Memories of Hiroshima

In July of 2005, Jun Hosikawa joined participants at the Past Is Prologue gathering at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas. Discussions and activities focused on how the power of listening to stories, including ancient stories, can help to develop essential coping skills in these chaotic times. The purpose of the weekend was to identify what may be learned from the past and how it can presently be used to pave paths to peace.

On Sunday, July 17, Jun Hosikawa presented a lecture on “Memories of Hiroshima,” illustrated with rare photographs of the aftermath of the devastation created by the American nuclear weapon. It was presented as part of Schreiner University’s Labatt Lecture Series. It was his hope that open and frank discussion about the horror that resulted from the use of these atomic weapons might serve as a foundation for healing and learning, so that never again might any people in our world community suffer from such an event. We would like to thank Mr. Hoshikawa for allowing and encouraging the use of his lecture to foster peace. We honor his dedication to world peace and environmental awareness. The following is his speech in its entirety . . . Let us, then, remember to ask the age-old question . . . what may we learn from this?

Past Is Prologue: A Learning Way would like to acknowledge and thank Mr. Joe O’Donnell, photographer and author, and Vanderbilt University Press, publisher, for granting us permission to use the four dramatic photographs from Japan 1945 that accompany this lecture. Visit Vanderbilt University Press at



Jun Hosikawa

Sixty years ago yesterday, July 16th, the world’s first nuclear explosion took place at White Sands, New Mexico. This first nuclear test, called “Trinity” by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, known as “the father of the atomic bomb,” was the culmination of a race between the U.S. and Nazi Germany to develop this ultimate weapon.

As we now know, America won the race sixty years ago today. July 17th, President Harry Truman met with Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill at Potsdam in the now-defeated Germany to discuss post-war plans for Germany and Japan, which had not yet surrendered. History notes that Truman scheduled the conference for July 17th so that the United States would be in a position to dictate post-war policy to Stalin, who wasn’t much trusted in the West. The Potsdam Declaration issued by the three allied leaders on July 26th outlined the terms on which Japan was to surrender, but, significantly, it did not discuss the post-war status of the Japanese Emperor.

Because of this, the Japanese government ignored the Potsdam Declaration and, as a result, the U.S. dropped its first nuclear weapon, a uranium-type bomb named “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. And when Japan still didn’t surrender, the U.S. dropped a second nuclear bomb, this time a plutonium-type weapon named “Fat Man” on the city of Nagasaki on August 9th.

Roughly 210,000 people died immediately or soon after these two nuclear explosions, from the blast, heat, and the severest radiation syndromes of the earliest phase. Approximately the same number was affected by delayed radiation syndromes. These became known as Hibakusha, which means “surviving victims of the atomic bomb” often with emphasis on radiation symptoms.

While many Hibakusha died long ago, a number of them still live today, and they and their families quietly suffer varying degrees of genetic disorders. With these two mushroom clouds the world entered the age of nuclear war, and for the first time in history, the human race was capable of exterminating itself together with its civilization, and poisoning the planet forever and a day. Some of the radioactive elements remain active for thousands, millions even billions of years.

I was born in Tokyo in 1952, seven years after the war ended. Fortunately nobody in my family died or was injured in either of the atomic explosions. So, unlike many Japanese alive today, I am not qualified to speak to you about Hiroshima or Nagasaki as the result of direct experience. However, as a first generation post-war Japanese who has lived all my life in a society that has never forgotten these experiences, and as a person who has visited both Ground Zeros and pondered what happened there, the experience has taken on a reality of its own: Hiroshima has become part of my blood, and Nagasaki has become part of my flesh, to an extent.

I would like to mention one other reason why I believe that I may qualify to share my thoughts with you this evening. As a young, sensitive boy growing up early in the period we now call the “Cold War,” I used to be terrified by the shrieking sound of an airplane passing high overhead, certain that it was a Soviet missile attacking Tokyo and that I was to be vaporized the next instant. I call it an “Instant War.” For me as a child the simple sound of a jet plane was a threat that felt as real and as final as anything could be. This age of fearful anticipation of death by a nuclear attack lasted well into my adolescence. And for most of my early life, I was certain that I would never see the 21st century. I dared not imagine myself having children because I could not bear to think of them suffering a nuclear holocaust.

