In May of 1998, when India and Pakistan, countries which are not members of the Nuclear ­Non-Proliferation Treaty, each tested nuclear bombs, the citizens of Nagasaki, the second city in Japan after Hiroshima to be devastated by an atomic bomb during World War II, felt the threat of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This is when the members of the Nagasaki Peace Gathering, which includes about 50 peace groups, decided to send the young leaders of the future as Nagasaki Peace Messengers with one goal — a peaceful world.
Nagasaki Peace Messengers are students who carry out a ­signature collecting campaign in downtown Nagasaki and neighbouring towns in Japan and then bring the petition along with their ­message to United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva every year. They are narrators of the story of the people of Nagasaki who faced the terrible atomic bomb tragedy 68 years ago and the physical and ­mental ­hardships that followed. Their aim is to emphasise why Nagasaki must be the last city to be subjected to a nuclear attack.
To some this may not lead to world peace, but the messengers believe that a little goes a long way, “Our efforts are humble but not powerless,” says 18 year old Kokoro Aso whose ­favourite ­cartoon character is Kitty. A ­student of Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan, Aso became interested in the work of the Nagasaki Youth Peace Messengers after hearing an atomic bombing ­victim known as a hibakusha.
When she entered high school, Aso joined signature collecting campaign to abolish nuclear weapons. She went ­nearly every weekend to downtown Nagasaki to gather signatures. According to Aso, while some people supported the petition, others became angry and shouted things like, “What can a signature do?”, “Japan is safe because of the US’ nuclear umbrella!. “This made me ­realise that a world without nuclear weapons would not be easy. But I don’t want there to be any more hibakusha,” she said.
Being the third generation hibakusha (grand daughter of an atomic bomb survivor Masahito Hirose), Nairu Hirosev had scant opportunity to think about ­nuclear weapons.
The first time she really became aware of the war was when she visited the US during her first year of high school. People there held strongly to the view that the atomic ­bombings were justified. There was a ­lesson in class that touched on the atomic bombings, but the ­students showed little interest. To Hirose it mattered because her grandfather suffered from an illness due to atomic ­bombing. She then talked with the history teacher, who gave her time to speak to the class about the atomic bombing. “I wept as I spoke about what ­happened where the bomb fell. This is when I decided to carry on my ­grandfather’s wish for the abolition of nuclear weapons,” she said.
Sixty eight years since the end of the global conflict, people in Japan want the experiences of World War II to be passed on, yet its memories are fading. “Continue to study and learn, this is the only way to prevent the memories from fading away,” both Aso and Hirose say.