Published on March 24, 2016 by Pacific Daily News
By Kyle Daly
HIROSHIMA, Japan — Keiko Ogura, 78, remembers a bright light, a strong blast and being knocked to the ground.
On Aug. 6, 1945, Ogura was 8 years old.
“When I came to myself, it seemed like evening,” she said.
The city of Hiroshima, she recalled, was dark. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t hear.
When she did come to, the first sound she heard was that of her little brother, crying.
In the moments and days that followed, Ogura would witness the destruction, pain and death caused by a single bomb dropped from a U.S. military aircraft in the final days of World War II.
On Tuesday, Ogura led a group of foreign reporters on a tour through the city’s memorial park and museum built near the hypocenter of an atomic blast that leveled the city more than 70 years ago, resulting in the deaths of more than 100,000 on that day and the months that followed.
Next month, leaders from the Group of Seven, the world’s seven most industrialized nations, will come to Hiroshima for the G-7 Foreign Ministers Meeting — one of 10 ministerial meetings held prior to the G-7 Summit in May.
The summit, a gathering of world leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, will be held in Ise-Shima, a city almost 200 miles southwest of Tokyo.
According to media reports, the Asia-Pacific region is one topic of discussion expected to be on the summit’s agenda, including North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. bases in Guam and Japan have been threatened by North Korea in the past.
Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui on Tuesday said he hopes the political leaders that gather in his city will come to understand the “absolute evil” of nuclear weapons.
“We have to create a situation where the absolute evil will not be used as we resolve our problems,” Matsui told foreign press through an interpreter at the city’s administrative offices on Tuesday. “I hope they’ll have such a determination, and this determination should be communicated from this place — Hiroshima.”
Matsui called Hiroshima a “symbol of peace” — a holy site where people who visit can compare the tragic event of 1945 with how the city is today.
“Because of the action of humankind, the city was devastated 70 years ago,” he said. “But immediately after that, through the action of humankind, we have established this peaceful city.”
In 1982, then-Hiroshima Mayor Takeshi Araki began a program that called on city mayors around the world to advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
The Mayors for Peace program, which has almost 7,000 member cities, plans to continue lobbying the United Nations to make this goal a reality. Its primary campaign calls for the total nuclear disarmament by 2020.
Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands is considered a member city, according to the program’s website.
Ogura, who is known as a hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivor, said the reality of a nuclear bomb’s effects is difficult to understand, but by coming to Hiroshima, world leaders can understand.
“Our dream is to have President Obama visit,” she said.
A sitting U.S. president has never visited Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial, where Ogura retold her story on Tuesday. In 2008, Nancy Pelosi, then-House Speaker, became the highest U.S. official to visit the site.
It’s currently unclear if President Obama will visit Hiroshima in May during the G-7 summit.
During her tour, Ogura pointed to the clear blue sky — gesturing past the eerie remains of the A-bomb dome, a building that survived the blast — and described the exact mid-air location where the bomb exploded. She also walked along a river, telling reporters about the dead bodies that were floating in the water following the bombing.
“I remember all night, the city was burning,” she said.
The bomb didn’t harm Ogura that day. That morning, her father, who had a “strange feeling” something bad might happen, told Ogura not to go to school. So the 8-year-old stayed home. The family’s house was located about a mile and a half from the bomb’s hypocenter.
After the blast, Ogura did receive “invisible scars” from the scenes she witnessed.
“A couple of victims died in front of me after drinking water from my hand,” she said. “So I blamed myself. ‘I’m a bad girl. I killed them,’ I thought.”
It was frowned upon to give water to people who had burns, she said, so she kept her actions a secret for years.
“And that became my trauma for a long time,” she said. “I suffered from very, very severe nightmares.”
To Ogura, those who need to learn about the horrors of such a destructive weapon are youths.
“The most important thing is that the younger people should know the reality of the nuclear weapon … and then lead the way.”
Editor’s note: Pacific Daily News was invited this week to join other foreign journalists in Hiroshima, Japan, for a press tour organized by the 2016 G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Hiroshima Support and Promotion Council, in partnership with the Foreign Press Center Japan, ahead of the foreign ministers meeting in April. PDN journalist and Content Coach Kyle Daly is reporting from Japan.