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Hiroshima

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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Book Review: Rising From The Ashes, by Dr. Akiko Mikamo

product_thumbnailDoctor Akiko Mikamo was born in Hiroshima in 1961, the daughter of two atomic-bomb-survivors. Her book, Rising from the Ashes: A True Story of Survival and Forgiveness from Hiroshima, is a moving account of one family’s experience of the atomic bomb, the suffering, death and destruction it wrought, but it also tells of the resilience and determination to start new lives and ultimately to forgive and move on.

The story is narrated by Doctor Mikamo’s father, Shinji Mikamo, in the first person singular, which informs the account with a dramatic sense of immediacy.

The A-Bombing of Hiroshima

Doctor Mikamo’s future parents were both teenagers at the time of the bombing and both were badly injured by the blast.

Her mother, Miyoko, was working in the Postal Savings Center, just 700 metres from the epicenter, when the bomb exploded. She dived under her desk and was protected from the intense heat by the building, but sustained deep cuts in her back and shoulder from shards of flying glass.

Doctor Mikamo’s father, Shinji, was pulling tiles from the roof of  family home in Kamiyanagi-cho, near Sakae Bridge, to prepare it for enforced demolition, a measure that was supposed to prevent the spread of firestorms should Hiroshima be an air-raid target as many other cities on the Japanese mainland had been. The house was about 1,500 metres from the epicentre and when the atom bomb exploded Shinji suffered severe burns all down the right side of his body. He was pulled out of the ruins of the house by his father, Fukuichi Mikamo.

Fukuichi Mikamo

It quickly becomes evident that Fukuichi Mikamo is the true hero of the story. A kind, resourceful man, “forward thinking, practical and rational,” with a sharp sense of humour who, the narrator observes, was possibly the only atomic bomb victim to “laugh sarcastically” that at least the Americans had saved him the arduous job of dismantling his house.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing it is Fukuichi who forces Shinji to keep going in spite of the intense pain of his burns and injuries. They head east, over Sakae bridge and seek shelter in Toshogu Shrine. The next day Fukuichi insists that they must return to their home rather than wait for death to overtake them. They are repulsed by two heartless young soldiers. Every step in sheer agony, stepping with burnt feet on the dead and dying, or on rubble, splintered shards of wood and other debris, the scorching August sun playing on their burnt and exposed flesh.

Nevertheless, Fukuichi drives his son on until they reach their home. There, they are aided by the kindness of some neighbours, who give them each a bowl of miso soup – their first victuals in two days. They are eventually rescued from the city by a friend of Shinji’s who went to their house in search of them.

Gunzoku

Shinji, as a skilled civilian employee of the army, has the status and privilges of a gunzoku – one who “belongs to the military” – and is taken by the army to a military hospital on one of the islands off the south coast of Hiroshima. Shinji’s father, who is not a gunzoku, is not allowed to accompany him and he never sees his father again.

The harrowing story of Shinji’s survival, his intense sufferiing in hospital, his eventual discharge, also include many intriguing details which are mentioned in passing and add greatly to the interest of the book. For example, that able-bodied adult residents of Hiroshima were not allowed to leave the city without a permit during the war; that when the war was over, and Shinji asked one solder if Japan had won or lost, he replied that he was not sure…

After he is discharged from hospital, Shinji must find a way to make a living. He encounters both meanness and generosity in his struggle to survive. As the only one of his immediate family to have survived, he is reduced to the status of a “street rat”.

Yakuza

He observes that, with the loosening of government regulation, black markets flourished, prices soared and criminal gangs, whose activities had been severely curtailed during the military dictatorship, established themselves once again in the post-war era. The yakuza offered many young men in desperate circumstances an alluring way out of poverty. (For a flavour of Hiroshima’s criminal underworld in the immediate post-war era, see the film series Battles Without Honor and Humanity [仁義なき戦い Jingi Naki Tatakai].)

At the same time, legitimate businesses also began to appear, such as Daichi Sangyo, an electronics company. While one of Shinji’s friends chose the path of the yakuza, Shinji himself dedicated himself to his work as a radio technician, working in a small room in his in-laws’ house.

As Hiroshima emerged from devastation, the city was designated by the Japanese government in 1949 as an International Peace Memorial City, a policy which Shinji, and his daughter wholeheartedly endorsed.

Empathy

The last section of the book before the Afterword contains the most powerful lesson for the author and ultimately for us, the readers. It is a lesson which Doctor Mikami’s father, Shinji, learnt from his own father, Fukuichi, which is the importance of empathy.

In the Afterword, the author writes that we, as human beings, have a choice to “react” (I would prefer to use the word “respond” in this context) to negative experiences with compassion and forgiveness and to see how the other side views things. Her comments here echo those of Viktor Frankl, the German Jewish survivor of Auschwitz, who wrote, in Man’s Search for Meaning, that,

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

For Doctor Mikami, the appropriate response is the “surprisingly powerful and liberating” one of empathy because with empathy “you allow yourself room and energy to grow and heal”.

