Japanese Remembrance of the Dropping of the Atom Bomb
A Guided History by Bria Greene
The United States’ decision to drop the atom bomb on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 brought the Second World War two a quick and decisive end. While the United States emerged as a proud victor, hundreds of thousands of civilian lives had been lost and two major cities had been obliterated. The weakened Japanese government could do very little to better the lives of its citizens in the immediate aftermath of the war. This was especially true in regards to the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, since the attacks on these cities was the first time an atomic bomb had been used during a war. Though the bomb had killed thousands and destroyed an entire city, its full effect had yet to be seen.
For the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who had survived the attacks, radiation from the bomb caused disfigurement, blindness, and diseases such as leukemia and other types of cancer. This was in addition to the many homes and livelihoods that were destroyed as well as the lasting psychological scars associated with such a trauma. In addition to health issues, the dropping of the atomic bomb permanently changed the scope of war. With the creation of such a powerful weapon, the idea of war suddenly became a lot more dangerous to the major powers of the world. Thus, it stands to reason that such a momentous and horrifying event in national and international history would leave its mark in the place where it happened. It is important to examine the impact that the dropping of the atom bomb has had on Japanese society because the Japanese attitude towards this event can say a lot about their methods of dealing with disasters, their stance on nuclear weapons, and their present-day relationships with countries (such as the US) who have previously attacked them.
General Background Information
Hiroshima was originally a news article written by journalist John Hersey one year after the attacks on Hiroshima. Eventually the article was compiled into a book. The book tells the stories of six individuals who were living in Hiroshima at the time. It follows them from the time of the explosion to the weeks and years that followed as the six people struggle to overcome the major trauma that they’ve experienced.
- Hersey, John. Hiroshima. New York City: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1946.
Hiroshima: BBC History of World War II (Film/Documentary)
Hiroshima is a documentary that attempts to explain what it is like to experience a nuclear explosion by recounting the events leading up to the dropping of the bombs. The documentary begins three weeks before the attacks and reenacts key events such as the testing of the bombs in New Mexico, the meeting where the decision to drop the bomb was made, on board the Enola Gay (the plane that dropped the bombs), and on the streets of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the bombs are dropped. Hiroshima is an important source because, not only does it provide key details about the events leading up to the dropping of the bombs, but it also features interviews with survivors of the attacks, as well as with other key people involved with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- Hiroshima: BBC History of World War II. Directed by Paul Wilmshurst. 2005. United Kingdom: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 2005. Film.
I Saw It: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima: A Survivor’s True Story
I Saw It is an autobiographical manga (Japanese comic book) written and illustrated by Keiji Nakazawa, which tell his account of the bombing of Hiroshima. Nakazawa was born in Hiroshima and was a child living in the city when it was bombed. I Saw It is tells his experiences both during the bombing and afterward. It follows Nakazawa from his boyhood living in post-war Hiroshima into adulthood. I Saw It is an excellent resource for researchers who are interested not just in the bombing, but what happened afterward. Specifically, how the survivors of the bombing coped. Nakazawa’s illustrations also help make his story more visceral and realistic to the reader.
- Nakazawa, Keiji. I Saw It: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima: A Survivor’s True Story. Translated by Educomics. Tokyo: Shueisha, 1972
White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima
Directed by Steven Okazaki, White Light/Black Rain is a 2007 documentary film on the legacy of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The film features fourteen interviews with Japanese survivors and four Americans who were directly involved with the bombings who describe their experiences during the bombing and in the years following. Many had never spoken of their experiences prior to appearing in this documentary.
- White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima. Directed by Steven Okazaki. United States: Farallon Films, 2007. Film
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is a children’s book based on the story of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was a baby when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Years later, she was diagnosed with leukemia (then called “atom bomb sickness”). While in the hospital, Sadako began folding paper cranes in accordance with a Japanese legend that says that if one folds one thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant them a wish. Unfortunately, Sadako died just before her thirteenth birthday, having only folded 644. However, Sadako’s classmates finished folding the rest of the cranes, which were then buried with her. A monument of Sadako stands in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park as a symbol of the thousands of children who were killed by the bomb or from related health issues. Sadako and her story might be of note to researchers because not only does she represents thousands of other children, but her story also sheds light onto parts of Japanese culture, such as the paper crane legend and the Hiroshima Peace memorial Park.
- Coerr, Eleanor. Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. New York City: Puffin, 1977.
Barefoot Gen is a ten-volume manga (Japanese comic book) that tells the story of Gen, a young boy living in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing. The manga follows Gen as he experiences the bombing and lives through the aftermath. Gen’s story is heavily based on author Keiji Nakazawa’s experiences growing up in post-war Hiroshima. Though this character is fictional, Gen’s story is based on real life events and thus would be an important resource for researchers chronicling life in post-war Hiroshima.
- Nakazawa, Keiji. Barefott Gen. Translated by Educomics. Tokyo: Shueisha, 1973-1974.
