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Yasuyoshi Komizo’s Interview

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Yasuyoshi Komizo has been the Chairperson of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation since 2013. The former Special Assistant to the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, he worked as a diplomat for four decades.

In this interview, Komizo discusses the mission of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. He outlines the goal of Mayors for Peace to create a world without nuclear weapons, and explains the importance of dialogue in resolving international security challenges. He also describes a recent tour he gave to the U.S. ambassador to Japan and the message of the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) he wanted to share with the ambassador.

Date of Interview:
February 4, 2019
Location of the Interview:


Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. It is February 14, 2019. I’m in Hiroshima, Japan.

Yasuyoshi Komizo: Yes.

Kelly:  And my first question to you is to say your name and spell it.

Komizo: Okay. My name is Yasuyoshi Komizo, and Y-a-s-u-y-o-s-h-i. It’s a long first name, and shorter last name, Komizo. K-o-m-i-z-o. Yasuyoshi Komizo. I’m the Chair of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation.

Kelly: Tell us a little bit about the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. What does it do?

Komizo: Yes. Actually, it was established in 1976, and the main purpose is to preserve and disseminate the experience of August 6, 1945. That is the atomic bombing. The humanitarian suffering and also the after effects, long-standing suffering. Still, they are suffering. The survivors are still suffering, all this bomb. That is the first thing. And also we convey the message of Hiroshima. I just told you that no one else should ever again suffer. It’s not a message of revenge, but it’s actually the message of the humanitarian, you know, kind of a call to all humanity.

Number two, on the basis of that, we are trying to help achieve a world without nuclear weapons. And number three, on the basis of this exercise, we need to promote mutual understanding and mutual cooperation in global society so that we can be better equipped to work towards sustainable global peace for everybody. That is basically our work.

We are managing three facilities, institutions. One is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the atomic bomb museum, and number two is the—it’s a long name, so I have to read it—the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. And another one is actually the International Conference Center over there. Those three institutions are very important institutions for us, and I am responsible for managing those things.

Of course, those two museums have autonomy quite well, so the director is very much autonomous. I am advising him. We also serve as a Secretariat for the Mayors for Peace. I’m going to talk about Mayors for Peace later. That is the basic work we are doing.

Kelly: It sounds like a huge job.

Komizo: Oh, yeah, it is. I’m really excited. I was a diplomat for 43 years and I retired at the age of 65. I am now 71 and I have been here for about six years, serving for this very, very important work. And I feel my 43 years of diplomatic work, including the ambassador to international organizations in Vienna and ambassador to Kuwait, those experiences – and also Special Assistant to Mohamed ElBaradei. Most of the Americans don’t like him, but anyway, he is my respected boss, Egyptian. I think I should stop here. Those are very, very important.

Kelly:  Is this a good time to talk about the Mayors for Peace?

Komizo: Mayors for Peace was proposed by then-Mayor of Hiroshima, Mr. [Takeshi] Araki, in 1982 in the Second Special General Assembly kind of conference. It was agreed [to] immediately by the mayor of Nagasaki, and the mayor of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took initiatives to form a group of mayors, non-partisan mayors, from all over the world, to accelerate the work towards a world without nuclear weapons.

Now, we have 7,709 cities in 163 countries and regions. And it is increasing almost every month, 10, 20, 30, 40. Membership is increasing. The population within those cities, in total, is about one billion citizens. So it’s a still-growing organization, and working towards a world without nuclear weapons.

But we have a second pillar of activities, which is the realization of safe and resilient cities. Many mayors join us simply because they are responsible to provide citizens’ safety and welfare. And that’s why they are working towards safe and resilient cities. They understand that the greatest obstacle for their intensive efforts to make a city which is kind of feeling home to everybody, the various people. Those efforts take a long, long time to make a community which can you know, feel at home by various people. It’s a constant challenge. But those intensive challenges may be broken by a single nuclear weapon. No mayors want their cities to be attacked by nuclear weapons.

We have around 215 cities in the United States. The lead city in the United States is Des Moines, Iowa. Mayor [Frank] Cownie. And we have around 100 cities in Russia, and the Volgograd mayor is the lead mayor. And also UK and Ireland, together. Nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapons states together. UK and Ireland, Manchester is the lead city. We have also membership – I think a smaller number, 56 or so – in Israel. We have membership in Palestine and in Iran. We have more than 1,000 cities. Of course, in Latin America and Asia. So all over the world, we have membership.

