7. Turning point
One day in 1986, my eyes were glued to a big advertisement in the Chugoku Shimbun. It said, “What Can You Do for World Peace?” It was the advertisement of the World Friendship Center, one of Hiroshima’s pacifist organizations, to recruit people who would talk about the facts of the A-bombing and introduce Japanese culture in the United States. The organization, founded in 1965 by Barbara Reynolds, an American, sends people to the U.S. as peace ambassadors and offers accommodation for visitors from overseas. Having done nothing for peace, I wondered what I would be able to do, but I applied anyway.
When I visited the Center to have an interview, there were foreigners and A-bomb survivors as interviewers. Because I couldn’t speak English, I hardly thought that I would be chosen; however, surprisingly one month later, I was.
On July 24, 1987, I left Haneda Airport for the U.S. with Mr. Hiromu Morishita, a teacher of Hatsukaichi High School, Ms. Mieko Yamashita, an interpreter, and Mr. Yuichiro Ito, a teacher of Numata High School. Joining Barbara Reynolds in Los Angeles, from there we headed to the East, stopping at Chicago, Dayton, Pittsburg, New York, Washington, D.C. and returned to Portland on the West Coast. Actually, it was a transcontinental journey. We talked about our experiences of the A-bombing, taught folding paper cranes and performed Japanese dances at around 40 places, returning to Japan after one month.
During this trip, I was overwhelmed by the abundance of the United States. Seeing the vast land, rich and varied diet, people with strong physiques, I thought it was not surprising that Japan had lost the war. Hearing that some people went shopping by private jets, I was absolutely amazed. We were staying at American homes every day. They were Christians and very gentle to us, and I felt my heart was liberated.
We also saw many homeless people who seemed like Vietnam veterans around Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. I heard that many of them couldn’t spend a normal life because of trauma from the war. That reminded me of the change in my mother’s character. Though she was very gentle before the A-bombing, after the A-bombing, she became mentally unstable and a different person. Wars make people’s minds go crazy.
The last place we visited in the East Coast was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We went to the spot where the movie, “Rocky,” was shot and saw a big stone mill, which slaves from Africa actually turned, who were forced to work instead of bulls and horses.
When we talked about our experiences at a camping area in Detroit, one of participants said, “We had a celebration party when we heard that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan on August 6.” I was quite shocked.
When we visited elementary schools, we folded paper cranes using newspaper. The children were surprised to see one piece of paper turned into a crane.
Sometimes, when we talked about our experiences, people responded that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor first. I couldn’t say any words back. I realized that before I talked about my own experience, I should have known Japan’s behavior during the war that Japan had started. Without thinking about people who died in Pearl Harbor and Japan’s brutality in other countries, we had no right to talk about peace. I knew almost nothing about the suffering caused by Japan.