Japanese pop idol Shinji Harada was born in Hiroshima on December 5, 1958, and began his career at the age of 15 as the guitarist for the band Yamaha. He was the first artist in Japanese history to have three singles in the Oricon top 20 at the same time, a feat he achieved when he was only 18 years old. As a Hiroshima native, Harada has dedicated his career to spreading a message of peace in a world free from nuclear weapons. For almost a decade Harada has come to New York to perform at an interfaith peace gathering to remember the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as at the UN. Thanks to an introduction facilitated by noted psychologist and peace activist Dr. Judy Kuriansky, JapanCulture•NYC caught up with Harada during his four-day stay in the city in early August.
JapanCulture•NYC: You’re from Hiroshima, so why do you come to New York every year on August 6 for the commemoration of the bombings instead of attending services in your hometown?
Shinji Harada: My theme of music is world peace. Because I was born in Hiroshima and learned many things about nuclear weapons and about Hibakusha [survivors of the atomic bombings], I started composing my music [about that] . . . About eight years ago I had the chance to perform here. At that time there was a very big Hiroshima Prefecture party in Tokyo, and I met Mr. Kobayashi. He’s a Hiroshima Hibakusha. He used to be a journalist at NHK. He invited me here to the Universal Peace Day event. When I perform here, I can have a lot of chances for spreading it to the world. Since then I’ve been performing here every summer.
Dr Judy: He also has come for 9/11. Universal Peace Day was founded by SuZen 25 years ago, and Shinji became a part of that, and Rev. T.K. Nakagaki was producing the floating lantern ceremony at 9/11 at the pier . . . I also moderated and produced panels for the United Nations Department of Public Information NGO conferences, and so Shinji would come here for those as well.
JC•NYC: What is your reaction when you come here and see so many people who are interested in these commemorative events?
SH: More people come each year. I felt every year they want to know more about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and our event. I think our message can go into their hearts . . . I really like American culture. After World War II the Japanese have received so many things from the US, right? So most of our generation really likes American culture. When I come here, I don’t want to look for the person who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Dr Judy: He doesn’t harbor any resentment toward America and doesn’t want to carry on the message of pointing fingers and saying, “You bad Americans, look what you did to torture us.” He kind of wants to come from another place and say, “Look how we all love each other now.” He’s not an angry activist.
JC•NYC: There is a nuclear power plant very close to New York City. After 3/11 occurred in Tohoku, I think a lot of people locally started to think, “This could happen to us here in New York.” Is that part of your message, too? Have you been speaking out about what is happening in Fukushima?
SH: Yeah, I’m speaking about Fukushima. It’s like the same thing. The Japanese government wants to make nuclear power to get more money without considering safety issues.
Dr Judy: Shinji goes back every month to play in Fukushima Prefecture and the Tohoku area out of the goodness of his heart because he realizes that somebody has to continue this.
SH: The people in Tohoku, especially from the seaside, they lost their homes to the tsunami. So, they are living in temporary housing. I’m visiting that kind of temporary housing community . . . The media don’t say anything about the situation. Every year the information is less and less . . . The Tohoku people want everyone else to remember them.
JC•NYC: Is it difficult to go to Tohoku and talk to the victims of the 3/11 disaster?
SH: The people in Tohoku are like Hibakusha. When I get together with them, I just want to make them comfortable and happy and loved. I don’t want to talk to them about sad details of the disaster; I want them to see their future is brighter. So every time I go there, it’s a party. Their spirits are happy. I want to go there to support them, but when I get there . . . watching them singing, laughing, enjoying, crying. So that gives me energy. The people in Tohoku are giving their effort to recover every day. I recognize that pain, so I can feel the same thing.
JC•NYC: What’s your #1 message?
SH: Very simple: Kindness. Kindness for other people, for other life. I think it’s the key word to get world peace. We have so many people in this world, right? . . . If everybody has love and kindness for other life, everybody can be a lighthouse sending kindness.
After performing two songs at the UN’s high-level forum on the culture of peace on Friday, September 6, Harada gave concerts in Seattle, where he has family members. In a sense, Harada is preaching to the choir because his message of peace is being delivered to people who are already against war and nuclear weapons. However, he is currently in talks with people connected with former French president Jacques Chirac to plan a possible European tour, which is interesting when you consider France contains the second most nuclear power plants in the world, behind the US. Harada also dreams of a US tour so that he can reach as many people as possible to educate everyone – especially those who support nuclear energy – about the horrors of the atomic bomb.