Eventually, as I grew older, my fear turned to a search for a better world, one where there is no fear of the “Great Death.” Does this sound familiar to some of you here tonight? I think that many young people since the 1960s have undertaken this same search. They have been called hippies, flower children, peaceniks, and sometimes much angrier names. None of us alive today can escape knowing that we are the children of the nuclear age and if you don’t think of yourself that way, well, I would say that you may be a wishful thinker.

We call ourselves Homo Sapiens, Wise Man, but I don’t think we are wise enough yet for anyone to be too optimistic when the world is still laden with 30,000 nuclear warheads. In some ways, in fact, we may be becoming less wise, increasingly oblivious to the threat of nuclear war now that the “Cold War” has been declared over.

Beginning in my twenties, after some study, reflection and meditation, I began to grow a little more relaxed about my prospects for the future. I got married and had a child, and as evidence that my new optimism may be justified, look! Here we all are, alive, together in amazing 2005, and still on this earthly realm, in spite of all those crises over the intervening years that periodically brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. But, by and large, I still carry many of the “Instant War” fears of my childhood with me, as I believe many in the world do to this day.

In this sense, all of us are qualified to talk about Hiroshima and Nagasaki because they are still a living part of us, a common heritage. In fact, the Hiroshima “Atomic Dome” was designated a World Cultural Heritage site in 1996 by the United Nations.

Having shared my personal journey with you as an introduction, I would now like to focus on the topic of my talk tonight, “In The Shadow of the Atomic Bomb: 60 years of U.S./Japan Relations.”

The time span of 60 years has a special significance in the classic Chinese calendar, which Japan and most of East Asia still use along with the Western solar calendar. 60 years is a significant number because it completes one full cycle composed of 12 animals and the five natural elements. Thus, 60 years marks a grand return to the beginning, a completion. For example, in Japan the 60th birthday is a time of great celebration. It is quite a sight to see a 60 year old dressed up in special red clothing that is reminiscent of an infant.

Similarly, according to this perspective, the modern world may have completed a full cycle since the end of WWII. But since evolution is not a circle but a spiral, you may come around to a similar point of origin after a cycle, but it is on a different level. And from there on you begin a whole new cycle. I hope that my talk this evening will allow us to celebrate this graduation, and our entrance into a new cycle of history together.

Please let me say right now that I am not here to cast blame on America for the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nor am I here to engage in an argument about whether or not the bombings were justified by strategic or political considerations. What I would like to do this evening is to share with you the other side of reality, what actually happens to people, any people, anywhere who are hit by a nuclear weapon. I hope to give you some understanding of the people under the mushroom cloud, and hope that this understanding will help us all to see the whole story of these events and their aftermath.

I would also like to say that I am not in any sense an apologist for what Imperial Japan did under the militaristic regime during those horrible years leading up to and during WWII. In hindsight it is clear to me, and to many Japanese, that we were all engulfed by a nationalistic fever that wound up almost consuming our entire people and perhaps the world.

For those of you not familiar with how WWII came to be from the perspective of Japan, let me offer a brief explanation. Many of you may know that shortly after Japan had its first encounter with the West in the mid 1500s, it reacted violently against these outside influences and closed itself off entirely. No westerners were allowed into Japan for over 200 years, and any Japanese who showed any signs of having been influenced by western ideas were hunted down and killed. (Of course, as usual for any regime, there were exceptions, especially toward the end of this isolation period.)

Finally in 1868 the American Admiral Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay and demanded that Japan open itself to Western trade and diplomacy, threatening to burn Japanese cities with incendiary cannon fire if the rulers did not comply. They did, and this began a period of flourishing culture, a booming economy, and in retrospect, a dangerous rise of the Japanese militarism. In fact, by the late 1800s Japan had the third largest navy in the world, after the U.S. and Great Britain.

Seeing the steady advance of Western colonial nations throughout Asia, the new Japanese government decided that if Japan was not to become another Western colony, it must itself become a colonial power. Thus began a series of wars between Japan and its Far Eastern neighbors, all of which were successful from the Japanese point of view.

