A Tour Guide's Thoughts on President Obama's Visit to Hiroshima

05/27/2016 10:45 am ET | Updated May 27, 2016
KIMIMASA MAYAMA via Getty Images

My name is Masaaki Murakami, I'm kind of like the Obama of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

I graduated from university last spring. Currently, I am working part-time at night and serving as a guide at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park every afternoon (except for on rainy days).

There is a reason that I do this.

I first started working as a guide (or rather, first started coming to the Peace Park) two years ago. It was April, and I was in the fourth year of university. The truth is, at first I wasn't thinking at all about becoming a guide. I came to the Peace Park because there are a lot of foreigners here, and I wanted to work on my English. So, I came to the park and did things like fold cranes with foreign visitors.

In between folding cranes I learned things from the park guides and read some of the park's printed materials, and little by little I became a guide, too.

At first, I think I was more concerned with simply having the people who had journeyed from far away to see Hiroshima enjoy themselves than with telling them about the atomic bomb.

However, as I became a guide and learned more, I realized my own ignorance. I had been born and raised in Hiroshima, yet I knew nothing. I had been in the park a few times, but I didn't know a thing about the Atomic Bomb Dome, the cenotaphs, or the memorial tower.

At the same time, as I talked with survivors of the atomic bomb and continued to learn about Hiroshima's history, I came to realize: "These are things people need to know. We need to communicate these things to others. This is important."

The man who is teaching me about the atomic bombing is Kosei Mito, who was in-utero when the bombing occurred and who has served as a volunteer guide every day for 10 years.

As a guide, the motto goes like this: "Conveying the facts in a way that is accurate, easy to understand, and resonates in people's hearts."

I am always conscious of these words.

As I guide people in the park, I can feel the importance of the information carried forward by younger generations. This is because the atomic bomb survivors and the guides who have told Hiroshima's story until now are aging and passing away, and right now is our only chance to take on their knowledge and memories.

Also, there are some things we are able to convey by virtue of being young. I think this because sometimes visitors of my generation, younger generations, or my parents' generation tell us that we were very easy to understand and that our feelings came through to them. Of course, it isn't easy, but we are able to convey the story of the atomic bombing without having experienced it ourselves, and I feel that is what we must do.

Because of these thoughts, this is the path I chose once I graduated from my university.

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Here I am in action.

There is a reason I wrote "the Obama of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park" at the beginning of this article.

President Obama is known for being America's first black president. He captured the hearts and minds of the American public during his election with words like "Yes we can!" and "Change." In America, where racial discrimination and discrimination against black people had gone on for a long time, many people supported him; expecting that maybe someone like him would indeed bring about change.

Obama was inaugurated. The year was 2009.

That year, I gave a speech during student council elections, saying "I am Masaaki Murakami, the Obama of Mihara Higashi High School. Yes! We can!" I was elected as student council vice president (not president).

I'm incredibly embarrassed about it now, but it's a good memory.

I didn't just say those things because I got carried away (well, maybe I got a little carried away). Before the candidates speak, students endorsing the candidates speak; and a friend of mine spoke up endorsing me.

"The candidate I recommend is Masaaki Murakami, the Obama of Mihara Higashi. Even in the soccer club, Murakami has... et cetera et cetera. Please vote for him!"

After that introduction I was nervous and it kind of just came out, but I figured "Well, guess I have no choice!" So I went for it. Ten percent of the audience laughed, 50 percent tried not to laugh and failed, 20 percent didn't react at all, and the remaining 20 percent glared at me.

In other words, I bombed a joke in front of all 500 students at my school.

Nevertheless, I won the election handily and became the student council vice president.

So, I think there are some park materials where I (arbitrarily) have dubbed myself the Obama of the Peace Park.

Of course, at the time I had no interest in the president of the United States. Obama was a cool guy I saw on TV. I was a regular high school student who only thought about the atomic bombing once a year at 8:15 a.m. on August 6th.

Remembering those days, it feels sort of strange to have the whole issue brought home to me by President Obama's visit to Hiroshima.

Obama, who became president after capturing the hearts of the masses with his words of "Yes we can" and "Change," is known as a masterful speaker. Among his speeches, one that drew the attention of the world was the speech he gave in the city of Prague in April of 2009.

Below I introduce a part of that speech:

Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. And as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.

So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

Japan's atomic bomb survivors, anti-nuclear activists around the world, and ordinary people who desire a world free from nuclear weapons agreed with Obama's speech, and listened to it with joy.

Seven years later, it was confirmed that President Obama would visit Hiroshima.

