Why Japan’s sleepy city of Hiroshima was chosen to host the G7

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida wants to ‘send a strong message’ about the need for a world without nuclear weapons.

Birds flying in the Hiroshima Peace Park with the ruined Atomic Bomb Dome behind.
The Atomic Bomb Dome was the only building left in the city centre after the 1945 atomic bomb obliterated Hiroshima [File: Kyodo via Reuters]

Hiroshima, Japan – At first look, Hiroshima, the Japanese city hosting this year’s Group of Seven summit, is not the most obvious choice for a high-stakes gathering of world leaders.

Compared with the frantic bustle of Tokyo, the centre of Japan’s political, economic and cultural life, this southwestern coastal city is practically sleepy.

In population terms, it does not even crack the top 10 Japanese metropolises.

But what Hiroshima lacks in size or economic importance, it makes up for in symbolism and its historic connection to an issue close to the heart of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 140,000 people and turning the theory of nuclear warfare into a terrifying reality.

Signs of the nuclear blast are still visible in Hiroshima, which hosts the G7 leaders’ summit from Friday to Sunday.

At the heart of the city, the Atomic Bomb Dome – the shell of the blast-hit Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall – stands as a permanent reminder of the destructive power of nuclear weapons.

Kishida, a longtime and passionate advocate against nuclear weapons, has spoken of his desire to use the G7 summit to “send out a strong message” about the need to realise a world without them.

Kishida, whose political constituency is in Hiroshima, faces an uphill battle to turn his vision into reality at a time when nuclear proliferation and the threat of nuclear war appear to be only rising.

Russia has on multiple occasions threatened to use nuclear weapons since it launched its war in Ukraine. North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme has gone from strength to strength despite international sanctions and censure.

And there is no indication that the world’s other confirmed or assumed nuclear powers – including the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel – will give up their nuclear arsenals in the foreseeable future.

‘Conveying the reality’

With the G7 summit set to be dominated by Russia’s war in Ukraine and concerns about China’s growing assertiveness, expectations are low for any significant breakthrough on curtailing nuclear weapons, such as commitments by countries to reduce nuclear stockpiles or enhance transparency about their arsenals.

Kishida will nonetheless have a powerfully symbolic stage for his antinuclear message in Hiroshima.

Kishida is scheduled to greet the G7 leaders, including United States President Joe Biden, the leader of the only country to ever use nuclear weapons in war, at the Peace Memorial Park built to commemorate the victims of the attack.

Over the weekend, the G7 leaders are expected to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which contains graphic images of those killed and injured in the blast, and meet atomic bomb survivors, known in Japan as hibakusha.

“Conveying the reality of the nuclear attack is important as a starting point for all nuclear disarmament efforts,” Kishida said in an interview with local media earlier this week.

Source: Al Jazeera