HIROSHIMA--It took a visit to this historic city by a group of students to realize the atomic bombing 67 years ago was more than something from the distant past learned only in school textbooks.
The group came from Fukushima Prefecture, site of last year's nuclear disaster, to attend a peace memorial service held Aug. 6.
Having been exposed to radiation from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the youngsters came to see that Hiroshima, now a bustling city, offers a riveting lesson in hope.
Kazuma Nishimura, who attends Koriyama No. 1 Junior High School in Koriyama, joined the crowd at the city's Peace Memorial Park to offer a silent prayer to atomic bomb victims at 8:15 a.m. to mark the moment the bomb was dropped.
It was his first visit to the city. Kazuma, 13, was with 28 other junior high school students on a field trip organized by the city government of Koriyama as part of its peace education program.
"Along with (the victims of) the atomic blast, people who died in last year's disaster were much on my mind," Kazuma said, referring to the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear disaster.
The day before, the group visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Its collection of personal belongings and artifacts convey the horror of atomic bombing. The exhibits include school uniforms in shreds from the fireball after detonation to pieces of a wall stained with the "black rain" that fell afterward.
Of all the exhibits, Kazuma was struck by a photo taken a month after the bombing that reduced the city to ruins. It shows canna flowering in rubble some 800 meters from the hypocenter. The flowers bloomed despite a widespread notion at the time that no vegetation would grow there for decades.
"I think it was hope that the people in Hiroshima relied on to rebuild," he said. "We, too, don't want to be defeated in the nuclear disaster."
The city of Koriyama lies about 60 kilometers west of the power plant where reactor meltdowns occurred. In excess of 8 microsieverts of radiation an hour was measured in its center on March 15.
Schools in the city removed contaminated topsoil in playgrounds as a precaution. The city also adopted a rule until spring that bans outdoor extracurricular activities lasting more than three hours. The restriction is still in place at some schools.
Kazuma knows only too well that radiation contamination can ruin a person's life. A rice farmer who had been kind to him since he was a boy killed himself after the nuclear disaster. The farmer, he learned, despaired of his future after consumers across Japan shunned Fukushima farm produce for fear it was contaminated with radiation.
The man's death spurred Kazuma to take part in the city's program.
"I want to learn more about the nature of radiation, which can change the fate of a person," he said.
Kazuma said the destruction caused by the 1945 atomic bombing was far worse than he had imagined.
"But with so many buildings standing today, I felt the energy that people devoted to rebuilding Hiroshima," he said.
Ayano Ito, a student at Mihota Junior High School who visited Hiroshima on the program, said that she, too, resented the upheaval in her life caused by the nuclear accident.
"Why did we have to experience this?" the girl asked.
Ayano, 13, evacuated with her mother and younger sister to Shikoku, an island in southwest Japan, for about a month after the disaster due to health concerns. They were assisted in the endeavor by an acquaintance.
However, Ayano returned to Koriyama after she persuaded her mother that she did not want to be separated from her classmates for too long.
She joined the program to learn what drove the people of Hiroshima to rebuild.
In the peace memorial service on Aug. 6, an elderly woman leaned over and asked, "Are you from Fukushima Prefecture?"
The woman told her that she lost a cousin in the atomic bombing.
"You must be going through a difficult time," the woman said. "But hang in there. We are rooting for you."
Her gentleness touched Ayano.
"The experience taught me that what is needed to rebuild Fukushima is to remember that we should be considerate to each other," she said.
"That is what I want to convey to my friends."
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