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Sharing the Flame of Peace

Feb. 1, 2016

The Nagasaki Flame of Commitment is a powerful symbol of peace that burns close to the spot where the second atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. Part of the flame has been taken to Brazil, where a Japanese emigrant is sharing his experience of the atomic bombing with young people. Brazil is hosting the Olympic Games this year, and people there are trying to pass their wishes for peace on to future generations.

The Nagasaki Peace Park is located where the bomb exploded on August 9th, 1945. Its Monument for the Flame of Commitment is inscribed with a pledge that Nagasaki will be the last city on Earth to experience an atomic bombing. The flame came to life in 1983 when the Greek government gave special permission to use the sacred flame in Olympia as the source.

More than 30 years later, the flame has taken a journey to the other side of the world. “We need more than just the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to speak out against nuclear weapons. I hope we can spread our wishes around the world, even little by little, by connecting with others,” says Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue.

Japanese immigrants in Brazil lobbied to have part of the flame sent to them to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. It found its way to Ramos in Santa Catarina state, about 600 kilometers southwest of Sao Paulo.

Wataru Ogawa, 86 years old, played a key role in bringing the flame to Brazil. He is a member of the first generation of Japanese who emigrated to Brazil about 50 years ago and he lives in Ramos, a community of about 120 people that was built by Japanese immigrants. The town is home to Brazil's only peace museum dedicated to the memory of the atomic bombings.

Wataru was born and raised in Nagasaki. He was 16 when the bomb was dropped on the city and he was exposed to radiation. Many of his friends died. “There were huge blasts and flames under the mushroom cloud. People were crying out for water, they were saying I need water. I need water. So many of them died,” he recalls. Wataru shares his experiences with children in Brazil, and he hopes a similar tragedy can be avoided in the future. “I have to tell young people what we went through,” he explains.

He began his campaign because of a close friend, Kazumi Ogawa. The pair emigrated together and Kazumi too had experienced the effects of the atomic bombing. Both men faced many difficulties in their adopted home and worked hard to develop the community. “We went everywhere together and I knew him very well. He was a great friend,” says Wataru.

About 10 years after their arrival, Kazumi's brother and aunt died of cancer believed to be caused by radiation exposure. Kazumi began a mission to let others know about the importance of peace, working on the museum and a campaign to pass down the experiences of survivors. He died four years ago, and since then Wataru has carried on his work.

“This is what I'm living for now. My last mission. I wish that there will be no more war. I just hope for peace,” says Wataru. His efforts bore fruit last December when the flame arrived in Ramos after a two-week journey from Nagasaki.

“We are pleased to welcome the flame to this small community,” said Frei Rogerio Mayor Osny Batista Alberton at a greeting ceremony. Wataru said the flame’s arrival was “really emotional for me”. “I hope the flame will be handed down to many generations of children in the future,” he added.

Now the Nagasaki Flame of Commitment illuminates the community, Wataru has a renewed determination to spread the message of peace. “I'll spend the rest of my life in Brazil. But I'm determined to keep working for the abolition of nuclear weapons. That's the way I feel. It's a mission for us, the people who survived,” he says.

A monument to house the flame will be completed this summer, and a dedication ceremony is planned for August 9th, the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. The Olympic flame will be burning in Rio de Janeiro at the same time, meaning two sacred flames will be burning in Brazil simultaneously.