Friday, August 28, 2009

Okinawan Lawsuit challenges new military base at Henoko, seeking protection of Okinawa dugong habitat

A group of Okinawans have brought a lawsuit against the Japanese government—challenging the legality of the planned US military base move from Futenma to an ecologically sensitive coral reef in northeastern Okinawan:
...The complainants claim construction of a new airfield on the lower part of Camp Schwab, with runways reaching into Oura Bay, would endanger the threatened Okinawa dugong, a marine mammal related to the manatee.

It was the first such legal action taken in Japan against the plan to replace the Futenma air station in urban Ginowan with a new facility in rural Henoko. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Naha District Court...
However, it was not the first such legal action elsewhere: Okinawan citizens and global environmentalists have been resisting the move since its announcement.

On a page linking to an ongoing online action on behalf of the dugong, the Center for Biological Diversity summarizes federal lawsuits dating back to 2003:
...The Center has used innovative legal tactics to secure new protections for the dugong. In 2003, we led a coalition of Japanese and American environmental groups in suing the U.S. Department of Defense to halt the construction of an American airbase in Henoko Bay. Since the dugong is protected under Japanese cultural properties law, the Center filed the first-ever international lawsuit under the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act to protect its last habitat. In 2004, we helped organize a resolution by 889 of the world’s leading coral-reef experts that called on the Japanese and U.S. governments to abandon their plan to construct the offshore airbase. And we led hundreds of international conservation groups in calling on former President Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to cancel the airbase plan.

In 2005, a federal judge ruled that our lawsuit over the airbase could proceed under the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act. The international coalition reiterated opposition to the airbase and rejected an altered construction proposal by the United States and Japan that would still devastate dugong habitat. Finally, in 2008, a federal judge ruled against the U.S. Department of Defense, requiring it to consider impacts of a new airbase on the dugong in order to avoid or mitigate any harm...

Earthjustice has an entire page of info dedicated to coverage of these lawsuits: "The Dugongs vs. The Department of Defense." Its photo of a 1966 commemorative stamp of the establishment of the dugong as a national monument illustrates the environmental and cultural issues at stake in this struggle.

Hideki Yoshikawa's account of legal activism to protect the dugong, "Dugong Swimming in Uncharted Waters: US Judicial Intervention to Protect Okinawa's 'Natural Monument' and Halt Base Construction," published this year at The Asia-Pacific Journal gives details and insights on the latest.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bon Voyage to the Hibakusha: "Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World" launches Aug. 26, 2009 from Yokohama

Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World - Peace Boat Hibakusha Project
Ship Departure on the 26 August, 2009, from Yokohama

Japan-based international NGO Peace Boat launches its second "Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World." The ship, SS Oceanic, departs from Yokohama on August 2, with 10 Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Over 108 days, participants will visit 20 countries to share the testimonies of the atomic bombings and exchange with citizens around the world. Three high school students join this voyage––to explore ways for the younger generations to take on the legacy of hibakusha. 500 other participants also join the voyage––including university students from Korea and Germany.

This voyage focuses on disarmament education; thus provides a space for hibakusha and young people from around the world to meet and learn from one another. As the ship travels through Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Pacific, the Hibakusha's call for a peaceful and nuclear-free future around the world provides a unique base for disarmament education to foster a new movement passing experiences of the atomic bombings beyond borders and generations.

The ship visits Viet Nam, where people continue to suffer from Agent Orange disorders; Ecuador––which recently adopted a peace constitution––; and Tahiti, where victims of French nuclear tests are now speaking out.

Participants will meet with mayors around the world to encourage participation in the "Mayors for Peace" Initiative, and seek ways to further the current global momentum towards nuclear abolition as stimulated by US President Obama's declared determination to create a nuclear-free world.

Web sites
Itinerary of the 67th Global Voyage
Project Outline (Japanese)
First Hibakusha Project (September 2008 - January 2009)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Peace as a Global Language @ The University of Shimane Sept. 26-27, 2009

The theme of this year's conference will be 'Nurturing Grassroots’. Each year this conference continues to grow and change. We are all very excited to have a new venue for this year’s conference on the Sanin coast. This year the conference will be held at the University of Shimane, in Hamada.

PGL conferences began in 2002, and are now an annual event for students, teachers and activists. Whether this will be your first time or your eighth, you are welcome to join us as presenters, participants or conference volunteers. The following issues are among the many that may interest you at this year's conference:

local activism
global issues
the environment
human rights
intercultural communication
media literacy
foreign language education focusing on global issues

Help nurture grassroots change!
How might we encourage change from the bottom up in our community?
How might we educate and empower youth to become active, responsible and peaceful citizens?
In what other ways might we make this a more peaceful world?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Issey Miyake reveals he is a Hibakusha

In this Japan Times commentary on Issey Miyake's July revelation that he is a hibakusha––public scholar Jeff Kingston says we must raise awareness of the "lessons and legacies" of the atomic bombings to resensitize ourselves to the horrifying possibility of nuclear holocaust that accompanies dependence on nuclear weaponry:
Global fashion icon Issey Miyake recently made headlines by divulging in a New York Times article he penned on July 13 that he is a hibakusha, a survivor of the atomic bombings of Japan...

