For the past five years, another American seated in the VIP section also has been intimately involved in ensuring that the ceremony goes off without a hitch. Since 2007, Steven Leeper has been chairman of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, responsible for overseeing the annual ceremony, the Hiroshima Peace Museum, and the city’s efforts to communicate its message to the world.
That a citizen of the nation that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima now leads the city’s 100-employee, $18 million peace foundation raises eyebrows.
“Very odd that I as a non-Japanese should be at the very top,” Mr. Leeper admits. “But I’m not here to tell them how to run things. I’m here to help them rid the world of nuclear weapons.”
First tapped by Hiroshima's former mayor
Leeper was first tapped to join the cause in 2001 by former Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, the best known of the city’s many mayoral advocates of a nuclear weapons ban. Unlike most Japanese politicians, Mr. Akiba is fully bilingual, a graduate of the University of Tokyo and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. As president of the international organization, Mayors for Peace, he traveled the globe to convey Hiroshima’s plea, leading a delegation of mayors from 61 nations at the United Nations to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2005.