Hiroshima mayor Tadatoshi Akiba, PhD ‘70, is working to replace his city’s war-torn image with one of peace, culture, business, and entertainment.
Elected in 1999 after nine years in Japan’s House of Representatives, Akiba is now in his second term as mayor. Issues of world peace and nuclear disarmament lie close to his heart. He is president of Mayors for Peace, a global organization whose members hail from 1,381 cities in 117 countries and regions. The group aims to create a worldwide network of civic leaders who call for an end to the manufacture and use of nuclear weapons. Akiba was delighted when, in June, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution strongly supporting his group’s request that China, Russia, and the United States affirm that they no longer target each other’s cities.
Back home, Akiba has focused on cleaning up Hiroshima’s rivers and its bidding process. In 2003, he appointed an independent committee to evaluate the city’s public-works projects and eliminate closed-door deals. “We’ve cut down on most unnecessary projects,” he reports, “and greatly lowered costs to taxpayers.”
Akiba is popular with Hiroshima’s citizens, but his political foes have assaulted him verbally and attacked his office with fire extinguishers. His efforts to fight these tactics in court have sent three opponents to prison. “Life hasn’t been pleasant, but we must clean up the political environment, just as we do the rivers and parks,” he says.
The mayor’s wife, Shizuka, plays a prominent role promoting music in Hiroshima, organizing a memorial concert every August. Their two children, ages 11 and 7, live with them in Hiroshima; Akiba’s 31-year-old son from his first marriage, James, lives in Boston and runs Bostig Engineering.
Akiba recalls his days at MIT as eye-opening: “MIT’s culture was so lively and engaging. I learned not only from my professors, but also from fellow students.”
“Not to be overly dramatic,” he adds with a gentle laugh, “but I feel that civilization is being created in that atmosphere.”