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Hundreds Flock to Hiroshima Streets for a Glimpse of Summit Leaders

"I came all the way from Osaka to feel the atmosphere of the G7 Hiroshima Summit," said an 18-year-old university student we caught up with on May 21.



Kotaro Kimura, 18 years old, spoke to JAPAN Forward as he looked for world leaders passing on the streets of Hiroshima on May 21. (© JAPAN Forward by Arielle Busetto)

As the car carrying Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky drove by on its way to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on May 21, people on the road gleefully waved. Their gesture marked a symbolic moment of the G7 Hiroshima Summit. 

A policeman directing the crowd seemed the happiest to be there. He gave advanced notice about when the cars with dignitaries would be driving by. "Is everyone ready? Have your phones out, and make sure you are not taking a selfie! The cars will be arriving soon." 

People lined the streets well into the evening, hoping to spot politicians escorted by security driving through the city.

A young Hiroshima native in her 20s also peered hopefully at the cars driving by. She told me how the day before, her whole family gathered in front of the TV watching the dignitaries in their own hometown. 

"It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. "I hope that this G7 Hiroshima Summit becomes a message that it is possible to aspire to a world without nuclear weapons."

Police cheerfully handle the crowds along the roads, bringing a smile to the long waits in Hiroshima on May 21. (© JAPAN Forward by Arielle Busetto).

Increased Police Security

The jovial policeman later explained to the crowd that he came all the way from Fukushima, in the north of Japan. He also joined 24,000 police officers from around the country who were deployed for the summit's security measures.   

Among the police instructions to the public, the officers asked all those lining the streets not to hold plastic bottles in their hands. This time, they were judged "very dangerous." 

In the month prior to the G7 Summit, the Japanese Prime Minister was the victim of an attempted terrorist attack in Wakayama. At that time a visitor hurled an object he was carrying at the Japanese leader. Mr Kishida came out of the incident unhurt.


For this event, the police appear to have adopted the approach of taking no chances. When world leaders were in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, police sealed off even the parallel streets. White sheets were put up around the park to block out the view. Whole portions of the city were closed off, causing widespread traffic jams and also delays in public transportation. 

Yet, at the same time police standing on patrol on May 21 seemed also to want to avoid causing any unnecessary inconvenience to local citizens. They kept a cheerful demeanor. 

"We have been looking forward to working here for two days, I hope you all are too! So we ask for everyone's cooperation," shouted one policeman. 

Crowds take pictures of world leaders passing through the streets of Hiroshima on May 21. (© JAPAN Forward by Arielle Busetto)

Welcoming the Ukrainian President

JAPAN Forward caught up with a woman who was filming the view as dignitaries were driving past near the Hiroshima Memorial Park. 

She welcomed the fact that Mr Zelenskyy was in the city. Intently watching the online streaming of the Ukrainian president's visit, she laid flowers in the Hiroshima Memorial Park. 

"He's risking his life to be here," she reflected. She commented how, out of all the leaders in town for the G7, Zelenskyy was positioned to understand the tragic history of Hiroshima. 

"He comes from a country being bombed every day. If anything, he is the one who can probably understand more than anyone else," she explained. 

Our interlocutor had lived in Hiroshima for over 15 years. She recalled the historic moment in 2016 when United States President Barack Obama became the first American leader to visit the Hiroshima Memorial Park. 

"That day, I actually took a day off and waited on the streets to see Obama drive by. I remembered that I was upset that I couldn't see his face properly. Because I was so focused on filming with my phone!" she said laughing. 

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as they take part in the G7, Partner Countries and Ukraine meeting during the G7 leaders' summit in Hiroshima on May 21, 2023. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan/HANDOUT via REUTERS)

A Successful Summit

Appraising the significance of the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, she said, "I think that Hiroshima has really managed to convey its appeal to the world. It's an incredible event that Zelenskyy came here, and there is a lot of world attention."

Ultimately, she also attributed some of the success to the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida. Because, she suggested, he is from the city of Hiroshima. 

"Kishida might have grown up in Tokyo, but I think he's closer to us than someone who isn't from here. I think that played a role in sending a message from Hiroshima." 

Looking to the future, she reflected, "I hope the G7 becomes an opportunity for people to learn more about the city. To come here and visit," she concluded. 

As we took a selfie together and took our leave, she commented happily, "This picture will be a great memento from today!"

Crowds in Hiroshima watch as cars carrying world leaders pass by on May 21. (© JAPAN Forward by Arielle Busetto)

Feeling the Atmosphere

Kotaro Kimura was sitting on a seat just by the sidewalk, on the road towards the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, when JAPAN Forward spoke to him. 

He's an Osaka native but studying as a first-year student at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies. And he explained his passion for international relations. 

He had resolved that same morning to come to Hiroshima to see Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenksyy in person. Kimura showed me the video he took, pointing out the car he thought to be the one with the Ukrainian president. "I wish that I was closer, but at least I managed to film it," he said. 

Elaborating on his motivations, Kimura explained, "I am part of the Model United Nations group in university. And I am currently representing Ukraine, so I felt an added incentive to come here," he explained. 

Model United Nations is an extracurricular school activity where students take on the diplomatic positions of countries in a range of issues, much like the United Nations. It's an effort to gain an understanding of international politics. 

President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and other G7 leaders pose for a photo before a working session on Ukraine during the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, Sunday, May 21, 2023. (©Susan Walsh/Pool via REUTERS)

A Hope for Future Change

But, more deeply, Kimura reflected on a previous experience at another event involving foreign dignitaries visiting Japan. That was the G20 Summit in Osaka, in 2019

"I remember how exhilarating it was to see South Korea's President, Moon Jae In, at Kansai International Airport. I suppose I wanted to experience that feeling again," he said. 

Looking towards the result of the G7 summit, he said he was hopeful for what the future will bring. 

"Japan is an odd country compared to others in the G7, because it doesn't have its own military. In a way, I think Japan has a unique point of view to share with the world. People can come here to Hiroshima, remember the brutality of war, and work towards a solution." 

"Most of the time, G7 summits don't have such concrete results. But I think this time was different, I think that this could be a key meeting for changing the course of the war in Ukraine," concluded Kimura. 

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Author: Arielle Busetto