Shortly after this period of military expansion in the early 20th century, Japan fell victim to the worldwide economic depression which many people here in the U.S. must also still remember. This provided the Japanese militarists a favorable environment of social insecurity in which to establish themselves firmly in control of the country, leading to the catastrophe that Americans remember as Pearl Harbor.

In retrospect this was a period of many mistakes in judgment, and along with the majority of sensible people in Japan, I regret and sincerely apologize for the millions of deaths and untold suffering caused in Asia by militaristic Imperial Japan. We also deeply regret the loss of lives suffered by the Western allies as they fought against Imperial Japan. When I talk about the suffering and death caused by the atomic bombings, I want you to know that I have never forgotten how these horrible events happened as a direct consequence of the deeds of my forebears. I also hope that you will agree that acknowledging one’s past and responsibility, be they personal or collective is a prerequisite for moving forward into a wiser future.

There is one more point that I want to make here, and that is the trap that anyone can fall into by failing to distinguish between the behavior of a government or regime and the people under it. We may use as an example, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or Kim Joon-Il’s North Korea. The regime is not the people. I hope that we have learned that by now. Sixty years ago Japanese people all hated Americans and Brits and called you “Beastly Fiends” and of course you all hated us and called us “Yellow Monsters.” These names made it far easier to kill each other with no regrets, which we all did in enormous numbers. When we finally met face to face, however, it was much more difficult to apply those hateful names and in fact most of us have discovered that those names were themselves the essence of destructive power.

According to the democratic principles we now share, the government is as good as the way it represents the people governed. So, in fact, the more poorly equipped the government is to fairly represent the will of the governed, the less it can be identified with its people. This was sadly true for Imperial Japan. Especially, after the Japanese military ventured on to the Asian continent, three factors became prominent. One: information and intelligence were deliberately distorted. Even the Emperor was out of the loop of covert military operations at times. Two: the military-industrial complex embarked upon ever bolder militaristic ventures. The economy was geared for war. Three: mass media cooperated in stirring nationalistic zealotry in the public. All of these factors together set the vicious cycle in motion.

But not long after Pearl Harbor, the battle in the Pacific was already concluding in 1944 when the U.S. took the Marshall Islands from where B-29 bombers could directly hit mainland Japan. Thereafter, the whole Japanese archipelago was a virtual free-fire zone as far as the U.S. aerial bombing was concerned. Japan didn’t have airplanes nor able pilots any more. You may be surprised to know that many of the Kamikaze attackers could only take off, but couldn’t land the plane because they were so young and poorly trained.

Even before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, major cities in Japan were devastated by conventional, that is non-nuclear, fire-bombings. For example, on March 10th, 1945, 100,000 people died in Tokyo overnight by just one such bombing, otherwise called carpet bombing or “strategic” bombing. The entire capital went aflame and got flattened out.

However, a few cities peculiarly escaped the bombing campaigns. In fact, they were spared for a purpose, as candidate targets for the atomic bomb. Only Kyoto and Nara, the ancient capitals with thousands of temples, are said to have been spared for their cultural heritage. On the other hand, Nagasaki was chosen as the last minute substitute target because the initial target city, Kokura, was under heavy cloud cover on the morning of August 9th.

When the atomic bomb detonated at a few hundred yards over the ground, it sent out enormous tsunami-like waves of heat, blast, and radiation. The heat near Ground Zero reached tens of thousands of degrees Fahrenheit. The blast knocked down or flattened out most of what was standing. The radiation inscribed super x-ray silhouettes of people and subjects onto background materials. The destructive power of this unleashed violent force was unprecedented. But an even more violent force, or different kind of violence that humanity had not know until August 6th and 9th, was unleashed in the form of nuclear radiation.

Those who were exposed to invisible deadly beams died, not on the spot, but in days, in weeks, then in months, and then in years, showing extremely severe and unfamiliar symptoms. Nausea, consuming fatigue, hemoptysis - coughing up of blood, purplish skin blotches, malaena - discharge of blood, hair loss, all massive, sometimes all together or in whatever combination, and finally . . . agonizing death. Children were clearly more susceptive than adults.

