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Nagasaki coffee shop connects A-bomb survivors and people longing for peace

Takeshi Yamakawa, left, and Kotaro Honda, the owner of "Peacetown Coffee," are seen in the city of Nagasaki on May 27, 2021. (Mainichi/Mayu Matsumura)

NAGASAKI -- An A-bomb survivor and former educator from Nagasaki has met younger individuals who share his desire for peace at a coffee shop in this southwestern Japan city.

    Takeshi Yamakawa, 84, sighed and said, "I want to talk (about my experiences)," as opportunities to give lectures on his atomic bombing experience have been continuously canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. His schedule book was filled mostly with plans to go to the hospital, and although his lectures at elementary schools finally resumed in late June, it is unknown what will become of them given the current state of infections.

    Amid this situation, A-bomb survivor, or hibakusha, Yamakawa has been frequenting "Peacetown Coffee," a cafe located near Nagasaki Peace Park, since the end of last year. While drinking coffee, which he loves, he chats with shop owner Kotaro Honda, 41, and other regulars who engage in peace activities. Yamakawa said, "Right now, this is the place where I feel the most relieved."

    Yamakawa's encounter with the shop was accidental. When he was returning home from the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, he went inside after coming across the cafe with no sign. "I hadn't noticed the shop for a long time, but when I looked at the menu, it said they had coffee beans from Costa Rica. This made me happy," said Yamakawa. He approached Honda, saying, "I see you use beans from Costa Rica," to which the shop owner apparently answered, "Costa Rica is the only country in the world with no military." In his mind, Yamakawa clapped his hands together in delight upon hearing the reply.

    In 1948, a civil war between government forces and anti-government armed forces broke out in Costa Rica, a country in Central America. Reflecting on this, abolition of the military was introduced in the Constitution in 1949, and budgets which previously covered military expenses were instead used for welfare and education.

    Yamakawa was surprised that the beans were selected with this knowledge. The menu also included coffee using the beans of East Timor, which declared independence from Indonesia in 2002, and Rwanda, which aims to achieve reconciliation of its citizens while getting over the resentment caused by a civil war in the 1990s that resulted in more than 800,000 deaths. Upon seeing this, Yamakawa became certain that the coffee shop's theme is peace, and that the owner must also be someone who longs for peace.

    Honda, who is also from the city of Nagasaki, returned to his hometown after working at a cafe in the city of Fukuoka. In 2013, he opened the coffee shop in the form of succeeding an acquaintance's cafe. He predicted that many people from in and outside Japan would come to the shop, as it is surrounded by the Nagasaki Peace Park, the Atomic Bomb Hypocenter Park and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, and secretly hoped for "hibakusha to make trips to the cafe as well." Honda himself is a third-generation hibakusha whose late grandmother Hanako was exposed to radiation after visiting the location near the hypocenter shortly after the atomic bombing.

    Honda's wish came true. Many hibakusha visit the Atomic Bomb Museum regularly to talk about their experiences with students on school trips and other such occasions. The coffee shop became the perfect resting spot for those passing by on their way home. Guides of establishment remains which were devastated in the atomic bombing, as well as artists holding events on peace, and other young people also began to stop by the shop.

    Yamakawa was also among those who joined this circle. He founded a group of hibakusha teachers in the city of Nagasaki in 1970, the 25th anniversary of the atomic bombing. At the time, the topic was hardly mentioned in educational settings, and he felt guilt over the fact that around 20% of students could not answer which country dropped the atomic bombs. He defied the municipal education board, which was against A-bomb education and called it "biased" at the time, and instilled peace in education by editing a textbook on the atomic bombing for children, among other efforts.

    The people at the coffee shop were raised while receiving such an education. "You can meet customers who support 'peace' here," said Yamakawa, who receives energy in return from fellow customers.

    (Japanese original by Mayu Matsumura, Nagasaki Bureau)

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