A bright flash of light. A concussive wave of sound and force.
What Soh Horie recalls of the atomic detonations that hastened the end of the war in the Pacific is as vivid some 70 years later in the dance hall of a cruise ship docked in Hawaii waters as it was that day in August when Horie witnessed the destruction of Hiroshima from a vantage point less than 2 miles from the epicenter of the first blast.
Horie is one of seven so-called "hibakusha" — people who lived through the United States’ atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — aboard a Japanese cruise ship known as the Peace Boat, which is in Honolulu on the final stop on a three-month international voyage to promote world peace and nuclear disarmament.
Horie shared his memories of the bombing and his desires for a non-nuclear future during a meet-and-greet event aboard the ship Sunday.
The event, organized by Katsumi Takamoto of Honolulu, was attended by leaders from several local community groups, many of which will be involved in upcoming Aug. 6 memorial events.
"Peace is something wonderful, and it’s not something we should take for granted," Horie told the assemblage of students, community volunteers and other guests.
Though simply stated, Horie’s sentiments carried the weight of powerful personal experience.
Horie was just 5 years old when his older sister used her own body to shield him from the force of the atomic blast.
The explosion itself was fleeting. The real trauma accrued slowly in the aftermath as Horie’s family home gradually filled with strangers broken and burned and seeking shelter from the chaos.
Horie recalled the burned face of a junior high student and how his mother cut away a flap of skin so the young man could breathe again through his nose. He recalled seeing a young girl and noticing the way the pattern of her dress had been imprinted on her arm by the blast. He is haunted by the smell of bodies being cremated on the playground of the local school he would later attend.
Like many of his fellow hibakusha on the voyage, Horie has watched many of his family members succumb to cancer, a likely result of the massive doses of radiation to which they were exposed.
Horie’s brother and sister both died of cancer in middle age. Horie himself was given a terminal diagnosis four years ago but has defied expectations.
For Horie and generations of Japanese who came of age in the aftermath of World War II, the cause of world peace is closely aligned with the pursuit of nuclear disarmament.
"Together we can create a peaceful world," Horie said. "We can achieve this by eliminating nuclear weapons and stopping our use of the nuclear power industry."
Peace Boat administrator Akira Kawasaki emphasized the urgency of the message carried by the hibakusha.
"Time is so limited for them to speak and for us to be able to listen directly," he said.
The Peace Boat, a Japanese nongovernmental organization, was first launched in 1983 as an initiative by college students to promote international dialogue of peace-related issues through travel.
The current voyage marking the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the 87th iteration of that mission. The boat left Yokohama, Japan, on April 12 and has made stops in Singapore, Greece, Spain, France, Poland, Russia, Germany, Norway, Venezuela, Panama, India, Turkey and several other countries.
At each stop, the seven hibakusha join program organizers and a trio of "youth communicators" in engaging local leaders (via an affiliation with the Mayors for Peace program) and students via testimony, entertainment and conversation.
The voyage itself provides ample opportunity for the roughly 1,000 passengers aboard to immerse themselves in discussions of peace-related issues and to consider the lessons the hibakusha share in a variety of engaging formats — from group testimony to music to the singularly compelling performances of Takako Kotani, who invokes the spirit of her younger brother, who died of injuries suffered during the bombings, through puppetry.
The hibakusha demonstrated a bit of their entertainment prowess at Sunday’s gathering with a lightly rehearsed dance and a song honoring their hometown.