By TABITO FUKUTOMI/ Staff Writer
June 29, 2022 at 08:00 JST
HIROSHIMA--A hardcore punk trio was rocking a club here in early April when the golden-haired guitarist wearing a black leather jacket abruptly started delivering a speech following a 12-minute guitar solo.
“Russia should stop the war,” said Yamazaki, 49, who goes by one name. “Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by the use of force.”
Masaki, 37, lead singer for Axe Helvete, then told the audience: “We do not want war. We do not want nukes. No war!”
The combination of punk rock and pacifism at the show in Hiroshima’s Nagarekawa entertainment district was created by Shinji Okoda, a Hiroshima native who was inspired by a “hibakusha” (atomic bomb survivor).
Axe Helvete was one of three bands that played in front of about 20 people at the tiny 30-square-meter club on the outskirts of the Nagarekawa area.
The music made the floor rumble while the small but enthusiastic crowd swayed to the beat with glasses in their hands.
Okoda, 56, who has run a vinyl record store in Hiroshima’s Naka Ward for 30 years and sings in a punk band, said he organized the concert in light of his 12 years of interactions with Sunao Tsuboi.
Tsuboi, a hibakusha who worked toward global nuclear abolition and was known as the “face of Hiroshima,” died in autumn last year.
REBEL FINDS A CAUSE
When growing up in Hiroshima, Okoda often broke rules and refused to listen quietly in school classes. He would hang out with friends until late at night during junior high school. He dropped out of high school.
Inspired by a British punk rock group, Okoda started performing in a band with friends after he turned 19.
Okoda always chose lyrics of a sexual, grotesque or senseless nature. He never imagined singing about nuclear weapons or peace at the time.
“I thought I shouldn’t touch such complicated issues because I failed to finish school,” Okoda recalled.
The turning point came when he was 34 years old. A younger band from Tokyo held an anti-war concert in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, the day the city was leveled by the U.S. atomic bombing in 1945, killing 140,000 people.
The show made Okoda feel that he “should not shy away from the topic as a resident of Hiroshima.”
To learn more about what happened to Hiroshima in 1945, Okoda met with Keiji Nakazawa (1939-2012), a hibakusha who created the “Barefoot Gen” manga series to detail the devastation caused by the nuclear attack.
In 2005, Okoda issued a free paper, “To Future,” which has since been released every summer featuring interviews with peace-promoting individuals.
Okoda really wanted to interview Tsuboi, who had become famous for saying “never give up” around the world as chair of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-Bomb Sufferers Organizations.
Okoda said he feared he might be “scolded about my lack of knowledge” when he asked Tsuboi for an interview in 2007.
When he met the veteran peace activist, Okoda said he was “in the first year in peace learning.”
To his amazement, Tsuboi gave a warm welcome and talked with Okoda for three hours.
“It is impressive that you are joining our movement although you were not victimized by the atomic bombing,” Okoda quoted Tsuboi as saying.
Okoda made it an annual habit to interview Tsuboi in summer.
Tsuboi not only talked about how he was just 1.2 kilometers from Ground Zero, but he also explained his feelings when he met then U.S. President Barack Obama in 2016 during his landmark visit to Hiroshima.
“He (Tsuboi) explained the problems involving atomic bombs in a casual way, allowing even me to figure them out,” Okoda said. “He briefed everyone on the significance of peace in an easy-to-understand manner with no prejudice. I was astonished at what ‘Tsuboism’ was like.”
The 12-year interview custom ended in June 2018 when Tsuboi’s health deteriorated. He died on Oct. 24, 2021, at age 96.
PRAYING FOR PEACE IN UKRAINE
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started four months after Tsuboi’s death.
“I thought about what action Tsuboi would have taken by these developments,” Okoda said.
He decided to organize the anti-war concert.
Ninety minutes into the event, violinist Eishin Richard Hiraishi, 14, who hails from Hiroshima, and pianist Jundai Okano, 16, emerged on the stage.
Hiraishi’s 43-year-old mother is from Ukraine while his grandmother, 71, was born in Russia.
Hiraishi and Okano played the Ukrainian national anthem and another piece. The audience, including spiky haired punk band members and headbanging company employees, listened silently. Some were heard sobbing.
A huge applause from the small audience erupted at the grand finale of the show.
Okoda said he will continue offering opportunities for people to pray for peace in Ukraine.
“I want to make it easier for people to engage in the nuclear issue and call for peace,” he said. “That is the style of Tsuboism I have taken over.”
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