Japan marks Hiroshima bombing anniversary

People pray in front of the cenotaph for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western Japan.
People pray in front of the cenotaph for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western Japan. PHOTO: KYODO VIA REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan on Saturday (Aug 6) marked 71 years since the city of Hiroshima was destroyed by a US atomic bomb, as its mayor urged the world to unite in abolishing nuclear weapons.

The annual ceremony came just months after Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit the city, paying moving tribute to victims of the first atomic bomb.

American B-29 bomber Enola Gay dropped its deadly payload, dubbed "Little Boy", on the western Japanese city at 8.15am local time on August 6, 1945.

Much of the city was incinerated by a wall of heat up to 4,000 degrees C - hot enough to melt steel - killing tens of thousands.

Hiroshima mayor Kazumi Matsui recalled the visit by Obama in his peace declaration during the solemn ceremony.

"(His visit) was the proof that Hiroshima's strong wish not to tolerate the 'absolute evil' was shared by President Obama," he said.

"It is the time for us to make actions towards the abolition of the 'absolute evil', the ultimate form of inhumanity, united and with passion."

The bombing claimed the lives of 140,000 people. Some died immediately while others succumbed to injuries or radiation-related illnesses weeks, months and years later.

A second bomb destroyed the city of Nagasaki three days later. Japan announced its surrender in World War II on August 15.

Many in Japan feel the attacks amount to war crimes and atrocities because they targeted civilians and due to the unprecedented destructive nature of the weapons.

But many Americans believe they hastened the end of a bloody conflict, and ultimately saved lives, thus justifying the bombings.

Obama in May embraced survivors as he made his historic visit to the city and its Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

"71 years ago, death fell from the sky and the world was changed," he said of the bomb, adding it "demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself".

Obama offered no apology for the bombings, having insisted he would not revisit decisions made by then president Harry Truman.

But his moving tribute and brief conversations with elderly atom bomb survivors, which included an unexpected embrace with one of them, profoundly impressed most Japanese.

Since Obama went to Hiroshima the park and accompanying memorial museum have witnessed an increase in visitors.

But an association of atomic bomb survivors has criticised his speech, saying he failed to explicitly mention US responsibility for the bombing.

Abe, who also attended the service, faced harsh criticism last year, especially from A-bomb survivors, for his policy of expanding the role of Japan's military and opening the door to possibly sending troops into combat for the first time since the war.