What was additionally horrible was that the victims had no idea about what had befallen them. Any real treatment or study of the radiation sicknesses caused by the atomic bombs was strictly prohibited once the U.S. occupation began in late August, 1945. The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) established in Hiroshima by the U.S. authority in as late as 1949 carried out detailed medical observation of Hibakusha, the radiation victims, but provided no treatment whatsoever. In fact, the reporting on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was censor-suppressed by the GHQ, the allied occupation authority, and was virtually non-existent until 1952 when the first photographic coverage from the earliest days of the nuclear devastation appeared in a monthly magazine in Japan.

hereafter floods of reportage, narrative, writing, photographs, and paintings started to wash over Japanese society with vivid imagery of hell on earth. At about the same time, with the advent of the large-scale hydrogen bomb experiments in the Marshall islands in 1954, nuclear abolition movements got under way. One of the explosions at the Bikini Atoll threw 23 Japanese fishermen into severe radiation sickness, and the captain died within six months. It was the nightmare of Hiroshima and Nagasaki come alive again.

Meanwhile Japanese doctors, some of them Hibakusha themselves, quietly and earnestly kept on treating the atomic bomb victims, groping in the dark with no governmental support, either Japanese or American, and no prior knowledge or on-going research about massive human radiation exposure. One of the surviving doctors from Hiroshima, Shuntaro Hida, has recently published a book on his work over the last 60 years. Dr. Hida urges us to become aware that there are two distinctive types of radiation exposure.

One is the “external” radiation exposure. It is caused by a gamma ray, one of the three radioactive rays emitted by nuclear material or nuclear explosion. Gamma rays travel a long distance and penetrate every material but lead. A relatively harmless example is the medical x-ray exposure. The large dose of external radiation exposure from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear explosions killed and tormented many people. Also less dramatic, yet harmful enough, external exposure can happen in accidents at nuclear-related facilities.

Another type of radiation exposure is called “internal” radiation exposure. This is caused by alpha and beta rays, both with much shorter traveling range, mere skin thickness. The internal radiation exposure happens when irradiated molecules, either from nuclear explosion or nuclear accident, spread and circulate in the environment, and get absorbed into living organisms such as the human body. If they settle somewhere within the organism, self-radiating molecules keep emitting alpha and beta rays for a long time, creating damage in the neighboring cells. When body cells are affected this way cancer may grow. When reproductive cells are affected, genetic disorder may develop.

Dr. Hida points out that while the external radiation exposure has been recognized and studied extensively, the second type, the internal radiation exposure has been formally ignored. At this stage, what is still gnawing at the atomic bomb victims is mainly this internal radiation exposure; a time bomb ticking quietly toward death and fatal illnesses within one’s own body. Moreover, Dr Hida, and in fact every Hibakusha I read about, or personally speak to, emphasizes the fact that not only them but all sentient beings on earth now carry this time bomb, thanks to the omnipresence of miniscule irradiated particles within the biosphere from nuclear experiments, nuclear accidents, normal operations of nuclear weapons production and nuclear power generation, and the increasing use of quasi-conventional weapons such as depleted Uranium shells.

Collectively, surviving victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, now in their old age, cry out to the world: “Please understand what is at stake with nuclear warfare. We know from our experience that it should not remain an option. We can humanly allow no more Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The nuclear weapon should be abolished forever.”

Although it is not written down ostensibly, the post WWII Japanese Constitution shares the same sentiment. “We, the Japanese people,” it declares, “(are) resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government.” And Article 9 affirms thus, “aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat of force as a means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

Some of you may be rolling your eyes. I know this is Texas and the words sound outright idealistic. But I assure you, this was the firm covenant of the Japanese people who suffered and made others suffer so much through the last war. More specifically too, this was an almost sacred covenant born out of the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, pledging that, “we will never again repeat the mistake,” as inscribed on the Hiroshima atomic bomb monument.