For the author, the very fact that she is alive today seems somewhat miraculous, and her life is informed by a deep sense of purpose, which is to convey the message that yesterday’s worst enemies can be today’s best friends.

As we observe the current civil war in Syria, that may seem unlikely, but Doctor Akiko Mikami, who lives and works in San Diego, is herself a living testimony to the realism of such a belief. In 2011, following the devastating earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster that struck Japan, the USA launched “Operation Tomodachi” – “the single largest humanitarian relief effort in American history”.

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Soka University Field Trip: Hiroshima, The Victims & The Questions Of Peace

On 6th January 2013 a group of 12 students travelled with their professor from Soka University of America to Japan and Korea to investigate the role that Hiroshima, nuclear energy and atomic bomb victims can play in creating a peaceful world.

The group visited Seoul and Hiroshima and met with atom bomb survivors and groups in both cities, which provided the group with an opportunity to engage with survivors from different backgrounds and with different perspectives.

While in Hiroshima, the group also visited Peace Park, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, and Hiroshima City University, where Professor Mikyoung Kim gave a lecture on the history of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the post-war politicization of bombings.

On Wednesday 9th January the group visited the ANT-Hiroshima office where Tomoko Watanabe gave a talk about Hiroshima and how the story of the survivors can give hope to other people around the world today who have come through wars or natural disasters, as well as helping to motivate people who want to work towards creating a peaceful world.

The group also had an opportunity to do some site seeing, explore Hiroshima and visit Miyajima before returning to Seoul to complete their studies.

Here is a documentary film the group made about their trip:

The group also made a very informative and interesting resource website about their trip which is well worth checking out:

 

Hiroshima, The Victims And The Questions Of Peace Learning Cluster

 

“Visiting both Korea and Japan, we learned various perspectives on the three issues we studied. It was interesting to meet and talk with hibakusha and NGOs working for nuclear power abolition or nuclear disarmament in both countries. We were able to recognize how different the situation was and still is for the Korean and Japanese hibakusha. Also, there were differences even in NGOs working towards the same goal.”

ANT-Hiroshima

 

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Impressions of Hiroshima 11: When I saw Hiroshima’s situation I could imagine my own country

After attending Tomoko Watanabe’s lecture, Grassroots Peace Activities, the participants were asked:What are your impressions of Hiroshima?Here are the comments of Mohammed Mojeeb, a civil administrator from Afghanistan:

I heard before about Hiroshima, that it was one of the cities of Japan that was bombed by an atomic bomb, but I didn’t have more information: How it happened; what was the effect of the atom bomb in this city.

When I came to this city and on the first day when I saw the video my tears came out when I saw the children in the video in that situation. It was too hard for me; my heart was crying. I was comparing those children to children of my country, Afghanistan. Still in my country I can see children die every day by bomb blasts. When I saw Hiroshima’s situation I could imagine my own country; children go out in the morning for school, their mothers waiting for them, but what happened is they find their children dead in their arms. I can feel the pain of mothers, the pain of fathers, the pain of children in Hiroshima who lost someone in that atomic bomb because we also have that pain in our hearts in our country….

People want peace. I am very happy that Hiroshima became a city where now all the people can live in a calm and relaxing environment. I [feel it is] wonderful that now people of Hiroshima can live in a good condition. I know all the people have the pain of losing someone from their family. I wish my country also one day will have a good situation, a situation or an environment where people can live with a relaxed mind, where a mother won’t be worried for her children to go to school and come back. I wish a good tomorrow for Hiroshima and my country. We only want peace, nothing else.

Mohammed Mojeeb
Civil Administrator
Afghanistan

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Impressions of Hiroshima 10: It Was Said That The Grass Would Never Grow Again…

Visiting Master Program student, Letila Moala Tuiyalani, a civil servant and graduate student from Fiji, was invited to attend the Local Government Traning Course organized by JICA. While on the course Letila attended Tomoko-san’s Grassroots Peace Activities presentation.After the presentation was over, Lelita and the other students were asked,What are your impressions of Hiroshima?

Hiroshima, which once was a military city, has now become a very peaceful and beautiful city, surrounded by beautiful natural scenery, very calm and quiet society, with friendly and kind-hearted people, very much against any kinds of atomic-bomb testing or nuclear weapon testing or construction around the world, still bears the pain and suffering of what happened or the tragedy that occurred 65 years ago, and although the smiles of its people are visible, one can see through their pain the tragedy that occurred in their city.

It was said that the grass would never grow again in Hiroshima, however, the very place that was targeted during the bombing seems to be the most beautiful place in the city today.

Hiroshima people have experienced the worst-nightmare human beings could experience. I sincerely feel for the people of Hiroshima, the suffering that her people had to go through and so I stand together with the people of Hiroshima in the fight against atomic-bombing and in the fight against humanity, in their protection as a whole.

I wish Hiroshima and her people the very best in the future.

Letila Moala Tuiyalani
Civil Servant & Graduate Student
Fiji

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Green Legacy Hiroshima