Survivor of Hiroshima bomb blast rings gong of peace in San Diego

Ikunosuke “Mike” Kawamura was a 2-year-old on Aug. 6, 1945 when Little Boy detonated, its atomic blast pancaking much of Hiroshima’s downtown and sparking a firestorm that veined through the rest of the city’s paper and timber homes, consuming most of them.

On Saturday at 4:15 p.m. — Sunday at 8:15 a.m. in Hiroshima, the same moment the bomb exploded 72 years earlier — he stood 5,891 miles away at the Yokohama Friendship Bell on Shelter Island, ringing a gong in a collective prayer to all humanity to choose peace, never again nuclear war.

“I don’t remember so much except that there was a small mountain, called ‘Hijiama,’” said Kawamura, sketching on a piece of paper where he lived as a toddler on the eastern side of the ridge, pointing out that nearly everything to the west was pulverized or scorched.

“The mountain directed the radiation and everything away. I was 1.8 miles away but I was saved.”

Three days later, another American bomber dropped Fat Man on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Over the next four months, between 129,000 and 226,000 Japanese perished, many who survived the initial explosion and fires succumbing to radiation sickness and hunger.

Growing up, Kawamura played in the rubble. The first English word he learned — “hungry” — he yelled at trucks of American GIs, who tossed him chocolate bars.

The United States wrought a terrible destruction to Japan during World War II. But over the next seven decades the same country would become Japan’s closest friend and strongest ally, a relationship that continues to safeguard American power in the Pacific Ocean and the economic prosperity of both nations.

Kawamura, a retired executive from Japanese electronics giant Kyocera , was the first of the 66 people gathered to ring the bell Saturday. Children garlanded the steps and rails of the bell tower with flowers and 12,000 paper cranes folded by students worldwide.

Consul Yamato Kobayashi of the General Consulate of Japan in Los Angeles gave a speech, and so did Maya Nakanishi, the long jump bronze medalist at the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships who arrived in Chula Vista in 2009 for coaching at the Olympic Training Center.

But the strongest words might have come from Akiko Mikamo, a psychologist and president of the San Diego chapter of the Worldwide Initiative to Safeguard Humanity, the nonprofit that organized International Peace and Humanity Day on Shelter Island.

Although as the author of “Rising from the Ashes,” a study in survival and forgiveness from Hiroshima, she could have dwelt on the past, she looked to the future by urging everyone to toil to halt “all the massacres, all the wars, every day, still now, that cause so many people to go through such pain and death.”

She noted that the nuclear powers of the world continue to stockpile nearly 15,000 atomic bombs, each far more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nodding at the rows of kids, American and Japanese, in the audience, she said that organizers annually hold the celebration of global peace for them, so that they might eventually figure out a way to get rid of the warheads forever.

“We do this so children can think of how they can create a peaceful world,” she said. “I believe as a psychologist that it starts with liking themselves, knowing themselves and holding hands, being good with each other. As sisters. As friends. Then with family. And then with communities and all the way to the nations, and we can have peace and smiles.”