Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue demanded Wednesday that the Japanese government join a recently adopted treaty banning nuclear weapons, as the city marked the 72nd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing.
Taue's call for Japan's inclusion in the treaty adopted by 122 United Nations members last month followed an appeal last Sunday by the mayor of Hiroshima, Japan's other atomic-bombed city, to "bridge the gap" between nuclear and non-nuclear states to help realize a ban on nuclear weapons.
In Nagasaki's annual Peace Declaration at its memorial ceremony, Taue called the government's stance "incomprehensible" while pleading for Japan to join the treaty along with nuclear weapon states as well as other countries under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
"(The Japanese government's) stance of not even participating in the diplomatic negotiations for the Nuclear Prohibition Treaty is quite incomprehensible to those of us living in the cities that suffered atomic bombings," Taue said at the city's Peace Park.
"As the only country in the world to have suffered wartime atomic bombings, I urge the Japanese government to reconsider the policy of relying on the nuclear umbrella and join the Nuclear Prohibition Treaty at the earliest possible opportunity," he said.
Taue also called on the government to "affirm to the world its commitment to the pacifist ethos of the Constitution of Japan, which firmly renounces war," at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party is seeking to formally propose an amendment to the foundational document.
For his part, Abe avoided any explicit mention of the treaty in his speech at the ceremony as he did in Hiroshima, but stressed that both nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states need to be on board if efforts toward nuclear abolition are to succeed.
"Japan is determined to lead the international community...by continuing to appeal to both sides," the prime minister said.
At a press conference held later Wednesday after Abe met representatives of local hibakusha groups, the prime minister said Japan is already "bridging the gap" between the nuclear and non-nuclear states, citing Japan's work to promote an arms reduction and non-proliferation initiative with other countries.
Representatives of 58 nations and the European Union attended the ceremony, including all five recognized nuclear powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- as well as undeclared nuclear weapon state Israel.
Izumi Nakamitsu, U.N. undersecretary general and high representative for disarmament affairs, read out a message to the people of Nagasaki on behalf of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in which the U.N. chief noted "growing differences among countries about how to achieve the abolition of nuclear weapons."
"I hope that the adoption in July of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will give renewed momentum to achieve our shared goal," the message said.
In Hiroshima's ceremony on Sunday to commemorate its own atomic bombing, Mayor Kazumi Matsui stopped short of demanding that Japan join the treaty, but urged the government to do "everything in its power to bridge the gap between the nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states, thereby facilitating the ratification."
A plutonium-core atomic bomb named "Fat Man" dropped by a U.S. bomber exploded over Nagasaki at 11:02 a.m. on Aug. 9, 1945, at an altitude of around 500 meters, three days after the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
An estimated 74,000 people died from the bombing in Nagasaki by the end of that year. In Hiroshima, a projected 140,000 were killed by the end of the year.
Japan surrendered six days after the bombing of Nagasaki, prompting the end of World War II.
The combined number of "hibakusha," people who survived either bombing, stood at 164,621 as of March. Their average age was 81.41.
People from around Japan and overseas climbed the gentle slopes leading to the park from early morning, at one point braving a blustery downpour that passed before the ceremony started.
Sayaka Akagi, 30, came to the park in memory of her late grandfather, who survived the bombing.
"I'm a school teacher in Nagasaki, and every year I make a lesson for the children based on the mayor's peace declaration and get them to think about it," Akagi said.
Filip Deheegher, who works for the city of Ypres in Belgium, came to the park having been deeply moved by exhibits at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum earlier in the week.
Noting that his hometown was the site of a series of devastating battles in World War I, he remarked, "What took a few months to destroy in my town took two seconds in Nagasaki."
Shortly after dawn, members of a high school student peace ambassador program that began in Nagasaki 20 years ago gathered around a monument near the park at the hypocenter of the bombing.
The 22 student ambassadors, along with dozens of other students who have collected signatures from around Japan in support of nuclear abolition, formed a circle around the monument.
Nagasaki student ambassador Daiki Mizokami, 17, whose grandparents lived through the bombing, spoke of the importance of listening to the stories of hibakusha and hailed the adoption of the ban treaty.
"The next big step is to reduce the nuclear weapons that still exist now," he said.