Tens of thousands of people from around the world gathered in Hiroshima yesterday to renew calls for the abolition of nuclear arms on the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city.
Under a blazing summer sun, survivors and families of victims assembled at the Peace Memorial Park near the spot where the bomb detonated on 6 August 1945, killing thousands and levelling the city.
The anniversary came as regional powers met in Beijing to urge North Korea to give up its nuclear programme, seen by Tokyo as a threat and one of the reasons behind calls within Japan to strengthen its defence and seek closer military ties with the US.
At 8.15am, the time when the US B-29 warplane Enola Gaydropped the bomb, people at the park and throughout the city observed a minute's silence in memory of those who perished. Bells at temples and churches rang and passengers on the trams that run across the city bowed their heads in remembrance.
The Hiroshima bomb unleashed a mix of shock waves, heat rays and radiation that killed thousands instantly. By the end of 1945, the toll had risen to some 140,000 out of an estimated population of 350,000. Now, after years of illness, the official death toll from Little Boy stands at 242,437 and rising.
On 9 August, three days after the Hiroshima attack, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
Tadatoshi Akiba, the Mayor of Hiroshima, told the gathering that the five established nuclear powers - the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China - as well as India, Pakistan and North Korea were "jeopardising human survival".
The members of the "nuclear club" were "ignoring the majority voices of the people and governments of the world", he said, before adding another 5,375 names to the Peace Park cenotaph. He appealed for the United Nations to work towards the "elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020".
Near the iconic A-Bomb Dome, which was 600 metres from the blast's epicentre, a group of elderly anti-war campaigners from across the world appealed for a nuclear-free planet. Children released floating lanterns on to the Motoyasu river to pray for victims of the bomb.
On stage in the Peace Park, a statement read out on behalf of the Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, said the world must work to prevent a "cascade of nuclear proliferation". A speech by Japan's Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, expressed hope that "Hiroshima will continue to be the symbol of global peace".
The speech angered a small group of Japanese anarchists. "Down with this fake peace ceremony!" shouted one, as they scuffled with police who tried to prevent them distributing leaflets. One of the anarchists explained: "Koizumi is Bush's lapdog and he should go home. He has no right to be here talking about peace." The anarchists were escorted away from the Dome by riot police.
In the old Bank of Japan building, one of a handful to survive the blast, Yoshimichi Ishimaru screened Steven Spielberg's film Empire of the Sun. "The flash that the young hero sees of the bomb symbolises the start of a terrible new world. The level of destruction destroys everyone, regardless of which side we are on. That is what we have to learn," said Ishimaru, the child of survivors, or "hibakusha".
The hibakusha, whose average age is now 72, know their time for teaching is limited. "We come here every year to try to bring an end to this horror," says Michiko Yamaoka, who was badly disfigured in the blast. "I hope the world is listening."
MEMORIES OF A SCENE FROM HELL
'I pray nobody will experience it again'
Sixty years ago, Tsunao Tsuboi was, like thousands of survivors of the world's first nuclear attack, wandering this shattered city in search of water.
"People had eyeballs dangling out of their sockets and skin hanging from bones," he says, describing the scene as a living hell.
Hiroshima had been known as the City of Water when the bomb nicknamed Little Boy detonated in a piercing blue sky at 8.15am on 6 August 1945. It caused a searing fireball that left him burnt so badly he later fell into a month-long coma. "When I came to, the war was over. I thought it was a trick."
Today he is an 80-year-old man with cancer and burn scars across his body and face, but happy to be alive among the estimated 55,000 people commemorating the bomb victims in Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park.
"Every year I come to pray that nobody else will have to experience what we did," he says. "I pray that the world will abandon these weapons for ever."
A fellow survivor, or hibakusha, Isao Aratani, says he has come to pay respects to his dead schoolfriends, more than two-thirds of whom died in the explosion.
He remembers a "thunderous boom" and being thrown to the ground by a blast of "yellow heat". Later he saw enraged locals beating the body of a downed US pilot that had been strapped to a bridge near the centre of the city. "Some people continued to lash the body even after the soldier was dead."Reuse content