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Hibakujumoku Translation: “The Former Chief Priest of Anrakuji: Kōji Toyooka-san’s Story”

The fourth installment of my translations from Yūko Ishida’s Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees is about the ginkgo located in the Anrakuji temple grounds. This is a long excerpt, so please click “continue reading” to read on.

View through Anrakuji’s gate, with the ginkgo’s branches hanging down.

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The Former Chief Priest of Anrakuji: Kōji Toyooka-san’s Story

I wanted to hear more from people with knowledge of the bombing, so one day in June of 2014 I inquired at Anrakuji, which is home to the oldest ginkgo in the city. Anrakuji, situated 2.2 kilometers to the northeast of the hypocenter in the Ushita neighborhood, near where Kanda Bridge spans the Kyōbashi River, is an ancient temple with almost 500 years of history. The large ginkgo next to the temple gate is quite tall and can be spotted even from a distance. With its wide and elegant trunk, this tree is a symbol of Ushita.

The ginkgo’s branch passes through the temple gate.

The first time I saw the ginkgo’s thick branch passing through the roof of the temple gate, I admiringly exclaimed, “Woah, amazing!” Trees growing in cities have their branches cut if they get in the way of electrical lines or buildings. It’s thought that hurting the trees in order to prioritize people can’t be helped. However, this ginkgo is treated with great care. The carpenter designed a magnificent gate, and the tree is clearly growing unimpeded. The branches, growing long and round, were in full, verdant leaf.

That day, I joined third-year elementary school students from Hiroshima City to hear former Chief Priest Kōji Toyooka-san’s personal story of the bombing.

Toyooka-san, wearing the black robes of a Buddhist priest, met us. His expression and figure seemed kind, giving the impression that he was part of the calm atmosphere of Anrakuji itself.

After waiting a little while, we heard children’s energetic voices coming from the street. The ginkgo was probably also happily welcoming its small, lively guests. About 70 kids entered the main hall, sat politely, and quietly waited for Toyooka-san’s story.

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Students in Chicago Put On Atomic Bomb Themed Art Exhibit

Eighth-grade students from Chicago’s Polaris Charter Academy, led by teacher Carrie Moy, recently exhibited their atomic bomb themed artwork at 345 Art Gallery. Ms. Moy’s class spends the entire year studying the atomic bomb, and the class collaborated with the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago to express through art what they learned.

Students with their artwork

The art exhibit came about after the class visited the Center’s “Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition,” which was held in October 2016 and used materials on loan from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. After a discussion with Japanese Culture Center Director Saira Chambers about Hiroshima-Nagasaki, the class decided to put on their own exhibition. Ms. Chambers visited their classroom and helped the students work through and express their ideas.

Gallery 345 is run by a Chicago police officer, who donated the space to the community to hold events. According to its website, the gallery is meant to be “a space to showcase art as a form of social engagement.”

Students happily receive copies of “Paper Crane Journey”

The students received copies of “Paper Crane Journey” from ANT-Hiroshima during the gallery event. Ms. Chambers said the students were grateful for the books and happy to “know there were people listening to them far away.”

The Japanese Culture Center plans to collaborate with the class again for August 6 commemoration events, as well as continue working with Ms. Moy’s classes in future years.

A student discusses his artwork with Professor Miyamoto

DePaul University Professor Yuki Miyamoto also attended the exhibition. Professor Miyamoto teaches classes on the atomic bomb and takes a group of students on a study trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki every other year. The humble writer of this blog met her when she brought her students to the UNITAR Hiroshima Office last December.

From left to right: Yuki Miyamoto, Carrie Moy, Saira Chambers

Ms. Chambers is passionate about sharing what she’s learned about Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the atomic bomb. She said, “Chicago also has a deep history with the atomic bomb, and there is a community of dedicated advocates for knowledge and understanding of the topic here.” As the Center’s director, she supports “anyone who wishes to learn about this part of our collective past and how to make this a positive lesson for the future.”

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Hibakujumoku Translation: “The Scarred Ginkgo: Hibakujumoku Tilt?”

The third installment of my translations from Yūko Ishida’s Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees is about the ginkgo located in front of Hōsenbō’s main hall.

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The Scarred Ginkgo: Hibakujumoku Tilt?

We visited a temple called Hōsenbō in Hiroshima’s Teramachi neighborhood that was 1.13 kilometers from the hypocenter. As the name Teramachi (literally “temple town”) would suggest, there are many temples in this area, including one nearby that houses a hibakujumoku crepe-myrtle and Japanese sago palm.

The ginkgo ensconced in the temple’s U-shaped stair. Photo taken from Green Legacy Hiroshima’s hibakujumoku database.

If one stands in front of Hōsenbō, an atomic-bombed ginkgo, thought to be 150 years old, rises tall in front of the temple’s main hall. When viewed as a whole, the building’s shape and the ginkgo give a unique impression. The stairs leading up to the main hall circle the ginkgo in a U.