Miyake had remained quiet all these years, not wanting to be defined by his past or to become known as the "hibakusha designer." But he was inspired to speak out after an April 5 speech by U.S. President Barack Obama in Prague, in which he announced his intention to work toward abolishing nuclear weapons, declaring, " . . . as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act..."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ann Wright on Peace Tour in Japan: Corporate Responsibility: Products for War and Occupation or Products for Peace?

Activist and writer Ann Wright (a former U.S. diplomat and Army colonel who resigned in protest of the U.S. war on Iraq) praises Japanese cosmetics company Leila and the New Japan Women's Association for their sponsorship of peacebuilding initiatives in this Aug. 11, 2009 Huffington Post piece, "Corporate Responsibility -- Products for War and Occupation or Products for Peace?"
In America, we don't have many companies that fund peace activities. Most American companies seem to be more interested in making money off war.

In contrast, I am on a three week speaking tour in Japan sponsored partially by Leila, a peace, social and environmentally-conscious women's cosmetic company. Wishing to make a major contribution to women's peace initiatives, in 2000, Leila established the Women's Peace Fund to be used to invite women peace activists to the annual World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the yearly Japan Mothers' Congress, where 10,000 women meet from all over Japan. Leila donates one yen (one cent) for each cosmetic product sold to the fund (

In 2008, the fund also sponsored international women activists to attend the Worldwide Conference on Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution-Renunciation of War, which was undermined by the Bush administration's pressure (and continued by the Obama administration) for Japan's participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in violation of Japan's constitution...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Creating Hope From Destruction in Iraq: Errant Home and the Visual Art of Qasim Sabti

Art, music, film, and the written word possess a powerful ability to bring us back to our own humanity. Time and again, we turn back to creative expression to help heal the wounds from the trauma of war.

One recent such work is Errant Home”, a 2008 documentary by Nada Doumani that portrays interviews with four Iraqi artists in exile. Available online through the“Humanity Explored” film festival at, the documentary interweaves memory with stunning artistic imagery as each of the four attempts to reconcile overwhelming loss with the human desire to keep hope alive.

Several segments of the documentary approach this tension with incredible poignancy. In one scene, artist Balasem Mohamad substitutes dialogue with a seemingly endless intense gaze--thereby conveying emotions that no human words could express. In another, journalist Maysoon Al-Mousawi comments that the pain Iraqis have experienced may in fact eventually be capable of generating a true, authentic happiness that might not have otherwise been possible had the suffering of war not occurred. While she does not elaborate further, her comment leaves viewers to contemplate the transformations that may be able to turn unfathomable suffering into opportuntities for profound growth.

Turning deep loss and pain into hope—destruction into creation—is also the theme and life work of Iraqi artist Qasim Sabti, who visited Japan last November. A painter and collage artist based in Baghdad, Qasim was devastated by the U.S. military destruction of important cultural and artistic facilities such as the University of Baghdad library collection—and decided to take action. Rescuing the books, he gave the salvageable ones new life by turning them into completely new art forms.

“When I saw 5000 books burned all at once, my feeling was beyond description,” he said to several dozen people who gathered at Mt. Takao in western Tokyo to attend an event creatively titled ‘Iraq x Mt. Takao = Peace’. Echoing Maysoon Al-Mousawi, he continued,“Far more powerful than this destruction, however, were the new creations that rose to take their place.”

Organized by the NPO Peace On and the “Kenju no Kai” eco-action group that is trying to save Mt. Takao from slated construction, the event was held “in order to try and understand the meaning behind the destruction of something that you love and has meaning for you, which describes the situation both for Iraq and for Mt. Takao,” explained Peace On Director Yasuyuki “Yatch” Aizawa.

“I kept my gallery in Baghdad open all throughout the war, which forced me to learn to live with the possibility of facing my own death,” Qasim commented during a dinner party on his last evening in Tokyo. Echoing a theme running throughout the “Errant Home” documentary, he added, “Our art was like a hidden world that was occurring in parallel with the war and violence. Because what we were doing was in line with true Iraqi culture, though, whereas the militias have absolutely nothing to do with it, we artists always knew that in the end they would disappear while our works would live on.”

Qasim Sabti with Peace On Director Yatch Aizawa (top) 
and interpreter/peace activist May Shigenobu

--Kimberly Hughes

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Creating Hope From Destruction: Hiroshima's "Religion of Peace"

It is almost a question that I dread: “Where exactly have you lived in Japan?”

