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Hibakusha: Passing on a message to the young generation

This photo taken on July 27, 2017, in the Hyogo Prefecture city of Takarazuka shows Koko Kondo, who has continued to convey a wish for the elimination of nuclear weapons to young people from Japan and the United States. (Mainichi)

In August each year, A-bomb survivor Koko Kondo, 72, a resident of Hyogo Prefecture, has taught in a program taking students from Kyoto's Ritsumeikan University and American University in the United States to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since the program began in 1995, over 700 people have participated in the study tours. However, since the term of the Ritsumeikan faculty member in charge is ending, the program is due to finish this year.

Volunteers independently launched the program, which explores nuclear-related sites, to mark 50 years since the end of the Pacific War. It was formally adopted as a course at both educational institutions in 1997. Students visit the Kyoto Museum for World Peace at Ritsumeikan University, take part in ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and listen to the testimonies of hibakusha, or A-bomb survivors. This year 40 students were to take part in the program running from Aug. 1 to 10.

Kondo, a graduate of American University, arranged to meet a group of young people on Aug. 2, with the desire to have the younger generation spread hope for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Kondo was exposed to radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima alongside her parents when she was 8 months old. After graduating from high school, she studied at American University. She learned about the study tours through news reports in 1996, and was happily surprised to hear that students from her alma mater were coming to Japan to learn about the atomic bombings.

When she was studying in the U.S., the Vietnam War was being fought, and she had been unable to mention that she was an A-bomb survivor -- she knew there was a strong tendency in the U.S. to justify the dropping of the atomic bombs, on the grounds that they ended the war and prevented further deaths.

After returning Japan, Kondo contacted Ritsumeikan University and met with history professor Peter Kuznick of American University and others in Hiroshima, and they hit it off. From 1997, she served as an instructor to speak about the experiences she and her parents went through, seeing it as a valuable opportunity to convey the thoughts of an A-bomb survivor to students from Japan and the U.S. She guided them along the banks of a river where A-bomb victims had sought relief, and at the memorial tower where the remains of victims are buried, and told them, "Observe this with your own eyes, and tell others what you have felt." She heard that some of the students who took part went on to work for NGOs or become university researchers. She hopes they will convey the thoughts of hibakusha at the grassroots level.

Atsushi Fujioka, a specially appointed professor in charge of the program at Ritsumeikan University, is set to move to a part-time position from next academic year, and so the program is being held for the last time this year. Some at American University have lamented the end of the program, and Fujioka says he wants efforts to continue.

"I want efforts to have students think about peace together to continue, for example by seeking the cooperation of another university," he says.

Kondo commented, "Last year U.S. President Barack Obama came to Hiroshima. Twenty years ago, when the program started, I don't think public opinion in the U.S. would have allowed it. Our appeal is reaching American society."

Though the program is coming to an end, Kondo hopes to keep delivering her message to the young generation of Japanese and Americans.

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