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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Hiroshima 60th Anniversary

HiroshimaA Bomb Dome 広島

At 8.15 this morning, exactly sixty years ago, a thunderous act of war instantly transformed the city of Hiroshima's legacy - if not the whole of Japan's - into one of peace. On August 6, 1945, during the last days of the Second World War, the United States dropped the first of the two atomic bombs it would use against Japan on the city of Hiroshima.

The details of the destruction caused by the bomb have become part of modern legend, and Hiroshima has likewise become a virtual religious symbol. Its symbolism was further reinforced today with the Buddhist and Shinto ceremonies that took place there along with speeches by survivors and public figures.
Today is also the final day of the 6th General Conference of Mayors for Peace, held, significantly, this year in Hiroshima.

The president of the worldwide General Conference is also the mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba. Since taking office in 1999, not only has he overseen Mayors for Peace grow by a third, he has also earned himself a reputation as one of Japan’s most progressive mayors.

As a Japanese mayor - in fact as an authority figure anywhere in Japan - Akiba is a rarity. As well as graduating from the traditional training ground for Japan’s elite, the University of Tokyo, he also has a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Furthermore, he lived over 20 years in the United States, meaning not only is he thoroughly bilingual, but his language skills are matched by his ability to relate to things comfortable and confidently on an international level. As well as a commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons, he has transformed the city of Hiroshima.

From being a city suffering from the corruption of backroom politics, gang violence (Hiroshima has traditionally been a yakuza stronghold), and environmental pollution, under Akiba’s leadership the city is now run more transparently and efficiently than ever before, youth are being given more city-sponsored guidance, and he has succeeded in boosting tourism to Hiroshima dramatically.

Sharing the stage with Akiba and the survivors in Hiroshima today is, of course, the Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi. While matters of international war and peace are no doubt occupying his mind today, he has a problem even closer to home.

That is, the upper house of parliament is about to vote on his bill for privatization of the post office: a critical move in his program of reform. If they defeat it he says he will dissolve the house - a dissolution that would be fiercely criticized for creating a ‘blank’ in the national power structure. 

Hiroshima has become a mecca for peace activists worldwide, so first on the list for visitors to the city must be the Peace Park, Peace Memorial Museum, and the A-Bomb Dome.

Other places of interest include Hiroshima Museum of Art, Hiroshima City Manga Museum and the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum.

Tourist information centers are at Hiroshima Station (tel. 082-261-1877) and Hiroshima's Ujina Port. Cultural and other information available at the Hiroshima International Conference Center (tel. 082-247-9715) in the Peace Park.

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