Students boost Hiroshima's global reach

To truly understand Hiroshima's place in our world, you need to visit in person. The coronavirus pandemic has made that difficult for most people in recent years, but Japan's entry restrictions are starting to ease and young residents are once again telling overseas travelers why the atomic-bombed city will always be a byword for both tragedy and peace.

For the past three years, a group of about 50 high school and university students in Hiroshima have been volunteering as tour guides for foreign tourists, telling them about what happened to the city, and the people who were living there, when an atomic bomb was dropped on it 77 years ago.

So far, they have interacted with more than 300 people from 42 countries and territories. The number would have been much higher were it not for the COVID19 pandemic.

Deeper understanding

College senior Yagi Mayuko is one of the group's leaders. The 21-year-old got involved after realizing that few of the overseas students she met during her tourism studies had even heard of the horrors that occurred in Hiroshima.

"I began to think about what I could do as a longtime resident of the city," she says. "Eventually, I decided to be a volunteer guide."

Yagi has been volunteering for three years. They have been relatively quiet years, but Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- and the specter of nuclear weapons once again being used in aggression -- is all the impetus she needs. "I hope I can be a part of the push against nuclear weapons by spreading the words of hibakusha in Hiroshima," she says.

College senior Yagi Mayuko is one of the volunteer tour guides showing overseas visitors around Hiroshima.

A veteran speaks

In early July, one such hibakusha came to coach the volunteers about communicating with foreigners.

Ogura Keiko, 84, speaks English and she stresses the importance of learning people's backgrounds and trying to interact, as opposed to just talking.

Ogura shared a line she used often in her tours for foreign tourists: "You don't know what a nuclear bombing is actually like, so please imagine."

Atomic bomb survivor Ogura Keiko spoke to NHK in 2018 about the importance of the work done by the hibakusha.

Hiroshima Remembered amid Nuclear Tensions

The sentence had a profound effect on Yagi, who now feels young people like her should take on even more responsibility in light of the advancing age of the survivors.

Yagi says only survivors and those who learned directly from them can fully convey the horrors of nuclear weapons. "Because we hear directly from the survivors, we have a heavy responsibility to communicate this to coming generations," she says.

Yagi attends a training session before the busy season, which starts in August.

At one session, Yagi was asked how she feels about the bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, and it was a question she wasn't prepared for. She realized she needed to add her perspective rather than merely parroting the accounts of others.

She says she was relying too much on a script and has to learn to interact more with the people she's talking to.

"It would be great if people spread the message they heard when they're back in their home countries. Especially to anyone who doesn't know about the atomic bombing."

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