Upon Leeper’s appointment in 2007, Akiba told reporters that the city needed the American’s energetic contributions to global peace, his English skills and international agility, and his capacity to reach beyond borders – especially as survivor ranks had diminished (their average age is now 78).
Leeper was critical to Akiba’s success at the UN, where the mayor was able to develop alliances with international partners and nongovernmental organizations.
"Steven speaks Japanese and has been doing peace activism for a long time,” Katsutoshi Kajikawa of the Hiroshima branch of the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs said in 2007. “[That’s why] there is no criticism against him, just because he is an American."
“People in Hiroshima experienced the end of the world,” Leeper says. “That’s something that completely transcends nation-states; they don’t even matter at that level. [Hiroshima residents] were very appreciative when I was appointed because I can help them get the word out, and that’s what they really want.”
Just as the residents of Fukushima, site of the ongoing nuclear power plant crisis, distinguish themselves from the rest of Japan, and New Yorkers often speak of 9/11 with propriety, the population of Hiroshima has logged their experience of the A-bomb into a personal ledger. “We hurt the way no other Japanese understand,” young female Hiroshima student, Akiko Inoue, explains. “We lost family.”
Years of the neglect and even dismissal of survivors by the national government in Tokyo have long deepened the chasm.