Japanese college students are answering the call from atomic bomb survivors to carry on their fight to get Japan and other nations to sign the U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons took effect on Jan. 22, but Japan, the only nation to have atomic bombs dropped on it during war, has not signed it.
Hibakusha have long called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, but as the victims of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are now in their twilight years, they have often voiced fear that no one will carry on their cause after they’re gone.
Getting nations to back the treaty has apparently struck a nerve with the younger generation, inspiring college students to get off the sidelines and pressure politicians to sign it.
“Now it’s our turn to change society,” said Keio University sophomore Yuta Takahashi, 20, explaining his decision to pick up the baton of the cause the hibakusha started.
He and fellow students at the university in Tokyo set up a website on the treaty, explaining its principles and the process by which it took effect.
Though the site has only been online since Jan. 1, about 100 people have already left comments on it supporting its goal.
Takahashi, in an online event, spoke with Haruko Moritaki, 81, a co-leader of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (HANWA), who has long worked with people around the world who have been affected by nuclear weapons.
“I want all of you to discuss why those people had to face such difficulties and think deeply about the problem,” Moritaki told the audience, adding that young people, however, “shouldn’t despair.”
Takahashi first met Moritaki when he belonged to the human rights club at Eishin Gakuen junior and senior high school in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture.
He came away deeply impressed with how she described those who suffered, directly or indirectly, from nuclear weapons, including uranium miners and people who were wounded by depleted uranium bullets during the Iraq war.
The suffering hibakusha experienced hit home for Takahashi after he began visiting survivors of the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima, who talked about family members who died and the discrimination they faced when they tried to find a job or marry.
Prior to the conversations, he had seen the suffering inflicted by the atomic bombings as something abstract, but speaking to the hibakusha made it real, he said.
Not everyone thinks his efforts to help the hibakusha eliminate nuclear weapons are worth it, however, with one friend dismissing the idea as a “pipe dream,” he said.
Takahashi, who is now studying political science, said he was crushed by the comment, which came from a friend with whom he often discusses social issues.
But he then recalled the words of Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
At a symposium in Hiroshima he attended, Fihn explained how she managed to stay active in the movement in the face of adversity, saying it was simple, she kept doing it because it was fun.
ICAN was instrumental in urging the 50 nations needed to ratify the nuclear weapons ban treaty for it to take effect to do so.
Takahashi began setting aside more time for Kakuwaka Hiroshima, a group of mainly young people who have visited Diet members to ask them where they stand on the nuclear weapons ban treaty.
He is also involved in operating a website that shows various Diet members’ positions on the nuclear issue.
Suzuka Nakamura, 20 a sophomore at Tokyo’s Sophia University, was inspired to join the movement to get nations to sign the treaty after hearing about Kakuwaka Hiroshima’s activities.
Nakamura, originally from Nagasaki Prefecture, and some other young people started a campaign in Nagasaki called Go To Hijun (ratify), which asks Diet members representing the prefecture to state their positions on the treaty.
Since December, Nagasaki group members have interviewed four lawmakers. While three ruling party members were not enthusiastic about signing the treaty, all recognized the need for Japan to attend treaty conferences as an observer.
“We want to continue to apply pressure so lawmakers become more supportive of signing the treaty,” Nakamura said. “We may be able to generate greater public support for signing it if we can spread the word about our activities.”
Takahashi realizes that some people are knocking the movement for its dependence on politicians to act.
But he said he took Moritaki’s comment not to despair to heart and was encouraged when she told him not to let the weight of the bombing of Hiroshima apply excessive pressure on him.
“To me, she was telling me to bring new ideas to the peace movement that the hibakusha built up,” Takahashi said.
(This article was written by Hiraku Higa and Rika Yuminaga.)