And the basic understanding is that we would like to have peace for humanity. That is peace which can be supported by everybody. Of course, this is very far from the reality, but that is the reason why we need a vision. We need to work. And this is the movement of the Mayors for Peace. We have three things, very, very important in the world. Number one is dialogue, because we belong to the same human family. But each one of us is different. Different in color, different in culture, different in political inclinations, genders, history and so on. But that is the reason why each person is irreplaceable. Each person is so precious. Understanding that we belong to the same human family needs to start from the reality, to very humbly understand others’ differences. That is the starting point.

Then, different people need to talk, need to engage in sincere dialogue to come up with understanding the common ground, to create common values and common goals and implement them together. This process is actually fertile ground to achieve real feeling that we all belong to the same human family. Because by those exercises, we feel much greater commonality as a human being than the differences.

So this is our way. Number one, Mayors for Peace emphasizes dialogue, because we are very, very different. Our way to promote our security is very different. Ideas are very different. We honor each other’s differences, but, at the same time, we need to find common ground. Number two, inclusiveness. That no one should be left out. We should try, no one should be left out. That is the way we work. And number three, seek complementarity. It’s like an orchestra. Each instrument has a beautiful sound, but harmonization of the various instruments can create like an orchestra—much greater beauty, much greater music.

We emphasize dialogue—and no one should be left out—and to work together, like an orchestra, in harmony. Those are the three ways of making our efforts to achieve the purpose. Because peace is not a stagnant thing. We’re all different. We have all different visions, different goals. Therefore, we have to coordinate. We have to harmonize them, and those harmonies should be done always. This is a dynamic peace, and in order to do that – it may be, for some people, it is a very far cry. But for us, it is the only stable way to achieve a stable peace. So that is our way to work.

The basis of our work is a message of hibakushas [atomic bomb survivors]. Because hibakusha, when we look at the history, their feeling is, you know, kind of dominated by fear and anger and even the sense of revenge. But over time, they have come to the conclusion, in various ways, that if they continue the vicious circle of hatred or even revenge, then they cannot bring peace for their loved ones, for the future generations. Therefore, they have come to the conclusion [this is the] only way that “No one else shall ever again suffer as we have.” That is a very, very important message coming from ordinary people. And therefore, we honor hibakushas’ message.

And then we are trying to achieve that message and dream into the real world. We need to coordinate with scholars, with philosophers and with educators, with the environmentalists and politicians and youth and women and the various groups. That is the way we can achieve peace which can be supported by everybody.

Of course, this is maybe an unachievable dream, but if many people work towards that direction, then the world we live in, even with problems, is a much better world. That is the way we try.

Kelly:  That’s wonderful. You know, your background as a diplomat comes through.

Komizo: Yeah. As a diplomat, I also try to do the same thing.

Kelly:  Yes, yes. Everybody get along. Dialogue.

Komizo: At one point in Vienna, actually, the Pakistani ambassador, who was the leader of the G-77 Group – who, you know, economic and financial issues. Japan’s position is very different from the G-77. But this Pakistani ambassador came to me. He knows my background and he knows that I was special assistant to Mohamed – he is also from the Third World. And he asked me to come up with a G-77 proposal to one very, very difficult problem. He’s a smart man.

I accepted it. I had to talk to the Russians, Latinos, African nations, you know, everybody. In the beginning, there was no common ground. Nothing. There is no common denominator. And then, the dialogue starts, and I have to think about—for example, Russians: “We cannot do that because of the internal law.” I studied it. This was not internal law. Law doesn’t prohibit; it’s just a practice. This way.

For example, Latinos want this and that one, and then I think about it. Maybe what you would like to achieve can be done by this way, a different way. This kind of dialogue brought together within a month. Finally, we have a very thin, but common ground. And then I gave this proposal to the Pakistani ambassador, and he proposed it as a G-77 proposal. And then it was adopted by consensus.

Actually, what I’m saying is not something kind of coming out of my mind, but coming from the history books and coming from my own experience as a diplomat.

Kelly: That might be a good model for how to work through, you know, greater reconciliation between kind of the views that many in the United States have about the Manhattan Project.

Komizo: Yes.

Kelly:  And views people in Japan have—

Komizo: Yes, yes.

Kelly:  —you know. You look at the polls, and America’s populace believes it was the right thing to do to drop the bomb, and very few people in Japan think that was the right thing to do.

Komizo: That’s right.

Kelly:  Understandably. But if we have a lot of dialogue, then it will become easier—

Komizo: Yes.

Kelly:  —for people to understand.

