negotiations on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. "Nuclear powers have not participated in the negotiations, and the treaty would only deepen the conflict between nuclear powers and non-nuclear nations," Kishida said, adding, "We decided not to join the negotiations in the belief that the situation should not be made any worse."