As an occupied country, the immediate postwar relief efforts for Hiroshima were saddled by inefficiency and a slow pace. Although there were many Americans who worked for the rehabilitation of Hiroshima, in some cases it appeared that there were other American efforts more interested in studying the effects of the atomic bombing especially as the Cold War was just getting into stride. People were getting hungry on the streets and many deaths were witnessed by survivors due to sickness and starvation.
There were many survivors of Hiroshima and all of them have their own stories to tell. Stories like the tragic life of Sadako Sasaki that captured the hearts of people worldwide. One other story that deserves to be told is that of Shoso Kawamoto. Mr. Kawamoto was born in 1935 and on the eve of the bombing he was in 6th grade and was one of those children sent away from Hiroshima to stay in an evacuation area near the city. When Hiroshima was attacked, Kawamoto had seen the blast from far away but it was only later in the evening that he was told what had happened. He lost his parents and four siblings while a sister who worked at the Hiroshima Station Maintenance Section and a brother who was in Manchuria survived. His sister picked him up and took care of him but six months later she died of radiation poisoning. As times were very difficult in Japan during that period, none of his relatives really wanted to take care of him although his older brother was adopted by an uncle.
Kawamoto then drifted from one job to another having decided to leave his relatives. As Hiroshima was in ruins and Japan was under Allied governance, there was no effective local government providing relief and assistance to many of the residents of the city and especially the orphans. Into this situation stepped the Yakuza which provided livelihood and assistance in exchange for working for the gang. Kawamoto found himself working for the Yakuza. Eventually he left Hiroshima and he found work at a soy sauce factory and he believed that his life was taking a turn for the better. However he did not count on the stigma associated with survivors of the atomic bombing, and when he approached the parents of a lady he had wanted to marry, they refused to grant his request. The parents who found out that he was from Hiroshima were afraid that the children of such a marriage will have deformities. He again turned his back on society and considered suicide. While searching for a suitable place to end his life, he saw a help wanted sign for live in workers at a noodle shop. He remembers hearing his dead mother’s voice saying to never give up. From then on his life took a turn for the better. He eventually became a CEO of a food company that had 120 employees. He never married and when he retired he decided to take up an advocacy in the remaining years of his life. Of remembering the tragedy of Hiroshima and working for peace.
One thing that made the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Hiroshima that began in earnest in the 1950s was of the emphasis on remembering the atomic attack. As the city plans were drawn up an ambitious project to create a peace memorial park was conceptualized. However, there were many challenges along the way of which one was to deal with the haphazard manner in which residents had moved back into the city following the bombing and much of the occupation period. Previous rehabilitation work that immediately followed the bombing saw to the restoration of utilities and transportation systems. Remarkably, Hiroshima managed to recover much of its productive capacity as a manufacturing hub. As occupation restrictions relaxed on shipbuilding, that too became an important employment generator. The Korean War also played a role in boosting the economic recovery of Hiroshima as services required to support the UN war effort were provided by industries based in and around the city. By the early 1950s, the stage was set for a full blown development and rehabilitation effort that took more than a decade to accomplish.
Central to the rehabilitation of Hiroshima was the establishment of a peace memorial park at the location of the Nakajima district. Although the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Reconstruction City Plan was promulgated as a law in 1949 the work for the project began in earnest in 1952 once adequate funds became available. By the end of the 1950s, work had been completed on major structures at the area. A Peace Memorial Park, Peace Memorial Museum, Cenotaph for the A Bomb Victims, across the Motoyasu River from the park would be the heavily damaged but preserved A Bomb dome. A large number of other markers and memorials can also be found in that peace memorial complex. At a narrow street just 800 feet from the Aioi Bridge is a marker showing the position of the hypocenter where the bomb exploded on top of the Shima hospital.
V. Working for Peace
Today, Hiroshima is a bustling modern city though not as crowded and noisy as Tokyo or Osaka. Yet despite that modernity it has not forgotten that tragic event on August 6, 1945. Since then, there have been annual commemorations of the bombing wherein declarations of peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons are read by children and officials of the city. One of the most prominent visitors to Hiroshima is former US President Barack Obama who is the first U.S. head of state to visit the city.
One of the most emotional places to visit in that city is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Within the museum are relics, mementos, photos and other displays that tell the tragic account of the atomic bombing. As one walks through the display halls, one will see the wistful thoughts in the diary of a young girl who succumbed to radiation poisoning. One will see the photos and tattered clothes of long dead people whose lives were abruptly snuffed out. One will see the tricycle which was the favorite toy of two children who died in the bombing. Midway through the museum one will hear faint sobs among some visitors. No one among the visitors smiles in the exhibit halls and the only smiles one will see are that of the dead victims in photos taken that were donated by the families.
Mr. Kawamoto has devoted his life to the children of today. He gives talks on his experience as a survivor of the atomic bombing at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. He gives out paper cranes and paper airplanes that carry symbols of peace as a reaction to that single B-29 that changed his life forever 73 years ago. He says he does that for the children so that they will not go through what he and his generation had experienced.
At the outskirts of Hiroshima one will find the Hiroshima City University which houses the Hiroshima Peace Institute. Associate Professor Hitoshi Nagai is a member of that institute and although he belongs to a younger generation of Japanese born two decades after the war, he has made it his personal advocacy to continue the work of others before him in spreading the message of peace. In addition to ensuring the preservation of the historical memory of the atomic bomb attack, the institute also comes out with studies and researches on ways to raise awareness against weapons of mass destruction and conflict. The institute seeks to build bridges among different peoples and cultures and it is seen also in the diverse nationalities of the academic staff of the Hiroshima Peace Institute.
It is easy to denigrate the Japanese as revisionist historians and as emerging militarists. That is if one only wishes to concentrate on the actions of certain ultra nationalist groups in Japan. However, the war and the atomic bombing fundamentally altered Japan’s society that revulsion to unbridled fascistic militarism and to war in general, emerged as a strong sentiment among the Japanese people. Much of this was spurred on by the suffering experienced by survivors of the war and in the organization of movements to press the government to move efficiently and effectively to help the millions of victims nationwide. The people of Hiroshima had played a key role in this postwar reshaping of Japan as a peaceful and responsible member of the international community. The city and its residents still continue to play a vanguard role in that advocacy and perhaps that will be the greatest legacy of Hiroshima