`City of peace' label divides Hiroshima

FIFTY-THREE years after it became the world's first victim of atomic bombing, the city of Hiroshima prides itself on never forgetting. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors pass through the harrowing exhibits in the bomb museum.

Successive mayors and elderly survivors of the bomb have travelled all over the world, bearing messages of peace and disarmament. But not everyone is happy to live in the self-styled "city of peace": this year the city authorities have come under increasing pressure to stop "making a fuss" and to get over the bombing.

On Wednesday, police in Hiroshima arrested a man for an unusual act of arson. A week before, on the eve of the bombing anniversary, he is alleged to have set fire to piles of origami cranes piled up in the city's Peace Park. The cranes are painstakingly made by schoolchildren as memorials to the young people who died from blast and radiation.

The following day, the Hiroshima municipal government admitted that it had received dozens of complaints about the atomic anniversary on 6 August, when the city shuts down to remember the bombing. Angry citizens rang the city office, complaining that government premises were closed and asking whether their rubbish would still be collected. "How long will you continue with this?" one asked . "More than 50 years is enough."

Other acts of cynical impiety are reported by the so-called kataribe or "story tellers" - survivors of the bombing who visit schools to recount their terrible memories. Last year, a number of kataribe said they were ignored by schoolchildren, who sneered at their experiences and made sarcastic expressions of mock horror. One elderly survivor, Tsukasa Watanabe, was pelted with boiled sweets. "That was the worst experience I've ever had as a kataribe," he said. "I couldn't help weeping in anger and frustration."

One boy wrote in an essay about the visit of the kataribe: "The survivors made me wonder if they get some kind of narcissistic self-gratification out of getting up on a soap box."