Komizo: Yeah. I was also invited as one of the experts to discuss the Manhattan Project National Park’s kind of presentation. About 20-some experts. Two of them, two of the experts—

Kelly:  In Washington, D.C. In November. I was there.

Komizo: Oh, you were there, yeah. And so, basically, my remarks are very simple. Number one, this dropping of the atomic bomb should be presented on the basis of facts. And number two, it is maybe difficult, but this should also include the suffering of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And number three, this should be future-oriented. “Future-oriented” means we should not be bound by the existing nuclear deterrence way of achieving security. We can, you know, design maybe a much better way, maybe on the basis of promoting mutual understanding and mutual cooperation. And then a much wider vision of security, not only military means, but culturally and human relations and views exchange and so on. That can be considered as very important components of security. [By] that I mean the future orientation.

By proposing this one, I told the United States colleagues – because all the others are from the United States, Americans – I told them that the United States is a champion of democracy. Of course the United States democracy has lots of challenges, but that is a vision. The United States is keeping that very, very important vision, despite a lot of problems. Number two, again, the Declaration of Independence. The United States is actually promoting human rights and diversity, the appreciation of diversity and so on.

On the basis of that leadership function of the United States, I requested the United States take those viewpoints in the program. Finally, those three elements, within maybe 10 or 30 or 40 – anyway, those three elements were included.

Kelly: Yes, good. Clearly you struck a chord, and the superintendent of the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park is very excited about working with Japan and listening to how you’ve interpreted this part of history and incorporating it into the interpretation.

Komizo: Yes. I think I also was impressed with the professionalism and also the kind of a person who is honoring the truth. I saw that kind of professional engagement commitment by those people who talked with us. I felt very, very impressed and I was very happy to be part of it.

Kelly: Yes. They are very methodical, which is always on a plus side. But for people who want action now, faster—

Komizo: Yeah, yeah, sure.

Kelly:  It can be frustrating, because they have to go through the process. And it’s important, because once you put out your interpretation, and it’s missing elements, or it doesn’t speak to one group’s concern or another group’s concern, then you’re in trouble. If you go through the process and consult with people and get the best experts. So we must applaud them.

Komizo: Yes.

Kelly:  Even if—

Komizo: Right.

Kelly:  —a lot of us who tried for a dozen years to get a park—

Komizo: Yes.

Kelly:  —want it now must be patient.

Komizo: I would also like to thank you, also, again, for your help for making the Manhattan Project [National Historical Park] be more receptive to the kind of history and impact of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and also, the future orientation.

Kelly:  Yes.

Komizo: Because I think this nuclear weapon was produced during very fierce warfare. We should not stick with that kind of product for good. Actually, I think we should think about security which is based on the promotion of mutual understanding and mutual cooperation. Because we live in a very, very difficult world. But unless we work for the change of direction and framework, how to keep international peace and security, we’ll be facing [inaudible] kind of dangerous situations.

I think that is the reason why we are working very closely with the hibakusha and try to materialize what they really wish to be a reality. Like in the case of the Declaration of Independence, the vision is not equal to the reality. That is the reason why we need a vision. Vision without knowing the reality, we cannot really reach that goal. And also, realism without vision is just defeatism. So I think we should work on it.

By the way, when the new Ambassador [Bill] Hagerty, he visited Hiroshima last year—

Kelly: Oh.

Komizo: —less than a year after he was assigned by President [Donald] Trump. And he was with his wife and four children, from 16 to 9 years old, two boys and two girls. And I was guiding former Ambassador Caroline Kennedy quite some time. A number of times, actually. She came to Hiroshima more than ten times within two years. I guided her through maybe four, five times, and because of that, the embassy, American Embassy, asked me privately to guide him through the [Hiroshima Peace Memorial] Museum at 7:00 a.m., while, nobody’s around. I was told he was with his children, delicate age children, from 16 to 9.

I was thinking very, very hard how to communicate because I have to tell them what is necessary to be told. It’s difficult facts, but at the same time, I don’t want them to, you know, kind of lose confidence with the American government. That is not our purpose. Within a week before I was notified and I just received them, I was thinking very, very hard.

And finally, I came to the conclusion – I first greeted the ambassador and his wife, and then greeted four children. I told them, “Today, you are the main guests. I’m going to guide you through the museum, but there are a number of difficult things you are going to see—but the most important message I have to convey to you is this.” And I told them the hibakusha’s message, “No one else shall ever again suffer as we have.” 

