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Book Review: Shigeko! A Girl from Hiroshima Crosses the Ocean

In her book Shigeko! Hiroshima kara umi wo watatte (Shigeko! A Girl from Hiroshima Crosses the Ocean), Seiko Suga chronicles the life of Shigeko Sasamori, a woman who was badly scarred in the atomic bombing, received reconstructive surgery in Tokyo and the U.S., and later permanently moved to the latter. The nonfiction book, published in 2010, is framed by Seiko meeting with Shigeko in Hiroshima to learn about her life; the chapters then switch to Seiko narrating Shigeko’s experiences in third person. Although Shigeko! is unavailable in English, the Japanese, targeted at children in late elementary school, is easy enough to understand without perfect knowledge of the language.

Shigeko’s story begins on August 6, 1945, when she was 13 years old. After being exposed to and horribly burned by the atomic bomb near Tsurumi Bridge, Shigeko managed to walk to what is now Danbara Elementary School, where she laid semi-conscious for four days without receiving medial attention, food, or water. She continuously mumbled her name and address, and finally someone told Shigeko’s family where she was. After bringing her home, Shigeko’s family nursed her back from the brink of death, but she still had severe keloid scars on her face, neck, and hands, the latter of which would give her a lifelong slight handicap.

Monument to Norman Cousins in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

After meeting Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto at Nagarekawa Methodist Church, Shigeko joined a group of young women all scarred by the bomb. Some of them traveled to Tokyo to receive reconstructive surgery; it was then that the term “Atomic Bomb Maidens” became widely publicized in Japan. Through Reverend Tanimoto’s introduction, Shigeko met journalist and writer Norman Cousins, who was visiting Hiroshima with his wife. Cousins raised money for 25 young women from Hiroshima, including Shigeko, to undergo more surgery New York City in 1955. Inspired by both her time in the U.S. and in hospitals, Shigeko decided to return to the States in 1958 to study nursing. She became Cousins’ adopted daughter.

The book then follows Shigeko as she works hard to master English, become a nurse’s aide, help difficult but ultimately gracious patients, and raise her son. Over the years, Shigeko began to do more and more public speaking. After retiring from nursing, she visited schools, universities, and other functions to share her experience of the atomic bombing and advocate for peace. Shigeko also visited Chernobyl to speak with people affected by the nuclear disaster there.

The author closes the story with two examples of Shigeko speaking to students in the U.S., one at an elementary school and the other at Winona State University, from which Shigeko received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2009. In her talks, Shigeko spoke about hating and fearing war itself rather than the country that dropped the atomic bomb, about young people’s potential to create a peaceful world, and about the necessity of living one’s life with courage, action, and love.

Shigeko and her son (Photo taken from the book)

Shigeko! rewrites “Atomic Bomb Maidens” as “Hiroshima Girls” in more than just name. While undergoing surgery in Tokyo and before their departure to the U.S., Japanese media referred to the group by the former moniker. However, Shigeko and the other young women didn’t much like that phrase — “As if there was nothing more to our lives than the atomic bomb.” Americans often called Shigeko and the others “Hiroshima Girls” instead, which made Shigeko feel more accepted as a person and free in her identity. The bombing of Hiroshima, the people she met, and her experiences in the U.S. all shaped Shigeko’s life, and all are given due weight in Shigeko!

Despite the scope of its story and open view of identity, Shigeko! sometimes lacks complexity. Perhaps simplicity is just a characteristic of children’s literature, but it occasionally feels like something is being left out of the book. Embracing more emotional and social complexity could, in turn, develop readers’ own nuanced understanding of the people and events the story describes.

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Model Toy Libraries as Peace Centers Project Underway in the Philippines

ANT-Hiroshima is partnering with the non-profit organization ABA Trainings Inc. for the latter’s project Model Toy Libraries as Peace Centers, which will set up Toy Libraries in 20 elementary schools in Zamboanga City, Philippines. The project, also supported by the organization Philippine Toy Library, is spearheaded by Aldrin Bucoy Abdurahim, ABA Trainings Inc.’s founder and president.

The Toy Libraries are intended to help children learn about peace and value education through having fun. Educational toys, housed at the libraries and used to teach lessons, include books, stuffed toys, science and musical toys, slides, abacuses, puzzles, and cards.

Students at a local school say thanks

In order to set up the Toy Libraries, ABA Trainings Inc. needed book shelves, flooring linoleum, and posters in addition to the toys themselves. ANT-Hiroshima provided funding support for shelves and also plans to send copies of “Paper Crane Journey” to furnish the Libraries.

