Items from the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition at Japanese Culture Center in Chicago

Hiroshima exhibit documents the innocent victims of the atom bomb

By Wen-Yee Lee

Three colorful origami cranes made by school girl Sadako Sasaki, a survivor of the U.S. strike on Hiroshima, sit on display for the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition in Chicago. She folded nearly 1,000 cranes as a traditional prayer for healing before she died of leukemia 10 years after the bomb strike. She was 12 years old.

Undergarments worn by 2-year-old Hiroo Taoda on the day of the 1945 bombing offer a stirring reminder of the thousands of innocent victims. Taoda was exposed to the bomb blast in front of Hiroshima Station and he died the same night.

“It is precisely those who had little to do with the war that lost their lives in the blink of an eye because of the atomic bomb,” said Kenji Shiga, director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, at the opening of the exhibit here on October 1. He fervently hopes people who live in countries that currently possess nuclear bombs can be aware of this, he said.

In addition to the stories behind these personal items, displays also feature fused coins, melted glass and exposed plates, which were affected by the August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The traveling exhibit comes to President Barack Obama’s hometown months after he visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Japan this May.

More than 210,000 people died by the end of 1945 due to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki on August 6 and 9 that year, the first and only use of atom bombs in warfare. Thousands more died of cancers related to radiation exposure from the bomb strikes in the years to come.

“Japan, as the only country that has experienced the horror of nuclear devastation in war, continues to call for the cooperation between nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states,” said Keiko Yanai, deputy consul general of the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago.

Japan surrendered, ending World War II, shortly after the bomb strikes. Germany had surrendered three months earlier.

Physicist Albert Einstein, a scientist whose theories contributed to the invention of the atomic bomb, said to a friend in 1954 that signing a 1939 letter to President Franklin Roosevelt and recommending that the atom bomb be developed was the one great mistake of his life. He told the Newsweek magazine in 1947, “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in develop­ing an atomic bomb, I would have done nothing for the bomb.”

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum aims to raise the awareness of the inhumanity of using nuclear weapons and the destruction of the atomic bombings to people around the world. Since 1995, its exhibitions have been presented in 45 cities in 16 countries, including 12 cities in the U.S.

“Maybe people would say there is a better way to deal with conflict, a peaceful way to reconcile, a peaceful way as humans that we can work together,” said Stephen Toyoda, president of the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago. He hopes this exhibition could bring people together regardless of different nationalities.

“It’s our responsibility and our opportunity,” said Yanai during the opening of the exhibition. Yanai emphasized the friendship between Japan and the U.S., mentioning Obama’s visit to Hiroshima this May.

As a symbol of peace, a paper crane folded by Obama is presented in the exhibition, with the message he wrote in Hiroshima: “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”

Mayors for Peace, a conference program for abolishing nuclear powers, has been organized by the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, said Shiga. As of now, more than 7,000 cities have joined. Chicago has been a member since 2008.

One mission of the Mayors for Peace is to eliminate nuclear weapons by 2020. The group invites non-member cities to join, spreads messages of peace, and calls for an immediate  world nuclear weapons convention.

“I hope that many people can come to see this exhibition, and feel and share their feelings with as many people as possible,” said Yanai.

The exhibition runs through Oct. 29 at Japanese Culture Center in Chicago, 1016 W. Belmont Ave. Takashi Teramoto, a survivor of Hiroshima atomic bombing, will deliver a speech at the Japanese American Service Committee on Oct. 25.  Admission to the exhibit and to the talk are free.

Photo at top: Items from the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Exhibition at Japanese Culture Center in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Jim Grodzins)