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New Zealand's Close Connections With Japanese Hibakusha
Kate Dewes - 10/08/01

In November 1995 the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave oral testimonies during Japan's submission to the International Court of Justice on the legality of nuclear weapons. With huge photographs of the carnage, and stories from hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors), they eloquently conveyed the heartfelt plea of most Japanese people for nuclear abolition. The hibakusha present expressed deep gratitude to the New Zealand peace movement and government for their roles in this historic case.

This close relationship between hibakusha and New Zealanders has developed over many years. It was recently given high-level government endorsement when Helen Clark visited the Hiroshima Peace Museum and sent a message to a Japanese World Congress Against Nuclear Weapons. David Lange, Sonja Davies, Jim Anderton, Graham Kelly, Willie Jackson and others have given keynote addresses to similar conferences. New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy, initiation of the World Court Project, promotion of a Southern Hemisphere Nuclear Free Zone, and its leading role in the New Agenda Coalition continue to sustain the Japanese peace movement. However, it was the deeply moving stories of hibakusha which empower New Zealanders to espouse their persistent demands for nuclear abolition.

The first Hiroshima and Nagasaki Day marches were organised by a variety of groups in several cities on 6 August 1947. When the New Zealand Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament formed in 1960 it took responsibility for organising marches and discussions around these days. On Hiroshima Day 1962 CND met Prime Minister Holyoake to ask him to promote a Southern Hemisphere nuclear-free zone. In 1964 Norman Kirk publicly endorsed the initiative at the Christchurch Hiroshima Day rally.

These rallies continued sporadically throughout New Zealand. Since 1975 there has been an annual lantern ceremony in Christchurch. During the mid-seventies the English and Music School Certificate curriculum included John Hersey's epic book Hiroshima and Penderecki's "song of lament" - Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. In the early 1980s the period 6-12 August became known as "Peace Week". Packages of material about Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sent to schools, churches and the wider community. Some churches still mark Peace Sunday, and school children have folded paper cranes which are sometimes sent directly to the two cities. Several delegations of hibakusha have spoken throughout New Zealand and presented the main cities with cherry trees, peace poles, photos, books, paintings and videos. In more recent years hibakusha, Japanese students studying English, representatives from the Japanese Embassy or Consul, and Japanese children's choirs have participated in the ceremonies in Christchurch and Wellington.

Next year the Mayor of Nagasaki plans to visit Wellington to support an exhibition of photos from the two cities, and to celebrate the 15th anniversary of New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy. Leading Japanese television and newspaper companies have intensified their coverage of New Zealand's anti-nuclear initiatives. For example last year NHKTV (Hiroshima) broadcast Christchurch's lantern ceremony live to 20 million viewers. There is keen interest in the outcome of the recently launched Massey University study of New Zealand nuclear test victims, especially in relation to the intergenerational effects and possible compensation. This has been sparked following a recent visit to eight cities by a Marshallese woman who joined me to launch the Japanese version of the booklet Pacific Women Speak Out for Independence and Denuclearisation which documents birth deformities in Marshallese children. Later this month, I will promote this book when addressing a UN University Conference in Nakazawa.

Dr Kate Dewes co-coordinates the Peace Foundation's Disarmament and Security Centre in Christchurch. She has been a member of the Peace Foundation and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom since 1975. She is a Vice President of the International Peace Bureau, a member of the Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control, and the New Zealand government expert on a UN Study on Disarmament and Non Proliferation Education.

To read more of Kate's writing go to her article on nuclear disarmament.

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