Survivors: The A-bombed Trees of Hiroshima
This is a pictorial overview of the trees, shrubs, and groves that survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima on August 6th 1945.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, built at what was once the hypocenter of an atomic blast, is the most visible sign of the city’s renaissance as a force for peace in 21st century politics. But it is not the only reminder of the spirit of Hiroshima. Less well-known are the scores of “survivors” dotting the metropolitan landscape. These treasured trees, shrubs, and groves date from before the bombing on August 6th 1945. They were spared from annihilation, and are now carefully tended by the schools, homes, temples, and shrines entrusted by fate with their care. Based on a three-year stay in the city by the authors, this pictorial journey into the heart of Hiroshima documents more than 50 sites and 75 trees. There are maps, bilingual place names and addresses, snapshots of local culture, and overviews of each species of plant. Never-before published translations of essays by the a-bomb survivor Tamiki Hara are also included as meditations on the meaning of peace in difficult times.
From the Forward
Peace Memorial Park is the literal and figurative heart of Hiroshima, as I was privileged to learn over the course of a four-year stay in the city. During many a busy lunch hour, I would cycle downtown from the translation agency where I was working, grab a takeout sandwich or bento box from one of the innumerable coffee shops in Kamiya-cho, and then head across the river to the leafy shade of the park. The stark, skeletal Genbaku Dome (A-bomb Dome, see over), which dominates the square closest to the business district, inevitably leaves first-time visitors feeling awkward and intimidated. But like all incomprehensible truths, the structure eventually reaches a truce with the subconscious, even taking on a kind of comforting stillness, particularly when muted by the vibrant greens of spring and summer foliage. Indeed the park as a whole seems to radiate a defiant calm, as if the beauty of the landscaping and the bustle of the sidewalk cafes are meant to assert that life goes on despite periods of unimaginable anarchy and suffering.
This green oasis, at what was once the hypocenter of an atomic blast, is the most visible sign of the city’s renaissance as a vibrant and forward-looking center, and a force for peace in the midst of the turbulence of 21st century politics. But it is not the only reminder of the tenacious spirit of life in Hiroshima. Less well-known outside of neighborhood boroughs are the scores of survivors dotting the metropolitan landscape. These treasured trees, shrubs, and groves date from before the atomic bombing on August 6th 1945. For whatever reason, they were spared from annihilation, and are now carefully tended by the schools, homes, temples, and shrines entrusted by fate with their care.
I don’t remember the first time that my wife and I stumbled across one of these living legacies, but I do know that they quickly took on a very personal meaning. Timing undoubtedly played a part: Mandy had recently lived through a cancer scare, and found in their endurance and vitality a tangible metaphor for hope. But identifying them and learning their stories also became a fascinating challenge for us, given her background in environmental science, mine in translation, and our collective interest in photography. It was quickly obvious that very little documentation was available on these trees. There were no maps in English detailing locations or histories, and in many cases, their historical importance was indicated by only the briefest of plaques in Japanese. The tree hunt thus became an engaging weekend hobby, taking us from one end of the city to another, season after season, eventually year after year, as we talked with priests and housewives and many others, gathering stories and pictures. The fruits of these efforts are presented here, and it is my hope that they provide the reader with a sense of the inspiration that is life in Hiroshima.