An emotional John Kerry said Hiroshima’s history should teach humanity to avoid conflict and strive to eradicate nuclear weapons as he became the first US secretary of state to visit the site of the world’s first atomic bombing.
Mr Kerry made his remarks at a press conference after laying a wreath at the city’s atomic bomb memorial.
He was joined by foreign ministers from the G7 group of nations who are holding talks in the city. They laid wreaths at the memorial and observed a minute of silence.
The US attack on Hiroshima in the final days of Second World War killed 140,000 people and scarred a generation of Japanese.
Mr Kerry said he hoped his trip would underscore how Washington and Tokyo had forged a deep alliance over the last 71 years.
“While we will revisit the past and honour those who perished, this trip is not about the past,” he told Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida, a Hiroshima native.
“It’s about the present and the future particularly, and the strength of the relationship that we have built, the friendship that we share, the strength of our alliance and the strong reminder of the imperative we all have to work for peace for peoples everywhere.”
The otherwise sombre occasion was lifted by the presence of 800 Japanese schoolchildren waving flags of the G7 nations. They cheered as the ministers departed with origami cranes in their national colors around their necks.
Speaking after his visit, Mr Kerry said: “It is a stunning display, it is a gut-wrenching display...It tugs at all of your sensibilities as a human being. It reminds everybody of the extraordinary complexity of choices of war and what war does to people, to communities, countries, the world.”
Japanese survivors’ groups have campaigned for decades to bring leaders from the US and other nuclear powers to see Hiroshima’s scars as part of a grassroots movement to abolish nuclear weapons.
During Mr Kerry’s visit neither Japanese officials nor survivor groups pressed for the US to apologise.
“I don’t think it is something absolutely necessary when we think of the future of the world and peace for our next generation,” Masahiro Arimai, a 71-year-old Hiroshima restaurant owner, said of an apology.
Yoshifumi Sasaki, a 68-year-old, longtime resident, agreed: “We all want understanding.”
Both wished for US president Barack Obama to follow in Mr Kerry’s footsteps next month. The president has not made a decision about visiting Hiroshima and its memorial when he attends a G7 meeting of leaders in Japan in May.