Aldrin said he was inspired by ANT-Hiroshima, particularly its commitment to building strong relationships, when he visited Hiroshima in 2010 as part of the Philippine delegation to JICA’s Training Program for Young Leaders on post-war reconstruction and peace-building. After participating in the program, Aldrin wanted to strengthen the relationship between Hiroshima and Zamboanga City.

ABA stands for Action Bridges Aspirations, but the name has further meanings. According to Aldrin, the word “aba” means “awakening to something you are good at” in Chavacano, the creole language used in Zamboanga City. The non-profit also carries the same initials as its founder.

Children at one of ABA Trainings Inc.’s partner schools

After being legally recognized as an NGO in 2015, ABA Trainings Inc. established five Peace Crane Centers across Zamboanga City in 2016. The organization works in local schools and communities and conducts programs on education, youth empowerment, leadership development for students, and team-building for teachers. Aldrin said the Toy Libraries project, ABA’s main focus in 2017, was built on the NGO’s engagement with many schools in the region through their other programs.

Currently, three of ABA Trainings Inc.’s peace centers have been converted to Toy Libraries, and the others are in the process of being set up. Aldrin plans to official launch the 20 Model Toy Libraries as Peace Centers on 6 August 2017.

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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.

Continue reading

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Lahore School Children Just Say No To War, Terrorism & Nuclear Weapons

ANT-Hiroshima has been co-operating with Hector Nihal, director of the Aids Awareness Society in Pakistan, who requested assistance in a peace education initiative for schools in Lahore, Pakistan.

Hector organized a poster competition as part of his peace education initiative, “Say No to Nuclear Weapons.” The peace edcuation initiative was originally scheduled to be on 9th August 2014, to commemorate the dropping of the second atomic bomb, on Nagasaki.

However, the event had to be postponed as the venue was at Model Town, Lahore, was where a rally and demonstration at the beginning of Tahirul Qadri’s “Inqalab March” was being held.

The event was held on 6th September instead, and went off successfully.

A total of ten schools took part along with representatives from various NGOs, religious leaders and political parties.

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Adults and children listen to the presentation.

The posters made by the students were put on display, as were the educational posters that were supplied by ANT-Hiroshima.

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Some of the student posters on display.

The school students were shown a film about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and learned about the devastating effects of nuclear weapons. They expressed their solidarity with the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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Watching a film about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki.

The participants appreciated the courage of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as they struggled to recover from the destruction in a spirit of Peace and forgiveness while moving ahead to rebuild their lives and communities.

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The school children received certificates of attendance and gift copies of Sadako’s Prayer.

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School children receive certificates and copies of Sadako’s Prayer.

The school principals offered their full support and cooperation for future peace programs in their schools to educate younger generation about the importance of peace and the effects of weapons of mass destruction.

On behalf of participants we are grateful ANT and its team for providing this opportunity to organize a program on this important topic. – Hector Nihal

ANT-Hiroshima

 

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 Ronni Alexander and the Popoki Peace Project

Ronni Alexander

Ronni Alexander

The Popoki Peace Project is a voluntary project established in Kobe, Japan in 2006 by Ronnie Alexander and inspired by her pet cat to help promote peace.

By the way, “Popoki” is “cat” in Hawaiian. In the photo you can see Ronnie with Popoki as a kitten.

The idea behind the project is to develop a more imaginative response to peace because,

“We cannot create what we cannot imagine.”

In other words, if we are unable to imagine anything peaceful we won’t be able to create peace in our own lives or in the world.

To help participants think about peace in an imaginative way, the project uses Popoki’s Peace Books in peace workshops, seminars and camps. Events have been held all over Japan and in many other countries.

Popoki’s Peace Books to promote critical thinking, imagination, expression and action for peace through such activities as workshops, seminars, camps and other events for people of all ages.

Popoki Peace Books are bilingual books of questions about peace, using situations from the life of Ronnie’s cat, Popoki to ask some simple questions about peace. The questions are simple but there are no easy answers so the reader is encouraged to think about what “peace” could be from a variety of perspectives. The books are illustrated with cute pictures of Popoki and are designed to appeal to all ages.

What Color Is Peace?

What Color Is Peace?

Currently, two Popoki Peace Books have been published, volume 1, What Color Is Peace? and volume 2, What Color Is Friendship?

For more information about the Popoki Peace Project and the Popoki books, see Ronnie’s website at:
http://popoki.cruisejapan.com

ANT-Hiroshima

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Green Legacy Hiroshima