Mayor of Nagasaki Finds Way to Resolve Himself to Fate


NAGASAKI Hitoshi Motoshima, Japan’s most controversial mayor, has finally come to terms with the ominous presence of death throughout his life.

Death pervaded his youth during the furor of World War II, just as it did when his city was later annihilated in the atomic bombing.

It came back to haunt him once again in January, when the mayor was nearly assassinated for publicly criticizing the late Emperor Showa [Hirohito].

Motoshima, 68, survived the shooting, but he now must live with ostracism by the Liberal Democratic Party, of which he is a member, continued anonymous death threats and the reality that he may not survive another day.

Although uncomfortable with the label of martyr, Motoshima says that expressing his controversial views justifies the pain he has gone through.

“If Japan is to become a nation that is trusted by the world, we have to go through such things,” Motoshima said in an interview.

“I think many more people should speak out as I’ve done and create a more open atmosphere throughout the country. That way, Japan would gain acceptance in the world,” he said.

The 11-year mayor of Nagasaki, a devout Catholic, recalled the moment he was almost gunned down outside Nagasaki City Hall on Jan. 18, about a year after publicly commenting on the emperor’s wartime accountability.

“At first I thought I was dying,” he said. “For one year before the shooting, I thought I might be killed and I was prepared for it. And I’m old enough now that I don’t have to worry about my wife and children.

“Since I believe in the old Christian ways, I hope to go to heaven when I die,” he said. “So at the time of the shooting, I was thinking about what I had done for the poor and troubled people in my lifetime as ordered by God, how much I had practiced the cross of Jesus Christ, and how I wanted to completely repent my sins before God.”

Motoshima declined to talk directly about the emperor’s wartime responsibility, saying it is already public record and he hasn’t changed his views even after the shooting.

“The mass media made me into a hero, but I’d like to return to being just an ordinary citizen,” he said. “So I’d like to refrain from restating the obvious.”

But Motoshima did recall his days as a soldier in the Imperial Army when he was often beaten for replying “both” when asked: Who is more important to you — the emperor or Jesus Christ?”

Now Motoshima quotes from the Bible when asked about the modern role of an emperor in Japan.

“I am obliged [as a public servant] to respect the Constitution,” he said. “Having that obligation means showing the proper decorum toward the emperor as a ‘symbol’. I won’t say any more than that. My only hope is that the emperor as a symbol will live a life befitting the new era.”

Under the Ten Commandments in Christianity, “there is one and only one God, and there can be no other” — not even the emperor of Japan, he said.

Motoshima also remembers the horror of returning to Nagasaki not long after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city in 1945.

“When I returned [about six weeks] after the bombing, nothing familiar to me remained,” he said. “It was complete devastation. There was no greenery at all. It to express it?...really an atrocity.

“Immediately after the dropping of the A-bomb there were many human and animal bodies scattered all over the place, which must have been a gruesome sight,” he said.

Motoshima feels a duty to the victims and survivors of the Nagasaki bombing to keep the memory alive.

“For a people to progress from the past to the future, they need to think about history’s truths and hand them down to the next generation. That’s what I believe.”

On Aug. 9 — the 45th anniversary of the bombing — Motoshima publicly urged the national government to apologize and provide aid to both North and South Korean victims of Japan’s prewar and wartime aggression. Recent high-level governmental talks between Japan and the Koreas may be one step toward fulfilling his wish.

In the meantime he lives with the ominous presence of death in his life, just as he always has.

But Motoshima just might have the last word on the legacy of Nagasaki and its people, with his vision of “peace without armaments.”

“Nagasaki has appealed for two things,” Motoshima said. “One, that Nagasaki be the last city ever destroyed by nuclear war.

“The other, that lasting peace be the only legacy humankind hands down to posterity.”