That means, actually, every human being has a right, without exception, to lead a good life. That kind of understanding. This is, in the basic foundation, same to the Declaration of Independence. Because all men are created equal and by the Creator, who gave them inalienable rights, including life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Those two messages actually resonate quite well: basically the same message. If you understand that one, then you understand what you see.

Komizo: Yes. I think your question also included the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons [TPNW].

Kelly:  Oh, yes.

Komizo: May I talk about this?

Kelly:  Yes, yes.

Komizo: Mayors for Peace, as I said, tries to be kind of accommodating [with] various things, tries to honor them and, of course, by discussion come up with common ground. But one thing we emphasize is legal prohibition of nuclear weapons. Because NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] Article VI, actually, the vision is total elimination in the future. If we really aim at a security system which does not depend on nuclear weapons, then we should also try to go towards that goal.

I think somewhere in between we need to prohibit it before we eliminate it. I think we need to legally prohibit nuclear weapons. When it is ready or not has different views, and that’s why the major powers don’t support the Treaty, TPNW, yet. But our point is actually nuclear weapon states need to also understand why many countries with the support of civil society adopted this treaty against strong opposition by the major powers. This is a very, very important element.

Let me talk about the Doomsday Clock. Doomsday Clock by the American Society of Scientists [misspoke: Bulletin of American Scientists]—I forgot the name—but January last year it was two minutes to midnight. It’s as, you know, devastating as the world when the U.S. and the Soviet Union then in 1953, I think, both succeeded with hydrogen bomb tests. It was a real danger. Of course, that danger is not there, but still many things, or by accidents, those things. We still have 14,500 nuclear weapons in the world. By miscalculation, by accidents, or maybe used by terrorists, [they] can cause unbearable suffering to people.

We are living in the danger. Why the Doomsday Clock was considered to be two minutes to midnight is for two reasons. Both of them is a lack of leadership by the political leaders. Number one, on nuclear weapons abolition. And number two is climate change. In both cases, actually, to me, same underlying problems. Whether we can work together beyond differences for these global challenges or not. This global security requires real, real challenges from all over the world, and climate change as well.

We have very good examples in the United States. The late [John F.] Kennedy actually achieved the Partial Test Ban Treaty with [Nikita] Khrushchev. This one actually, after the Cuban [Missile] Crisis, so at a very, very difficult time. Both leaders felt many things. Of course, they wanted to compete more, to [have the] upper hand. But at the same time, Kennedy felt that—at that time, actually, most Americans felt the Soviet Union is like a rogue state. They didn’t trust the Soviet Union.

But Kennedy was saying, we have to be careful. People in the Soviet Union also want peace, if we look at the history. So there is a common denominator. If we don’t work that way in 10, 20 years’ time, maybe nuclear-weapons-holding states can become 20 or so. There are certain reasons for it actually. Certain reasons supporting that possibility. That’s why he has to work very closely with the Soviet Union, and he, at American University, made a very important speech, “Strategy of Peace.”

And then, surprisingly, Khrushchev – of course, under that Cold War era, Soviet Union doesn’t – are afraid of the American propaganda. The American message will not go through to the people. But Khrushchev ordered to translate in Russian the Kennedy speech. Within two months after Kennedy’s speech, the Soviet Union and U.S. led the adoption of the Partial Test Ban Treaty, including the U.K.

Also, [Ronald] Reagan in the beginning invested very much on the modernization of nuclear weapons, including the kind of space war-type. But during the course [of his administration], he was informed, as I understand, by the generals and security staff, if actually those weapons are used on European ground, millions of people die. When he heard it, then he changed his mind. In the inaugural speech in 1985, he was actually even telling, “I would work to eliminate nuclear weapons from the earth.” He has changed so much.

This actually means leaders can learn. Resourceful leaders can learn. The lucky thing is actually [Mikhail] Gorbachev over there, on the other side. So those two leaders go beyond the differences at a time of very, very tense rivalry and tense kind of situation for the welfare. They came up with the abolition of the INF [Intermediate-Nuclear Forces]. Now, the INF Treaty is in danger, but that was actually very usable weapons in Europe. But because of those leaders’ leadership.

My feeling [is] that United States can take leadership in this way. It may take some time, but I think if the United States doesn’t take leadership, it is very, very difficult. I also asked the Russians – if the U.S. is scrapping the INF – they should come up with some creative ideas. But they said, “Well, we are just reacting to the American position.” That is the reality. Actually, good or bad. From my experiences and from my reading of history books and talking to the various diplomats and policymakers, the United States is a crucial player in the nuclear field. We would like to encourage the United States to take renewed leadership.