The eight years in Tokyo and two years in Nikko are unproblematic. “It must be so exciting to live in Tokyo!” or “Nikko—how gorgeous. Cold though!” The pleasantries are nearly automatic; the conversational flow uninterrupted.

With Hiroshima, however, it is different. As I speak its name—even before the word has left my mouth—I can already sense the eyes of whomever I am speaking with dropping downward; the voice quickly tapering off. At once both awkward and yet steeped in unspoken knowing, both of us honor the tacit understanding to take the briefest of seconds and silently acknowledge the heavy burden that this city—indeed, even the mere mention of its name—now represents.

Sometimes, the moment passes and conversation resumes. On other occasions, however, the next logical question ensues. “How was it living as an American in Hiroshima?”

Truth be told, it was an incredibly wonderful experience. The people of Hiroshima were almost uniformly warm, gracious, and openly friendly—even to strangers on the street. When I visited the city a couple of years ago after a ten-year absence, my senses—now firmly accustomed to the frostily cordial interactions that occur between most Tokyoites (if they even occur at all)—were shocked into delightful memories of my previous experience living there, when interacting with others in this way was natural and spontaneous.

At the time, as a 21 year-old delving vivaciously into Japanese language and culture, I was shielded almost entirely from the lingering horrors of history in Hiroshima. Aside from my academic coursework in peace studies and attending several lectures given by hibakusha, I can recall only brief, fleeting instances of this shield being breached on any sort of personal level during my yearlong stay. One was when a close friend of mine—a wonderful woman who hosted me in her home every Friday evening for a shamisen (traditional three-stringed instrument) lesson—once grew serious and confided in me that she herself was a hibakusha, having experienced the atomic bomb at age 2, and still bearing miniscule scars in her forehead from where she had been hit by glass. Another instance was at the August 6th memorial, when an elderly woman came up to me and asked where I was from. After I responded honestly, she looked me up and down for a moment, seemed to ascertain that I was a peaceful person, made a hushed comment about how heinous the experience had been, and went on her way.

Other than these moments, however, the memory of the city’s history lay hidden away; deeply out of my reach. Life goes on, and indeed, Hiroshima is a city that seems overflowing with incredible energy and zest. And needless to say, for someone who has not personally experienced that which was suffered by people in the city in 1945, it is nearly impossible to wrap one’s mind around the enormity of the horror. Although we may gain some idea through visiting the city’s A-bomb museum or witnessing imagery, still it lies outside of the capacity of our consciousness to understand what took place.

This was particularly the case for me as a young university student, who at the time had yet to discover the spiritual consciousness that now informs the way that I look at the world. Perhaps—as someone who now aims to be in tune with subtle energies that lay beyond the boundaries of the straightforward, surface-level speech that I was raised to communicate with—the next time that I visit the city, I may be able to sense feelings and energies that are not directly expressed, but are nevertheless very much present.

Terry Tempest Williams, a brilliantly passionate writer and thinker who is herself a hibakusha who grew up downwind of the nuclear testing site in the American southwest and has lost family members to radiation-related cancers, said the following in “The Politics of Place," an interview by independent journalist Scott London:

“It's that paradoxical response of joy and suffering. One, as we were saying, cannot exist without the other. They mirror each other. They live in the same house. And it moves us to tears. I recently got back from Hiroshima and it was fascinating to me how the Japanese accommodate this paradox. We were talking about this word aware, which on the page looks like ‘aware,’ which speaks to both the pain and the beauty of our lives. Being there, what I perceived was that this is a sorrow that is not a grief that one forgets or recovers from, but it is a burning, searing illumination of love for the delicacy and strength of our relations…Perhaps Hiroshima has given birth to a religion of peace. Aware. The active soul.

Whether or not this may explain the openness and friendliness that seems to characterize human interactions in Hiroshima, I cannot say for sure. This deeply spiritual interpretation, however, I am sure embodies a powerful element of truth on a level that I am only just beginning to comprehend or even conceptualize.

Posted by Kimberly Hughes

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

500,000,000 Paper Cranes & Voices of Survivors of Hiroshima & Nagasaki

Children all over the world send ten million origami cranes each year to the Children's Peace Monument at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park. The monument was created in 1958; if the ten million figure is an annual average, that means that Hiroshima has received over 500,000,000 cranes.

An inscription on the 30-foot monument topped by a statue of Sadako Sasaki (who died of radiation-related leukemia in 1955 at 13) holding a golden crane exclaims: "This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in this world."

Most of the remaining survivors of the atomic bombings are from Sadako's generation and were also children or teenagers in 1945. Voices of Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki provides recorded testimonies and translations of people who lived through the atomic bombings.

The site includes links to other sites memorializing horrors of the Pacific War––including the Battle of Okinawa; the story of POWs imprisoned in a Japanese military "hell ship;" and other atrocities (the Center of Research and Documentation on Japan's War Responsibility documents many).

-- Jean Downey