“This tree has a scar remaining from the atomic bomb. The upper part of the trunk has a fissure on the side facing the blast’s hypocenter. If you look closely, bark on that side of the tree is different from the rest. Other parts are robust and plump, but bark on the side exposed to the blast is more close-textured. Because of that, this tree tilts slightly toward the hypocenter. The trunk is growing straight, so it’s quite easy to see the tilt. Fifty years after the war, when it was decided that the main hall would be rebuilt, those connected with the temple met to discuss what was to be done about the tree, which was so close to the building; they decided on this shape for the stairs.”

“You advised them during that process?”

“Yes. The roots used to be surrounded by plates of iron grating, but that might have damaged the roots and trunk as the tree got bigger, so I’ve been removing them. If possible, the fallen leaves shouldn’t be thrown out; they should be allowed to accumulate around the tree and turn into fertilizer. When the stairs were built, holes were put in the wall surrounding the tree to allow wind to pass through and improve ventilation.

The ventilation holes in the stair and leaves left at the base of the tree.

“People who walk near here probably notice the building’s shape and can see that the tree is being treated with great care. They may ask the temple, ‘Why is that?’ Then the people here will be able to tell them, ‘This ginkgo endured the atomic bomb and survived.’ That’s why I’m glad the tree remains here in this shape. I think this tree, in silence, evokes various things.”

When I too asked if I could talk with the people of the temple, Shōko Togashi, wife of the chief priest, kindly agreed to speak with me.

“I’m told the ginkgo is my dad’s birth tree. My dad was born in Meiji 13 (1910), and it seems the ginkgo was planted in front of the main hall right around that time. In the summer of 1945, even the gardener had gone off to be a soldier, and there was no one to prune the tree; the branches grew as much as they could, and the leaves flourished. When the atomic bomb was dropped, this tree protected the main hall from the heat of the explosion, so the building wasn’t burnt as severely as one would expect. The tree had plenty of leaves, and ginkgo hold lots of moisture too. Although the hall wasn’t burnt, it still collapsed from the blast. My father’s younger brother was crushed by the main hall and died, and so did a cousin who was in the kitchen at the time. Around a month after that, my grandfather and aunt also died from the a-bomb sickness.”

Togashi-san spoke as she showed me photos of her family members who had died.

The trunk, scarred from the bombing.

“After the war, the temple grounds became considerably smaller than before due to town planning efforts to widen the roads. When it was decided to rebuild the main hall, the plan was to cut down the ginkgo to make room for the building. We spoke many times with the congregation about what to do with this tree. Some of them said, ‘We often played by this tree in our childhood,’ or, ‘When people around me died of the atomic bomb sickness, and I also wondered whether I would survive, I saw this tree putting out shoots and thought I could somehow go on living.’ My father also said he wouldn’t want to cut down the tree, no matter what; he had lost his family and the temple’s the main hall, and only this tree remained. Therefore, everyone gave their approval for the current design of the main hall.

“Although I don’t have any personal experience of the bombing, I speak to the children who come here for peace education about how this tree is treasured by the people who know of it.”

At Hōsenbō, the people affected by a single tree gathered many times, shared their feelings about it, and were able to devise a plan for how to let the tree live. Not only was the tree able to be left alive, but I think the conversations surrounding the tree are wonderful as well. If the people of the area share the desire to take care of the tree, it will be able to live a long life in this neighborhood and be respected as a living thing.

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「傷あとをのこすイチョウ」、石田優子の『広島の木に会いにいく』、 70-75ページ

Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees is published by Kaisei-sha (偕成社). Excerpts are posted with the permission of the author. Translations are my own, as an individual.

Links to previous Hibakujumoku Translation posts:

“The Tree Doctor of Hiroshima”

“The Winding Eucalyptus”

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Student-run Lingua franca Connects Youth to Hiroshima’s History

Lingua franca is a group of 10 to 15 university students who work to expand young people’s consciousness of Hiroshima, the atomic bombing, and war. While its subject matter may be serious, Linga franca’s methods are informal and warm.

Mizuho (center) visits the ANT office.

Today I was lucky enough to talk with one of Lingua franca’s members and current manager, Mizuho Motoune, who was born and raised in Hiroshima and is a second-year university student. The group’s name, which means “common language” in Italian, expresses the members’ aim of using conversation as a bridge to connect young people with Hiroshima’s history. The members of Lingua franca hail from Hiroshima University, Hiroshima City University, Hiroshima Bunkyo University, and Hijiyama University.

Lingua franca’s events, usually targeted at university students, have included screening the movie Yunagi no Machi, Sakura no Kuni, as well as a discussion session between Japanese students from Tokyo and Hiroshima and international students from Rwanda, where both parties learned about each other’s country and culture.

Flyer for 2015’s Hachi Roku Talk. Photo taken from Lingua franca’s Twitter.

