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A-bomb survivor trees

ANT-Hiroshima Offers Interactive Lesson on Hibakujumoku

For many years, ANT-Hiroshima’s activities have included introducing hibakujumoku (A-bomb survivor trees) to both visitors and locals. In addition to tours of varying size and formality, often led by Arborist Chikara Horiguchi, ANT staff also give lectures and kamishibai (a form of picture-based storytelling) performances about hibakujumoku. Additionally, a certain ANT intern recently tested a new, interactive lesson for students.

The objective of the interactive lesson, as opposed to a normal tour, was to foster a feeling of ownership in the students: ownership of both their own learning process and of the hibakujumoku’s stories. Through first examining the trees by themselves — albeit with help from ANT staff, their teachers, and a packet of hints — the students formed their own conclusions as to what each tree was telling them about the atomic bombing.

Lecture, which miraculously ended on time, by ANT

The lesson, guinea pigged by a group of energetic students from the traveling high school Think Global School (TGS), took the following form:

  1. Introductory lecture by ANT-Hiroshima
  2. Independent investigation of hibakujumoku by students
  3. Presentation of hibakujumoku to the class

The introductory lecture had two goals: to share what hibakujumoku mean to Hiroshima citizens and survivors of the atomic bombing, and to familiarize students with what characteristics they might be looking for when they examine the trees themselves. The group was also told to come having watched a video testimony of hibakusha Suzuko Numata, whose story is deeply connected with the hibakujumoku Chinese parasol trees living in Peace Memorial Park.

One group of students examines a willow.

The class then left for Hiroshima Castle, where students split into four groups, each with their own hibakujumoku to get to know. A packet of hints was distributed to each group; the packet included a map, photos of the trees or area before or after the bombing (when available), and other relevant information tailored to each tree. Students had 40 minutes to examine their tree and plan a presentation introducing the tree to their classmates. Presentation guidelines included stating the direction of the hypocenter, positing which qualities of the tree they thought were an effect of the atomic bomb, and connecting their tree to something else they’d learned while in Hiroshima.

The whole group reassembled at one of the hibakujumoku and presentations began. After each group finished sharing, an ANT representative added to their findings or pointed out something they had missed. The students never failed to ask questions of their classmates or postulate their own theories as to why the hibakujumoku looked the way they did.

Students hotly debate the cause of the holly’s scars and wrinkles.

Although a few students had to leave immediately after the presentations, other stayed for a question and answer session with Arborist Chikara Horiguchi. Through the students’ questions, even ANT staff learned new facts and theories about the hibakujumoku at Hiroshima Castle. (Why had we never asked why that holly has roots on only one side?)

With this type of lesson, there was a chance that students would make mistaken assumptions about the trees that, unfortunately, could go uncorrected as the lively conversation raced ahead. However, their enthusiastic participation and the learning process ANT staff, teachers, and students all experienced during the lesson made the gamble worthwhile, and hopefully the students will continue inquisitively thinking about hibakujumoku.

If any readers are interested in participating in this kind of lesson, please feel free to contact ANT-Hiroshima. The first run with Think Global School gave us tips for how to keep improving, and we welcome new participants!

Literal tree-hugging unplanned but welcome.

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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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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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Nine Introductions to Hibakujumoku

On November 4, Tokyo University of Agriculture Professor Yoichi Kunii, Kuniko Watanabe, and myself traversed the streets, gardens, hills, shrines, and temples of Hiroshima to gather data on hibakujumoku (atomic-bombed trees).

Professor Kunii plans to use his findings to visually represent the trees using 3D computer modeling. His models, in connection with University of Tsukuba Professor Masakazu Suzuki’s articles on hibakujumoku, will allow readers and students to quickly visualize Professor Suzuki’s findings. Creating 3D models of the hibakujumoku that still stand in their original location can clearly show the direction the tree is leaning, the direction of its branches and roots, and any other characteristics that may be a result of exposure to the atomic bomb. Professor Kunii hopes also to bring his students to collect data on the trees. Not only will it be a great learning opportunity for his students, but locals (for example, children at Myojyo-in Nursery, in whose schoolyard stand two hibakujumoku) will learn about the trees through interacting with the researchers.

Click “Continue reading” below for photos and introductions to the hibakujumoku we visited.

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Shukkeien’s ginkgo leans toward the hypocenter of the atomic blast.

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Outreach Ecology Works With Green Legacy Hiroshima In Photodocumentary Of A-bomb Witness Trees Of Hiroshima

In August of this year a team of photographers from OutreachEcology.com visited Hiroshima and worked with Green Legacy Hiroshima to produce a “spherical photodcumentary” of the a-bomb survivor trees that continue to flourish in the city.

witnesstreesphotodoc1

 

The aim of the project was to photograph some of the A-bomb survivor trees using Google Photo Sphere on an Android smartphone to create a 360 panoramic record of fifteen of the trees in their current locations. The resulting photo is in two dimensions, but can be “warped” by a computer and transformed into a sphere to provide the panoramic effect.

witnesstreesphotodoc2

The team were also keen to stress that the photos should be made available as a resource for projects relating to the a-bomb survivor trees as witnesses of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. One suggestion was that they could be used as part of a “then and now” project that places photos from the immediate post-war period alongside photographs of the same location taken today, such as the panoramic photo-sphere photos.

witnesstreesphotodoc3

With that in mind, we have made available the full report as a downloadable PDF file in the Resources page of this blog. The PDF file includes a download link to the complete archive of a-bomb-survivor tree photospheres and a link to the Google streetview archive of the trees as well as many other resource links of use to reasearchers.

Click Here to go to the Resources page.

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Green Legacy Hiroshima