Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell, who is currently in Japan as part of efforts to build a sister-city relationship with Hatsukaichi City, described attending the recent Hiroshima Peace Ceremony as extremely emotional.
“I’ve never experienced such a solemn event but it is also inspiring to see how committed the people of Japan are to peace and nuclear disarmament,” said Atwell.
The ceremony held Aug. 6 marked the 73rd anniversary of the first nuclear attack in human history, when the American warplane Enola Gay dropped a nuclear bomb code-named Little Boy over the Japanse coastal city of Hiroshima during the final days of the Second World War.
The attack – followed by a second nuclear attack two days later on Nagaskai – killed anywhere between 90,000 and 146,000 in Hiroshima, with the Nagasaki attack claiming anywhere between 39,000 and 80,000 lives.
While the attacks prompted the eventual surrender of Japan, it has also turned Hiroshima into a symbol for nuclear disarmament, where the ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall stand as they did on the day of the attack. Atwell also had a chance to meet a survivor (or “hibakusha”) of the attack.
“This isn’t a topic often talked about in Canada but touches the lives of Hiroshima citizens every day,” he said. “After this experience, I am going to increase my participation through Mayors for Peace.”
Atwell was able to visit the site because Hiroshima lies less than half an hour away from Hatsukaichi City, which had sent a delegation to Saanich in late April.
Atwell is now returning the favour with visits to local sites including the Miyajima Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“We [also] spent a day at the Hatsukaichi Internatinal Association, participating in cultural activities with students from around the world to understand what a Saanich experience would be in the future,” he said, adding that he plans to submit a report to council following his return on Aug. 10.
Atwell’s final stop will be at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, where he will meet with trade officials representing British Columbia in Japan.
Atwell is travelling on official business, while his partner is travelling at her own expense.