Hiroshima Traces: Time, Space and the Dialectics of Memory
Hiroshima Traces investigates the way Japan has chosen to remember–or, in some cases, to forget–the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yoneyama looks at events such as textbook controversies and campaigns to preserve atomic ruins to examine how the Japanese government and civilians preserve the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- Yoneyama, Lisa. Hiroshima Traces: Time, Space, and the Dialectics of Memory. Berkley: University of California Press, 1999.
Beclouded Visions: Hiroshima-Nagasaki and the Art of Witness
Author Kyo Maclear uses a variety of art mediums–such as photographs and portraits– to examine how the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have shaped art and visual memory. MacLear uses Hiroshima as an example of how atrocities can shape art culture.
- MacLear, Kyo. Beclouded Visions: Hiroshima-Nagasaki and the Art of Witness. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
Heavily based on the life of Keiji Nakazawa, who wrote/drew the manga (Japanese comic book) on which this film is based, Barefoot Gen tells the story of Gen, a young boy living in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing. The story follows Gen and what’s left of his family as they struggle to survive in Hiroshima in the months and years following the dropping of the atomic bomb. While Gen himself may be fictional, his experiences are taken directly from Nakazawa’s own experiences growing up in post-World War II Hiroshima. Thus, this piece of historic fiction gives the viewer an insight into what the citizens of Hiroshima went through in the aftermath of the bombing.
- Barefoot Gen. Directed by Mori Masaki. 1983. Japan: Madhouse, 1983. Film.
Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Attacks Call For Nuclear-Free World
ABC News article about how some survivors of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki feel that in the 65 years since the attack, the world has forgotten about the damages caused by nuclear bombs. The survivors, or Hibakusha (explosion-affected person in Japanese), hope that by telling their stories they will be able to remind people of the horrors of nuclear weapons and, hopefully, work toward a nuclear-free world. The article features interviews with actual survivors who tell their accounts of the attacks and what it was like to live with the lasting disfigurement and other serious medical conditions. This article provides important details about how the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki affected the lives of the survivors, particularly in regards to their health and their treatment at the hands of the Japanese government.
- Utada, Kaoru. Seni Tienabeso. Diana Alvear. “Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Attacks Call for Nuclear-Free World.” ABC News. 6 Aug. 2010.
Japanese Government Nixed the Idea of Obama Visiting, Apologizing for Hiroshima
2011 ABC News article about how the Japanese government vetoed Obama’s plan to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to apologize for America’s attack many decades ago. Great source for examining current relations between the US and Japan and how Japan feels toward America in regards to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This article also provides insight into how Japan feels about nuclear weapons programs abroad.
- Tapper, Jake. “Japanese Government Nixed the idea of Obama Visiting, Apologizing for Hiroshima.” ABCNews. 12 Oct. 2012. Accessed on November 27, 2012.
Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation
The Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation is dedicated to educating the world about the bombing of Hiroshima. This organization works to promote peace and understanding throughout the world by collaborating with peace organizations in Japan and abroad.
- Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. Accessed November 24, 2012.
Memorials, Museums, and Monuments
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park/Museum
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park are devoted to preserving the memory of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The museum also heads many sub-projects that work to promote education about the effects of nuclear weapons and to campaign for an end to their use.
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Accessed November 21, 2012.
The Genbaku Dome was the only structure in the area left standing after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Over the years many people–including the citizens of Hiroshima and the Japanese government–have worked to preserve it’s exact state after the bombing. It is seen today as a reminder of the suffering nuclear weapons cause and symbolizes the hope that the world will one day be rid of nuclear weapons.
- “Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome)”. World Heritage Convention United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Accessed November 23, 2012.
Children’s Peace Monument
The Children’s Peace Monument is located in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The monument is built in honor of Sadako Sasaki, one of many children who died as a result of the bombing. Sadako was twelve years old when she died of leukemia which she contracted after exposure to radiation from the bomb. While she was sick, she folded paper cranes in accordance with a Japanese myth that a thousand paper cranes gets your wish granted by the gods. Sadako died before she could finish her cranes, but her classmates folded the rest and they were buried with her. The statue commemorates the children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who died during the explosion or from the resulting complications and serves as another expression of Japan’s campaign for peace and an end to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Visitors from all over the world place paper cranes at the base of the statue, in honor of Sadako and the many children who perished as a result of the A-Bomb.
- “Paper Cranes and the Children’s Peace Monument”. City of Hiroshima. 2001. Accessed November 21, 2012.
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Like the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Mueseum is dedicated to preserving the memory of the bombings of Hiroshima and to educating the world on the horros of nuclear weapons and warfare.
- Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. Accessed on November 25, 2012.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall is an effort by the Japanese government to preserve the memory of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Memorial is also an expression of Japan’s desire for peace and an end to nuclear warfare. Some fo the organizations main projects include collecting names and portraits of deceased A-Bomb victims and readings of accounts of the bombings.
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. Accessed November 24, 2012.