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Post-G7, Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor continues work for nuke-free world

Kosei Mito, right, guides visitors outside the Atomic Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on May 12, 2023. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

HIROSHIMA -- For one volunteer guide in this west Japan city, life has returned to normal after the hectic Group of Seven (G7) Summit. But his work towards a world free of nuclear arms remains far from over.

    Kosei Mito, now 77 years old, was in his mother's womb when the city became one of only two in history to suffer a nuclear attack. He is among those known as "hibakusha," atomic bombing survivors.

    Since the summer of 2006, Mito, a resident of the town of Fuchu adjacent to the city of Hiroshima, has put his command of English to use guiding over 90,000 non-Japanese visitors in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

    "The important thing is what the leaders do after their visit to Hiroshima. I'll continue to sow the seeds of peace globally from this place while paying close attention to what they do from now on," Mito said.

    In-utero atomic bombing survivor Kosei Mito speaks about the recently concluded G7 Summit that took place in Hiroshima, in the city's Naka Ward on May 22, 2023. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

    Mito was back at the Atomic Bomb Dome on the morning of May 22, as soon as security restrictions were lifted after the summit's conclusion. Arriving by bicycle, he brought homemade guidebooks in eight languages, including English, French and Spanish. On a nearby pillar, he tied materials including a copy of his own government-issued hibakusha certificate and notes introducing his mother, now aged 105, and grandfather, who perished the month after the bomb fell.

    Wearing a lanyard introducing himself in English and Japanese as an in-utero A-bomb survivor, Mito was quickly approached by about 20 foreign visitors. Asking them in English where they were from, responses included Australia, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

    Mito became a guide after leaving his job teaching English at high school. He had been deeply impressed by Suzuko Numata, a fellow hibakusha who continued to testify about her experiences after losing her left leg due to the nuclear blast. Numata passed away in 2011 at age 87.

    Weather permitting, Mito goes to the Atomic Bomb Dome every day because, he says, the spot imparts a real sense of history's gravity. In a notebook, he counts and records the nationalities of those he guides. As of the end of April, he had guided over 92,000 people from 176 countries. His activities were even featured in an overseas documentary film.

    During the summit, the area around the Atomic Bomb Dome was fenced off. Mito watched from a distance and continued to guide visitors. "I spoke with a young man from the United States who researched the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in his university days. Americans who visit Hiroshima are full of enthusiasm and a sense of purpose to know more about the bombings. If this sort of generation becomes the majority, the view that the bombings were justified could change."

    In-utero atomic bombing survivor Kosei Mito, right, guides visitors outside the Atomic Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the morning after the conclusion of the G7 Summit, in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on May 22, 2023. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

    Visitors' questions are direct. "Do you hate the U.S.?" "What's your view on nuclear energy?"

    Given years of experience with this kind of dialogue, Mito is greatly disappointed by the G7 Summit leaders' empty words. "As I've been doing this for many years, I understand that it's an emotionally touching experience for visitors from overseas to speak directly with me as an atomic bombing survivor. My one and only hope before the summit was for the leaders to meet with a hibakusha."

    On the first day of the summit, the G7 leaders spent about 40 minutes at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and speaking with 85-year-old hibakusha Keiko Ogura. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy followed the day after the next.

    "I don't think that short amount of time is enough to understand the true measure of damage caused by the atomic bombings. If only they had given a bit less time to sightseeing..." Mito said. "In the museum's guest book they signed and during press conferences they held, they commented about the neighborhoods that were destroyed, but that's the same thing they would see at any war-hit area. None of the leaders firmly referred to the true damage caused by the bombs' radiation."

    The "Hiroshima Vision on Nuclear Disarmament" issued by G7 leaders at the initiative of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stopped short of referring to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Furthermore, it affirmed nuclear deterrence, while not even mentioning the survivors of the atomic bombings.

    "Japan is the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks during war, and so the United States is the lone country to have launched nuclear attacks. If the country that's used nuclear weapons doesn't think it was wrong, it isn't persuasive when they tell others not to use them. It's regretful that Japan didn't fulfil our duty to refute that," Mito stated.

    Kosei Mito, an in-utero hibakusha and volunteer guide, is seen in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on May 22, 2023. (Mainichi/Takehiko Onishi)

    Mito will press on. "I have no idea what's in the (G7) leaders' hearts. They likely face the dilemma of not being able to express their own true voices as leaders of their countries. Which is all the more reason I want to see what they do from here on," said Mito.

    Seven years ago, then U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to the city was hailed as a historic moment, but, "What did President Obama do about disarmament or getting rid of nukes after that? Even as a former president, his words have power. So if he was sincere, he would be able to return to Hiroshima," Mito added.

    When guiding visitors, Mito quotes a passage from Pope John Paul II's "Appeal for Peace." The late Pope, who visited Hiroshima in 1981, wrote, "To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future." Mito wants everyone, not just the leaders who visited Hiroshima or the city's residents, to live with this awareness.

    Returning home, Mito received an email. It was from an American university student he'd spoken with earlier that day, who pledged to spread Mito's message when the student returned to New York.

    "Another seed of peace has sprouted," Mito proclaimed.

    (Japanese original by Noboru Ujo, Osaka City News Department)

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