During this period, the overall number of nuclear weapons has decreased, but at the same time nuclear weapons development has continued. Due to things like the rise of ISIS and the worsened relations between the United States and Russia over the issue of Syria, it could be said that far from there being progress on the path toward the abolition of nuclear weapons, there has been backsliding. The US military has conducted nuclear tests which do not involve explosions, calling it maintenance; and is following a policy with nuclear deterrent force as one of its pillars; 'Nuclear weapons are necessary to stave off war,' the thinking goes.

Among the atomic bomb survivors there are those who shed tears when they heard Obama's speech at Prague, but later felt betrayed by his actions. That's why I can't be, and kind of think I shouldn't be, unreservedly happy about President Obama's visit to Hiroshima.

When looking at the fact that this is the first time a sitting US president has set foot in Hiroshima, it's a historical event, and I think it was a courageous decision. However, what is important is not the fact that he will visit, but what he will do with the visit and what he will do afterwards.

There were a lot of complaints circulating right now, but at present nothing can be determined; so I want to watch closely and see what happens.

More than that, the thing that I think is most important in relation to President Obama's visit is for ordinary citizens to use this as an opportunity to to learn and care more, and to tell others what we know.

I have a reason for thinking this.

The reason is that in January of 2017, President Obama's term will end, and a new president will take office. Even if President Obama calls for the abolition of nuclear weapons, he won't be able to get rid of them all in time he has left in office. And even if he calls for abolition, if the new president says nuclear weapons are necessary, then that's that.

Therefore, rather than leaving things to our leaders, it might be better to hold the idea amongst ourselves that nuclear weapons must not be used and must not be possessed, and build the idea that nuclear weapons are absolutely bad. When looking at the long-term, I wonder if that could be the most effective way to aid nuclear abolition.

So, what should be done to create a collective consciousness which holds at its core that nuclear weapons should never used or possessed?

It's simple. Know about what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I did not become a guide for the purpose of abolishing nuclear weapons. To be truthful, even now that isn't my sole goal as a guide. I want people to know the feelings and memories of the atomic bomb survivors. Because people travel to see Hiroshima, I want them to leave satisfied. I don't want to be indifferent to the problems around me. All these things, too, are part of being a guide.

However, when I learned about what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (talking with atomic bomb survivors about the reality of radiation exposure), I came to feel strongly that nuclear weapons should never be possessed, let alone used.

Learning about what has happened in the past is not for the sake of the past; it is for the present and the future. You often hear words like "future" and "peace." I think we can begin to create "future" and "peace" if we first know "the past" and "war."

That's why it would be good if this visit by President Obama acts as a catalyst for everyone to come to where it all began and learn about the dangers of atomic radiation. It would be good if it could be turned into a tide, moving toward a world without nuclear weapons.

That would be us changing things ourselves, not President Obama.

When the late Pope John Paul II visited Hiroshima, he left us with these words (they are on a monument on the first floor of the museum):

"War is the work of man.

War is destruction of human life.

War is death.

To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future.

To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war.

To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace."

With President Obama's visit, I ask that each person commit themselves, as Pope John Paul II said, and think about this.

Of course, I would hope that President Obama walks through Hiroshima and feel a sense of commitment that will last beyond what he performs for the public.

I am going to end this article with a simple explanation of the important places in the Peace Park that everyone who visits the park should experience.

The Memorial Tower
In an underground room are the remains of about 70,000 unidentified persons, as well as the remains of 815 persons whose identities are known but whose remains were unclaimed.

Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the Atomic Bomb
Approximately 20,000 Koreans died as a result of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Underground Room of the Resthouse
A building within the Peace Park which was hit by the atomic blast. It is close to the hypocenter (170 meters away), but one man who was in an underground room survived. The room has been preserved nearly as it was at the time.

Sankichi Toge Monument
These are words filled with the feelings of one atomic bomb survivor. Despite the press code of the American occupation, Sankichi Toge continued to write poetry expressing the tragedy of the atomic bomb.

Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students
Around 7,000 mobilized middle school students perished in Hiroshima.

The Hypocenter
The atomic bomb exploded about 160 meters southeast of the Atomic Bomb Dome and 600 meters above Shima Hospital.

The Atomic Bomb Dome
A symbol of the damage wrought by the atomic bomb. A silent witness appealing for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

I think it is important for us ordinary citizens to use this as an opportunity to learn, and to tell others what we know.

It's been 71 years. Let's learn. Let's tell others what we know.

This post first appeared on HuffPost Japan. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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