Obama’s Planned Visit to Hiroshima Raises Local Hopes


Barack Obama will soon become the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima. Citizens of the A-bombed city have been seeking such a visit for decades and hope that it will promote the cause of nuclear disarmament.

Thoughts of an A-Bomb Survivor

“I didn’t expect to live to see this day. Serving as an English-speaking eye-witness guide to the A-bomb site in Hiroshima, I’ve told visitors from Western countries about the suffering from the bombing, and I’ve called for President Obama to visit. I’m pleased if the efforts by people like me have contributed even in a small way to the president’s decision to come here. But this is just one step toward a world free of nuclear weapons. As a hibakusha [atomic bomb survivor] I intend to keep delivering the message from Hiroshima to the rest of the world that human beings must not drop nuclear bombs.” So spoke Ogura Keiko in a recent interview with Nippon.com. Ogura, who is now 79, was a second-grader in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell on the city in August 1945.

The White House has announced that President Barack Obama will make a stop in Hiroshima on May 27, just after the conclusion of the Group of Seven Ise-Shima Summit. He will be the first incumbent US president to go to the A-bombed city. Groundwork for Obama’s planned visit was laid by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who went to Hiroshima for the first time this year to participate in the April 10–11 G7 foreign ministers’ meeting. On April 11 Kerry and the other G7 ministers visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where, after laying wreaths at the cenotaph for victims of the bombing, they took an unscheduled walk over to the A-bomb Dome in the park at the US secretary’s suggestion. After returning to Washington, he reportedly urged President Obama to make a similar visit.

Ogura Keiko, who was in second grade in Hiroshima when the bomb fell, serves as an English-language guide for foreign visitors to the A-bomb site.

Appearing on a local television program on the occasion of Kerry’s visit, Ogura declared, “We hibakusha aren’t asking the US president to come to make an apology. But we do want him, as president of the first country to drop an A-bomb, to see the reality of the damage it caused and consider what can be done for the sake of nuclear disarmament.” The US embassy in Tokyo conveyed these remarks to Washington as representing the thinking of the A-bomb survivors.

In September 2015, Miyama Hideaki, journalist and president of Hiroshima Television, went to the White House and presented a senior US official with letters from 1,400 Hiroshima citizens addressed to President Obama calling on him to visit the city. Miyama declares, “It’s important that the White House has said that Japan and the United States will jointly express their condolences for the victims of the A-bomb.” In his view, the president is seeking to express his condolences for all the victims of the bombing, aware of the fact that they included 12 American prisoners of war, along with people from around East Asia who were working as conscripts in Hiroshima at the time.

Toward a World Without Nuclear Weapons

According to a US official involved in preparations for the president’s visit to Hiroshima, Obama will arrive at the Peace Memorial Park late in the afternoon on May 27, the closing day of the Ise-Shima Summit. He will view the exhibits at the Peace Memorial Museum before placing flowers at the memorial cenotaph in the park.

Partly because of the US-Russian confrontation over Ukraine, the Obama administration’s initial drive for nuclear disarmament has become stalled. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has declared that he accepts the idea of Japan and South Korea acquiring their own nuclear arms. In this context, hopes are high in Hiroshima that Obama’s visit will generate new momentum toward a world without nuclear weapons.

(Originally written in Japanese by the editorial staff of Nippon.com and published on May 11, 2016. Banner photo: The A-bomb Dome at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima on August 6, 2015, the seventieth anniversary of the bombing. © Jiji.)

Hiroshima atomic bomb Barack Obama G7 Summit hibakusha Ise-Shima disarmament