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Biden seemed 'deeply affected' by visit to Hiroshima A-bomb museum: survivor

Atomic bombing survivor, or "hibakusha," Toshiko Tanaka offers her takeaway from the Group of Seven (G7) leaders' summit, in Hiroshima's Higashi Ward on May 21, 2023. (Mainichi/Kana Nemoto)

HIROSHIMA -- Over a tumultuous three days, the Group of Seven (G7) summit which concluded on May 21 became an unprecedented occasion for this west Japan city. How were the dizzying daily events viewed by "hibakusha," survivors of the atomic bombing of this city?

    "I'm happy the world's top leaders came together in this place which was devastated by a nuclear attack, especially as the world faces a crisis of war. I think the decision to hold the event in Hiroshima was not without meaning," optimistically said Toshiko Tanaka, an 84-year-old hibakusha from the city's Higashi Ward.

    Tanaka appeared on television and spoke with various media outlets over the three-day summit since it began on May 19. During a break, she watched closely on a screen as the countries' leaders paid their respects to the victims of the atomic bombing at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on the first day of the summit.

    What caught her eye in particular was the appearance of U.S. President Joe Biden as the leaders ended their visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. "He had a mournful expression. He seemed to have been deeply affected by viewing the reality of the bombing up close at the museum. I felt like I got a glimpse of his human side," Tanaka said.

    Then 6-year-old Tanaka experienced the blast while near her home about 2.3 kilometers from the bomb's hypocenter. She had injuries to her head and arms, and lost consciousness due to a high fever for several days. However, her life was spared.

    Originally, she spoke overseas about her experiences as a survivor in her native language through an interpreter. Wishing to express her feelings more directly, she studied English, and has been able to speak in the language since 2015. As one of few English-speaking hibakusha, she has visited over 80 countries to offer her testimony, including nuclear-armed G7 member states the U.S. and France, along with Russia and Ukraine before their conflict erupted. She also spoke with politicians from G7 states such as France and Italy who visited Japan ahead of the latest summit.

    Atomic bombing survivor, or "hibakusha," Keiko Ogura speaks about her meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on May 22, 2023. (Mainichi/Daiki Takikawa)

    Another English-speaking hibakusha, 85-year-old Keiko Ogura of Hiroshima's Naka Ward, met with the G7 leaders in succession to recount her experiences of the August 1945 attack.

    Tanaka commented, "Speaking through an interpreter slows things down. Testifying directly in English more closely conveys my emotions. As we get to the heart of the matter, the listeners can fall silent. I think Ogura feels the same as she spoke with the G7 leaders, being able to understand each other in a (more) human manner."

    Speaking to the media on May 21 following his hasty, surprise visit to the summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy frequently mentioned similarities between his war-torn country and the host city, and talked about his resolve for his country's recovery. Tanaka said, "I had this hope that he may want (his visit here) to help end the war. I'm convinced that what he has seen in Hiroshima has set a foundation for moving to end the war."

    Tanaka added hopefully, "If the day arrives when nuclear-armed states sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, I'll finish bearing testimony. It will be good if the (G7) leaders have been moved by their experiences in Hiroshima."

    (Japanese original by Kana Nemoto, Hiroshima Bureau)

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