Categories

Archives



Hope87

hibakujumoku

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.

*  *  *

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.

*  *  *

「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”

Share

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.

* * *

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.

Continue reading

Share

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

「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”

Share

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

「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.

Share

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

「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

Share

Green Legacy Hiroshima