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Hibakujumoku Translation: “Something I Wish to Protect”

The fifth and final installment of my translations from Yūko Ishida’s Meeting Hiroshima’s Trees is her conclusion, not about any specific tree but about her experience of getting to know the hibakujumoku in general.

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Something I Wish to Protect

I would like to reflect on the hibakujumoku I’ve seen and what I thought after hearing the stories of the people connected with them. Not that I’ve come to some clear understanding and learned to hear the trees’ voices — I simply want to record what I’ve learned, in preparation for making a documentary.  

What is Peace?

I consider peace to be consideration for not only your own happiness but that of others, as well as the sharing of things we all need. It’s important to take notice of those weaker or in more difficult circumstances than oneself and to strive to listen to their voices. Prioritizing and scrambling for only what is convenient for oneself is what leads to war.

The hibakujumoku cherry at Hijiyama needs plenty of care.

Although it could be said that hibakujumoku are incredibly strong trees for surviving the atomic bombing, it is also true that as time has passed some trees have become weak and will die unless people protect them. Because trees cannot speak, we must listen carefully to their voices. To do so is to use one’s imagination to understand someone different from oneself. We aren’t alone in this world; we abide with many other people and living things. I will care for trees and forests with consideration and gratitude for the benefits I receive from them. These matters are deeply tied to peace.

People are hurt and nature is destroyed in war. In the continuing conflict with Israel, Palestinian olive trees, hundreds of years old and tended for generations, have been repeatedly cut down and burned by the Israeli army. With the destruction of their olive trees, which had been directly tied to people’s lives for so long, the Palestinians’ livelihood was taken away and their connection to their ancestors uprooted.

From 1960 to 1975, during the Vietnam War, the American army scattered defoliant chemicals as they fought guerrilla troops hiding in the forest. Dioxin contained in the defoliant didn’t only kill the thick forest, it also contaminated the ground and water. People who were showered with the defoliant or who lived on that land are developing disorders even after three generations.

I learned about these issues through my work in documentary filmmaking. I have friends in both Israel and Palestine, and when, captivated by the people and culture, I went to film in Vietnam, I was touched by the kindness and simple lifestyle of the people I met. That’s why I can feel connected to what is happening in far-away Palestine and Vietnam.

Do we look away from war, as if it is happening in some distant world, or do we try to imagine how the destroyed trees and suffering people feel? It’s painful to think about, but without doing so it’s hard to understand why war is wrong.

Mothers and children, as well as our beautiful woods and seas, are the ones hurt in war. I want to travel the world, make friends with people in the places I visit, and experience their culture and the nature around them. If war or a disaster occurs in those places, I will feel the pain of those who are hurt as the pain of friends.

To me, gathering information on hibakujumoku meant going to see the trees, meeting the people and experiencing the city of Hiroshima, and falling in love with them all. It also meant feeling the pain of war and the atomic bombing and reflecting on peace.

Living Together with Trees

Even though the hibakujumoku were severely injured by the atomic bomb, they continued to live. Even though their leaves and branches were burned up, even though their trunks were seared, even though whole trees were blown away in the blast, leaving only their roots, they put out new shoots. Trees have the strength to never give up on life. Even though people around them say to each other, “A tree this damaged is probably done for,” the trees pay no mind to such words and keep living anyway, using all their strength to transform themselves; they produce seeds and try to leave behind their offspring. Trees will revive any number of times. I too would like to follow their example.

If a seed falls into a crevice in a large stone but steadily puts out roots, searching for earth, it can push hard enough to move stone walls; it will grow with all its might. While weathering any number of changes in their environment, sometimes stubbornly, sometimes boldly, trees continue to live. Although I thought trees are stuck in the same place and have to endure everything without moving, I’ve come to feel they can actually change themselves freely and are flexible, unique creatures. I love that trees can live like that.

After I grew fond of trees and became conscious that I’m living together with them, the way I feel and can see the world around me was transformed completely. Spring, summer, fall, winter — with each season I look forward to seeing how the trees’ visages will change. I think trees are beautiful in every season, and each season reveals the nature of a tree’s life. Once I learned to see the differences in how each tree’s branches grow, the look of their leaves, and the girth and height of their trunks, I came to notice the many changes in the scenery of the streets and parks I walk through every day, and my pleasure in everyday life increased.

Once I realized that trees are living things, just like people and animals, I started carefully trying to get as much use as I could out of things made from wood. Desks and chairs, chopsticks and bowls — many things we use every day are made from trees. I try to not waste paper in notebooks and photocopies. How long can we rely on the benefits we receive from trees? I can’t go into more detail here, but I think we must learn about and protect forests and trees.

Something to Take On

People who have experienced war and the atomic bombing are speaking specifically to younger generations. They’re telling us of their painful experiences and the stories of their families, and it certainly isn’t pleasant for them to remember. However, they continue to speak so children can also understand that a war like that should never be repeated.

Hibakujumoku wisteria growing at Senda Elementary School.

For me, rather than the facts of what happened during war, I try to imagine what people who experienced it thought at the time and how they were able to overcome what happened to them and keep living. But more than just overcoming something, it would be better to say that even now the survivors are wrestling with the scars left on their minds and bodies. I was touched by the strength, cheerfulness, and kindness of everyone who spoke to me about their experiences, although they also taught me how difficult it is for those who experienced the bombing and lost family and friends to explain their profoundly complex emotions.

As I visited Hiroshima and got to know these people through many meetings, I felt the stories they told taking root inside of me, and my thought process and perspective has become enriched because of them.

I imagine people who experienced the bombing tell their stories with the aim of planting “seeds of peace” in the children who listen. I hope these “seeds of peace” bud in the children’s minds and grow strong as they are raised with care. As the children grow into adults, their little seedlings will be given water and nutrients as they hear stories, read books, watch films, and talk with their friends. In each of their minds, the trees will steadily spread their roots and reach out with their leaves and branches, and before long they’ll produce seeds of their own.

It will become difficult for children born in future generations to directly hear survivors’ experiences. For this reason, I want to inherit the survivors’ testimonies and continue to pass on their stories. Hibakujumoku will take on an even bigger role in spreading Hiroshima’s peace message in the future. Trees live longer than people, sometimes passing on their life to two or three generations of seedlings, and they continue conveying to us the memory of war and the atomic bomb. I wish for the next generation, and the next and the next, to continue to protect the lives of these precious hibakujumoku.

I want to go to Hiroshima and quietly touch the hibakujumoku. I want to close my eyes and feel the earth the tree’s roots are snaking through. There are many people at rest in that ground. The lives lost and returned to the earth in the atomic bombing have been absorbed by all the trees of Hiroshima. Now the trees, growing so beautifully, are bearing fruit and creating new life.

Hibakujumoku mikan producing fruit.

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「大切に守りたいもの」、石田優子の『広島の木に会いにいく』、 216-223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”

“The Scarred Ginkgo: Hibakujumoku Tilt?”

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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