When Kenichiro Sasae returns to Hiroshima this week for President Obama’s historic visit, it will be a homecoming of sorts for Japan’s ambassador to the United States.

Sasae, who has served at the embassy in Washington since 2012, spent three years in Hiroshima during high school in the late 1960s. During his last year, he lived with several other students in a group house that was operated by a couple who had survived the atomic blast on Aug. 6, 1945.

“They were not rich, but they lived a humble life,” Sasae recalled in an interview over breakfast at the ambassador’s residence in Northwest Washington. “I learned a lot from this couple about how you can live a good life even though they had been through a very terrible moment.”

AD

The husband was a postal worker, and the wife ran the boarding house, Sasae said. “They did not talk much” about the past, he said. “But they were proud of their son who went to Tokyo University. They always asked us to study hard.”

AD

Sasae did not grow up in Hiroshima but rather in the nearby Okayama prefecture to the east. He was an aspiring soccer player and learned that a high school affiliated with Hiroshima University had a top-flight program for the sport, so he left home to live in the boarding dormitories.

He didn’t make the school’s premier team. Instead, he played in the intramural league for his dorm and participated in the all-male cheerleading squad. His dormitory master was a rigid coach who made the players do training runs down to Peace Memorial Park, the 30-acre plot that marks the nuclear ground zero. Obama will visit the park to lay a wreath at the cenotaph that honors those who died — an estimated 140,000 in the blast and its aftermath.

AD

Sasae, who attended Tokyo University and joined the Japanese Foreign Ministry, returns to Hiroshima on occasion to reunite with his classmates. He makes sure to always try to eat okonomiyaki, a local specialty made of a savory pancake with pork or seafood over fried noodles. Two years ago, a group of alumni from his alma mater visited him in Washington, and they held a barbecue in the spacious back yard of the ambassador’s residence.

Reflecting on his schoolboy days, Sasae said: “There were some people around me who went through the war and this catastrophe and survived. And I listened to some of the stories myself. I have my own sense of how they felt apart from the judgment of history. Every human suffers because of war, whether they were among the winners or losers.”

AD
AD