Since the group’s inception, Lingua franca hosts Hachi Roku Talk (8.6 Talk) every year on August 6. Hachi Roku Talk is an event that gives youth an opportunity to speak with hibakusha in an informal setting. According to Mizuho, unlike a formal lecture, Hachi Roku Talk creates an atmosphere similar to hanging out at a cafe or on a porch, an atmosphere where youth can view the hibakusha as neighborhood elders. The event emphasizes the personal stories of hibakusha over impersonal facts about the bombing.

Around 100 people participate in Hachi Roku Talk, which saw its third iteration in 2016. Participants come from all over Japan and share how war affected their own communities, such as Okinawa or Tokyo. Mizuho said that growing up in Hiroshima, she mostly equated war with the atomic bombing, but through hearing others speak at Hachi Roku Talk about what war means to them, Mizuho’s own image of war became more nuanced.

2015’s Hachi Roku Talk. Photo taken from Lingua franca’s Facebook page.

In April of this year, Mizuho plans to team up with ANT-Hiroshima’s Kuniko to talk with university students about Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen. The event will especially be directed at students who came to Hiroshima’s universities from other parts of Japan; the organizers’ thinking is to help out-of-town students make the best use of their time in Hiroshima and learn about the city’s history. The students can also share their own thoughts with Lingua franca and each other.

I was very glad for the chance to talk with Mizuho. Since arriving in Hiroshima six months ago, I’ve met a number of inspiring young people working to spread the messages of Hiroshima, peace, and international understanding. English doesn’t quite do the trick, so (sorry, English readers) I’m going to resort to ありがとう、私も頑張ります!

Click here for Lingua franca’s Twitter, and here for the group’s Facebook page.

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Hibakujumoku Translation: “The Winding Eucalyptus”

広島城ユーカリA878 Photo by Shigeo Hayashi

The eucalyptus after the bombing. Photo by Shigeo Hayashi.

The second installment of my translations from Yūko Ishida’s Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees is about the eucalyptus located in the Hiroshima Castle grounds.

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The Winding Eucalyptus

There’s a eucalyptus along the castle’s moat, near the willow. It has grown quite large and has a thick trunk — a splendid tree. With long branches blowing in the wind and supported by a number of posts, it looks as if this eucalyptus is using a cane. Photos after the bombing show the eucalyptus had lost most of its branches and leaves. The trees around it had all died, so this remaining one stood out starkly. Since that time, the eucalyptus has grown large, and its abundant long, thin leaves wave in the wind. I admire this eucalyptus’ resilient vitality.

“Come take a look at this.” Horiguchi-san called me over, and I ducked under the branches and leaves to get close to the tree. Horiguchi-san pulled a leaf closer and showed it to me.

eucalyptus leaves

The two types of leaves this eucalyptus produces.

“This kind of eucalyptus has both round leaves and long, thin leaves in just one tree, which in an unusual characteristic. The new leaves are round, and the old ones have a long, thin key shape. It’s rare to see a tree in Japan with different shapes of leaves like this. Eucalyptus are resistant to fire since they come from Australia, where bush-fires are common. Even if the leaves burn up, eucalyptus can quickly put out new buds.”

Horiguchi-san pointed to the thick base of the trunk, where a slightly protruding section looked as if its portion of trunk had been stripped away.

“Very few parts of the trunk visible in photos from the time of the bombing are left. Just this.”

eucalyptus original trunk

The last remaining part of the tree’s trunk from the time of the bombing.

This eucalyptus has met with a harsh fate even after the bombing. In 1971, a huge typhoon bent the trunk 2.5 meters up from the base. It was thought that the tree was finished, but after a short time new shoots emerged from the north side of the trunk. After that, the trunk was bent by a number of other typhoons, but it kept growing new trunks from the shoots until it reached its present size. The bent original trunk most likely became hollow, with only the parts near the outside surface remaining, and with time that part died too and splintered bit by bit, until now only one thin piece is left.

eucalyptus

The eucalyptus’ multiple trunks, winding branches, and wooden supports.

Keiji Nakazawa, author of Barefoot Gen, wrote a manga featuring this eucalyptus. In Under the Eucalyptus Trees, Nakazawa drew the eucalyptus when its bent trunk still remained; looking at the tree now, I could see the change in its appearance.

“Although this eucalyptus has been in critical condition a number of times, it continues to grow with a powerful vitality even now. I was surprised when I noticed that the eucalyptus’ roots were growing so strongly they pushed away the stones of the castle moat. The tree’s branches grow in a winding pattern, and recently an investigation has begun as to whether that’s an effect of radiation.”

Are winding branches really the effect of radiation? What could this tree be telling us? The eucalyptus’ long, hanging foliage swayed slowly, rustling.

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「うねりながらのびるユーカリ」、石田優子の『広島の木に会いにいく』、 58-62ページ

Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees is published by Kaisei-sha (偕成社). Excerpts are posted with the permission of the author. Translations are my own, as an individual.

Link to previous translation.

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Green Legacy Hiroshima