A Peace Gathering for Hiroshima

A diverse group of more than 200 New Yorkers commemorated the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at the Quaker Religious Society of Friends in Gramercy Park in Manhattan on Aug. 5. The president of the Buddhist Council of New York, Rev. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, led the annual Interfaith Peace Gathering for the 23rd consecutive year. A separate ceremony for Nagasaki, the second city bombed, was held at Middle Collegiate Church in East Village on Aug. 8. Each commemoration came a day before the anniversary of the bombing of the city.

Frank J. Haye leads the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir (Photo by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

Frank J. Haye leads the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir (Photo by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

The gathering began with choral music performed by the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir and founder Frank A. Haye, followed by a video of the historic speech given on May 27 by President Obama in Hiroshima as the first sitting U.S. president to visit the city while still in office.

Japan Choral Harmony “TOMO”, a group made up of singers from the Japanese community in New York, was among the performers. They sang the songs “Aoi Sora wa” (Blue Sky) – which includes the line “We hope to leave to our children the blue sky as it is…” – and “Kusunoki” (Camphor Tree) with the lyrics “My soul is rooted in this earth…”

Tak Furumoto, who was born in an internment camp in California and served in the Vietnam War, spoke at the Interfaith Peace Gathering (Photo by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

Tak Furumoto, who was born in an internment camp in California and served in the Vietnam War, spoke at the Interfaith Peace Gathering (Photo by Kinue Imai Weinstein for Voices of NY)

Takeshi Furumoto, chair of NY Hiroshima-kai, an association of people with ties to Hiroshima, read a message from the the city’s mayor.

He later told Voices of NY his own story. He was born in the Tule Lake Concentration Camp in northern California in 1944. After the war in 1945, his parents took him and his four older sisters from the camp to head to Japan by a U.S. military boat. Although it was not a forced repatriation, “we were told by the authorities never to come back again,” said Furumoto. Upon their arrival in Hiroshima, where both of his parents came from, the scale of destruction was beyond description. When he started elementary school, Furumoto saw that many of his classmates had ugly burns on their body. It took him a while to realize they were “keroid” or radiation wounds.

Though they were told not to come back by the military officers on the boat to Japan, the family returned to Los Angeles in 1956, where his father owned a business with seven employees prior to being sent to the internment camp. Furumoto graduated from UCLA in 1967 when the Vietnam War started escalating. Instead of waiting to be drafted, he attended Officer Candidate School (OCS), an army officer training school, in Washington D.C. for one year and was sent to Vietnam near the Cambodian border as an officer. While serving there from 1971 to 1972, he was exposed to Agent Orange and has had related health problems ever since. 

The two wars Mr. Furumoto experienced indelibly impressed upon him the tragedy of warfare. He got married in 1972 and moved to New York, where he operates a successful real estate business. Still suffering from the ill effects of Agent Orange and his exposure to the wars, he deeply opposes war and considers it a force against humanity. He reads the message from the mayor of Hiroshima every year in New York, in an attempt to disseminate the message against nuclear war and conflict. 

When President Obama visited Hiroshima in May, Furumoto flew to the city to witness “the historic event” in person. He was impressed by what he considered a sincere 17-minute speech by the president, as opposed to just a greeting.

Furumoto received a letter of apology concerning the internment of Japanese Americans from President Clinton in the 1990s. “I was impressed by the letter as well as by the U.S. leaders who admit wrong deeds,” he said.

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