Hibakusha visit to Scotland to highlight the nuclear ban

The Scottish peace movement was privileged to host two Japanese A-bomb survivors, known as Hibakusha, during March 2017. The visit coincided with the dates of the first session of the critical UN negotiations for a nuclear ban treaty.

Reiko Yamada and Midori Yamada visited with their translator Shigeo Kobayashi. Reiko survived the bomb despite being caught in its blast in the school playground age 11. Midori is a second generation Hibakusha, one whose parents survived the bomb, and who lives with its effects. Both women have lived their entire lives with physical and psychological effects as well as enduring stigma and social exclusion resulting from their experience and radiation exposure.

This enduring trauma makes it all the more remarkable that they are willing, in their old age, to undertake gruelling tours around the world to talk about their experiences, not once, or even once a day, but several times each day. Their stories are hard enough to listen to the first time. Despite both translation and repetition they retain both their freshness and their horror. The visitors also retained their graciousness and freshness, despite a demanding schedule.

On their first full day in Scotland they began at the Peace and Justice Centre on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, meeting local activists. This was followed by meetings in Holyrood, arranged by Bill Kidd. Many of his SNP colleagues came along to speak to them, as well as some representatives from Labour and the full complement of Green MSPs in the building. An audience with the First Minister followed, where

Nicola Sturgeon reaffirmed her commitment to a nuclear free Scotland and signed a signature campaign calling for eliminations of all nuclear weapons. Although they were behind schedule, the visitors were also keen to have a tour around the iconic Scottish Parliament building.

The next day they began by travelling to Glasgow for an interview with the BBC. This was broadcast later the same evening on Timeline. Lunch was eaten with Helensburgh CND before a visit to the peace camp. It was particularly moving to witness the interaction between the young and the elderly peace campaigners. More than anyone the Hibakusha ‘get’ the peace camp, and they expressed gratitude for its existence. After a further presentation and exchange of gifts there was tea, journalists, photos and lots of chat. On the way back to Glasgow they stopped at the lay-by above the Faslane base to look at the view. They could see Vanguard, one of the Trident submarines docked below. There followed a rather slow drive into the city for their final engagement with Glasgow CND members who had gathered to meet them.

The Japanese visitors were equally at ease whether in the first Ministers Office or at the Faslane Peace camp. Everyone who met them was awed by their courage and dedication, as well as their charm and adaptability.

Thanks are due to many people at Scottish CND, WILPF, Helensburgh CND, Peace Camp, Bill Kidd and his office and Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre.

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