By the way, the U.K., of course, they are limited and they don’t have much nuclear weapons anyway. But they feel that if nuclear weapon states don’t take leadership, the NPT’s credibility would be lost. So the U.K. is now quietly trying to take leadership, persuade U.S. and Russia to be accommodative, and try to show the P5’s [the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members] responsibility towards the world.

I know many – including yourself – many conscientious American leaders, opinion leaders and various people, are trying to take initiatives to change. I think for the North Korean issue, [Donald] Trump is a bit brave. I think we should appreciate that Trump at least takes leadership, which only the top leader can take, to start the negotiation. This initiative needs to be supported by the real informed experts. Otherwise, it would be just, you know, kind of window dressing and nothing changes, and we’ll be in more danger. But this can be a beginning of a much greater process.

Dictatorship requires a monopoly of giving merits and privileges to the people. But if the economy is open, then the source of giving economic merits and privileges would become multiple. That will make a change of the dictatorship from within, and that would be much better way of transition. From sticking to the nuclear weapons to the much better way, [becoming an] other responsible partner in the international community. Of course, it is not easy, and management in the process is much more difficult. But we like to encourage Trump to take some leadership, and then we should, in the international community, support it, so that change would be an ordered change. The internal change of North Korea can make them a much [more] responsible country.

That is probably the only way. We cannot really expect perfect elimination in the beginning, because they are afraid of the American invasion. They need to keep it but they need to do some commitments as a starting point, and then we have to manage. I think this way we expect the United States to take real leadership, and that can be done only by the United States.

The reason why I’m talking about this one is Mayors for Peace also respects each region and each country. Because cities have autonomy, but it is different from country to country. North Korea doesn’t have any autonomy. China is much less. We have this common vision. We need to work towards a world without nuclear weapons. But the membership in the United States, or membership in Russia, does not necessarily promote TPNW, because their government is not thinking that way. It is rather curious that, you know, mayors stand against the national – it’s a bit strange. So, we just encourage them to take their own way of achieving the change towards our common goals.

Volgograd, for example. Last year, the World Cup, soccer’s World Cup, was in Russia, and at Volgograd, Japan and Belgium competed. At that time, without our advice, the Volgograd city and Volgograd State University voluntarily hosted an atomic bomb exhibition there. City staff and university staff and students volunteered to guide visitors to these things. In the United States, in the past 13 years of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, by the advice of our U.S. members, [they] are taking the consensus resolution for 13 consecutive years for nuclear disarmament resolutions. That is their own making.

If we do that in the United States, that is interference, unfair interference, by outside forces. That’s why we are very, very careful. We shouldn’t do that. But we encourage the United States to take their own approaches. France is taking their own approach, and Germany is taking their own approach. Iran, of course, we have to be a bit careful.

We have to be a bit careful, but we need to honor differences. That is our kind of consistent way of [0:42:00] organizing and also promoting a much wider movement, which may be different from region to region, country to country. But that is the way the realities are, and the best way to change that reality is those people living there and those people who love that country. People outside – it’s easy to criticize, but it’s not our way, doing that.

Kelly:  It’s very wise. You may get something done.

Komizo: I hope so. I hope so, because—

Kelly:  I hope so, too.

Komizo: Yeah, yeah.

Kelly:  Yeah. It’s excellent.

Komizo: We make many symbolic acts. Like around 170 trees in Hiroshima survived, damaged but survived. Most of the trees died in the area, but around 170. I think around 160 trees still survive, and we nurture them very carefully by professionals. We distribute seeds and the offspring and plant them to grow the sense of peace by nurturing those trees.

That happened in various places like Sarajevo. 100 years’ anniversary of the assassination of the Austria-Hungary prince and princess. That year, we went there and then planted together with the mayor the atomic bomb-damaged trees. The mayor at that time felt that this tree is actually maybe – male and female tree combined becomes country. This is like, you know, they have the Muslims and Croatians and another one [Serbs], three different major groups. They didn’t get along very well, but the mayor is trying to achieve harmony among those things. Once they lived in harmony, and this tree actually symbolizes our efforts to do that.

The message coming from Hiroshima, “No one else shall ever suffer as we have” – this message is an excellent message for us to work in very, very difficult situations to unite different people. Various other places, Kazakhstan, and even the U.S. Consulate General in Osaka has one of the atomic bomb trees. In the U.S. Consul General’s official compound. We planted this tree. This is actually a message that once fiercely fought enemies can work together, grow the tree to kind of dream and achieve innovative peace in the future.

[End of audio]

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