Six and a Half Decades after 'Little Boy' Hiroshima Fights to Keep Memory of Nuclear Attack Alive
Hiroshima was largely destroyed 65 years ago in the world's first attack using a nuclear bomb. The bomb, dropped by an American plane, killed tens of thousands and destroyed an entire generation in the city. Six decades later, Hiroshima is fighting to keep the memory of the attack alive.
The nuclear bomb and small origami cranes -- for Kyoko Niiyama, the two images are inseparable. "Each of the paper birds tells the sad story of my city, but they also represent its hopes and strengths," the 20-year-old says.
When she was at school, she also tried to fold her own cranes, she says. Just as Sadako Sasaki once did. Every child in Hiroshima knows Sasaki's story -- and entire classrooms make pilgrimages each year to the section of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial dedicated to her, where they hang their own origami cranes on strings.
Sadoko Sasaki was two years old when the first atomic bomb exploded in her hometown. She died at the age of 12 of leukemia, a disease many children fell victim to due to radiation from the bomb. During her final days in the hospital, a friend told Sasaki that anyone who folded 1,000 origami cranes could make a wish to God.
For origami paper, she used packing materials, newspapers and magazines. Other patients and friends brought her sheets of paper. The 12-year-old valiantly folded her origami, day in, day out. She managed to fold 1,000 cranes within the course of a month. But her wish of recovery was never fulfilled. Sasaki died on Oct. 25, 1955. As her parents encouraged her to eat more on the day of her death, she asked for tea with rice. "It tastes very good," were the girl's final words.
Kyoko Niiyama knows the story well, but sometimes she still struggles to control herself when she tells it. Possibly because it reminds her of her grandmother, who herself is a hibakusha, the Japanese word used to describe those who survived the nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
One of the stories her grandmother told her about August 6, 1945, is the one about her great-grandfather, whose body was never found. His body was either burned to the point of non-recognition or was completely incinerated by the explosion. "My grandmother still says today that she was never able to accept the death of her father because his fate was never clarified," the 20-year-old says. "It is a pain that never goes away."
Will Hollywood Ever Make an Objective Movie about Hiroshima?
"Hiroshima is a special city with a message," says Niiyama, who wants to become a journalist. She is currently completing an internship at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Museum. It's an enormous, modern building, filled inside with exhibits on the unimaginable. One exhibit is a glass display case holding cranes that were folded by Sadoko Sasaki. The museum is also filled with photos, giant models and even tiles that were melted in the heat of the firestorm created by the blast.
The exhibits at the museum are very moving, and that is important to Niiyama. "We cannot forget the past," she says. "Of course we must also remember the crimes that were committed by our own military during World War II." Even 65 years after the end of the war, Japan still has a hard time coming to terms with its own history.
It's a problem, however, that isn't exlusive to Japan. Niiyama learned that during a year abroad, when she studied at a college in the United States. "To me, Hiroshima's message is not an indictment, but rather a warning for peace and against the nuclear bomb," she says. "I would have really liked to have told my fellow students in the US a lot about my hometown and its history," she says. But she says people had little interest in those stories.
Niiyama said her experience was that America's telling of history comes through overblown movies like "Pearl Harbor." She says she found there was a lack of any real discussion about the dropping of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "We will probably have to wait an eternity for an objective Hollywood film about the victims of Hiroshima," Niiyama says, sounding a little bitter.
- Part 1: Hiroshima Fights to Keep Memory of Nuclear Attack Alive
- Part 2: Hiroshima Is Slowly Forgetting Its Own History