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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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Hibakujumoku Translation: “The Tree Doctor of Hiroshima”

「広島の木」 cover

Front cover of Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees

In my search for information on hibakujumoku, I cracked open Yūko Ishida’s book Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees (広島の木に会いにいく) and was immediately engrossed. I want to share the book’s stories, both of trees and of people, through a series of translated excerpts on this blog. There are more installments to come!

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.

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The Tree Doctor of Hiroshima

The first person I talked to when I began collecting information on hibakujumoku was Arborist Chikara Horiguchi. Hiroshima City certifies that the hibakujumoku bear wounds from the bombing through inquiring with experts and using photographic data. There are currently 161 hibakujumoku of various kinds registered by the city. The trees’ characterics and stories vary, and one can’t understand all of them immediately. However, a tree doctor who has spent many years caring for these trees probably knows a great deal.

Horiguchi-san gives the impression of a quiet, gentle person. When I first met him, he was sunburned, perhaps from so much outdoor work, and wearing jeans that allowed for plenty of movement. I heard he was 67 at the time, but he certainly didn’t seem his age. I first asked Horiguchi-san about his work as a arborist.

“The majority of a tree doctor’s work is checking to make sure the trees are healthy and treating weak trees. Trees are living things, like humans and animals — they can get hurt and sick. They have a time when they sprout from their seed and steadily grow, but as they get older they also become weaker.”

Horiguchi-san is the type to make sure to use polite language when he speaks. My interest in him grew, and I asked why he set his sights on this line of work.

Jōmon Sugi

Jōmon Sugi

“I was born in 1945 and grew up in Miyazaki Prefecture. When I was a fourth-year university student, lost as to what to do in the future, I went to go see the “Jōmon Sugi” on Yakushima, which had been discovered the previous year. The Jōmon Sugi is said to be 2,000 years old, the oldest tree in Japan. It’s covered in moss, the upper part of the tree has other trees growing from it, and many creatures live in symbiosis there. There’s so much life in this Japanese cedar that one tree feels like a whole forest. I was deeply moved when I saw it. I decided I liked trees and would find work related to them.

“When I graduated from university and found work as a gardener in Fukuoka, at first my seniors laughed because I didn’t know anything about trees; I was embarrassed. I used my first pay to buy an illustrated reference book on trees and shrubs, and I studied like mad. The following year, I joined a landscape gardening company in Hiroshima thanks to a connection there. My job was planting trees in Hiroshima City every day. At the time I thought I wanted to work in a traditional Japanese garden, and so I told the company director, ‘This is different from the work I had in mind.’ The director replied, ‘Planting trees in Hiroshima is part of the peace industry.’ Until that moment I hadn’t been aware of the connection between ‘peace’ and ‘trees.’ From then on, planting trees in Hiroshima City became incredibly important to me, and I gave my work my all.”

“Peace industry” could perhaps also be said as “working for peace.” Thanks to the efforts of Horiguchi-san and others like him, the verdant Hiroshima we all know exists today.

“About three years after that, I was helping a man named Tadahiko Yamano, who came from Osaka to treat trees. He said to me, ‘You seem to have a lot of love for trees, so how would you feel about looking after Hiroshima’s trees that survived the atomic bombing?’ That’s how I came to be involved with the hibakujumoku. Yamano-san taught me to ‘listen to the trees’ voices.’ At the time I wondered why he said that to me, since trees can’t speak. However, from then on ‘listening to the trees’ voices’ has become a theme in my work.

Horiguchi-san

Horiguchi-san, giving a presentation on hibakujumoku

“Many new roads and buildings were constructed in the period of economic growth after the war. People only focused on new things, and efforts were solely concentrated on planting trees. Old things like the hibakujumoku were forgotten and not cared for. But I thought there was something wrong about that, that the a-bombed trees are a part of Hiroshima’s history. However, if just one gardener says that, the world won’t lend its ear. In 1991 I knew an arborist organization had been created, and the following year I took their test. I became an arborist because I thought being a qualified tree specialist would help me protect the hibakujumoku.”

On days off from his landscape gardening job or after work, Horiguchi-san makes time to check up on and treat the hibakujumoku. In the 30 years since he began working with these trees, Horiguchi-san has watched over the hibakujumoku as some regained their health, while others withered.  

“I’m glad when a tree recovers; I think, ‘Thank you for becoming healthy.’ But when things go badly, I often wonder what happened: Did I do something wrong, or did the tree just lose its vitality?”

When I question Horiguchi-san about how he feels when a tree dies, he thinks for a moment, then replies, “Saen nō.” “Saen” is Hiroshima dialect for “no good” or other expressions of regret. When Horiguchi-san faces a tree, is he listening to its voice? I asked Horiguchi-san once again for more details about his work.

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「広島の樹木医さん」, 石田優子の『広島の木に会いにいく』、 31-37ページ

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Exhibit on Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Held in Jordan

On December 17, 2016, the Japan International Cooperation Agency held an exhibition and workshop on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Amman, Jordan. The event, target at Jordanian Japanese learners, had many enthusiastic participants and aimed to give attendees a chance to think together about the meaning of peace and war, as well as impart a deeper knowledge of the atomic bombings and the two cities’ subsequent recovery. JICA hopes that participants will continue to deeper their interest in these two cities of peace and come visit them in the future.

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Photos courtesy of Yuichi Mori, JICA.

The workshop first used a sightseeing video and a quiz to introduce participants to Hiroshima and Nagasaki before delving more deeply into topics such as hibakusha, the present-day Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the peace memorial ceremony. Participants then read the Arabic translation of ANT-Hiroshima’s “Paper Crane Journey,” explored the significance of paper cranes, and folded their own. To close, the group reflected on what peace means to each person individually.

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In a post-event survey, many participants wrote that they came to the exhibit to learn more about Japanese culture, along with specific details about the bombings. Some responses to the exhibition focused on how the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suffered, while others were most struck by the hope for recovery — either way, the event brought the stories of the bombings into sharper relief for the participants and helped them reflect on their own experiences in relation to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Green Legacy Hiroshima