I have told you that I have stood at the two Ground Zeros more than once. Each time closing my eyes and putting my palms together in prayer. I could hold no thought but, “Never again! We could or should not let it happen to anyone, anywhere, any more.” It is not a wish, a hope, a dream, nor even a prayer. It is the recognition of a reality, a fact. I often entertain a thought that we, the Japanese, may have been thrust into a separate reality where war can be no more. Yes, thrust into a space warp by the power of two nuclear explosions. From where I stand, war simply is obsolete.

From where you stand perhaps, that looks like wishful thinking. Some may still believe that war is a necessary evil. Admittedly, there is a gap between the two ways of thinking. In many ways, the last 60 years of U.S./Japan relations have been a dance around this gap. In 1946 when the new Japanese Constitution was drawn up, it was the Americans who wanted us to be idealistic, renouncing war forever. It was partly because it was in the interest of the United States and its allies that Japan stayed a pacified nation.

However, as the Cold War set in and the Korean War broke out four years later in 1950, the U.S. government wanted to turn things around to make Japan its shield against the communists. Despite the Constitutional covenant, the U.S. urged Japan to maintain its own military, first in the name of Reserve Police, then Security Guard, and finally Self-Defense Force which now stands as the world’s 4th largest military. All along, the Japanese majority has resisted abandoning the peace covenant of Article 9.

True, Japan has not been without military safeguards during the last 60 years. Besides our own Self-Defense Force, which is not supposed to fight wars per se, American armed forces with nearly ninety U.S. bases in Japan have provided back-up security, including nuclear attack capability from launching points outside Japan. (Besides Article 9 in the Constitution, Japan maintains what is called the Three Non-Nuclear Principles: not possessing, not producing, not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons into the country.)

It is a difficult paradox. There is no other country in the world with so much foreign military presence in peacetime. The American military dominance appears so prevalent at times that many people in Japan satirize the country as the 52nd state of America, or even a still occupied nation. The commitment to nuclear abolition may appear clumsy while we live under the so-called “nuclear umbrella” of the U.S. We are aware of these problems. And yet, the Japanese majority doesn’t seem to be keen on shifting our nations’s course toward forsaking the Peace Constitution to establish, for example, an authentic war-fighting military, to acquire nuclear weapons, and to assert ourselves again as a militarily aggressive international player. Neighboring countries in Asia would never tolerate this either.

The U.S./Japan dance is now entering an interesting phase where the U.S. demands such a course change, and the new generation of Japanese politicians is on the rise with the U.S. backing, trying to persuade the Japanese public that the last 60 years have been a mere fantasy. Here again, I need to remind you that not all Americans nor Japanese support this kind of tidal change. Certainly, Hibakusha, the surviving victims of the two atomic bombings, are at the forefront of people strongly objecting to this unlearning of history.

At the same time, there is another tidal change, perhaps less visible but probably more resilient and grassroots than the political whiffs of the powers that be. In 1999, the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference, with nearly 10,000 citizens attending from more than 100 countries, demanded ten fundamental principles for a just world order. The first principle asks that, “Every Parliament should adopt a resolution prohibiting their government from going to war, like the Japanese article number nine.” Mayors for Peace, currently composed of 1,036 cities in 112 countries and regions worldwide, have been appealing for the total abolition of nuclear weapons since 1982. The U.S. conference of Mayors, representing 1,183 U. S. cities with populations above 30,000, formally supports nuclear abolition, and has urged the U.S. President to commence negotiations on the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, and declared, “(We) shall remain engaged in this matter until our cities are no longer under the threat of nuclear devastation.”

A recent U.S. poll found that, given the choice of which states should have nuclear weapons, 66% said none should. Which one of these two tides we ride on is going to determine the shape of the world in the 21st century.

Another peculiar thing that I’ve experienced at Ground Zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that I was stripped of all surface identities. I stood there not as a Japanese, an Asian, or a man. I stood there simply as a human being, a throbbing life, naturally resolved to work for a peaceful future. I have enjoyed knowing and having many American friends.

For the last 60 years, Japanese people collectively have gained much more than they have lost from cooperating with the U.S. I hope that this is also true for Americans. But today, as we enter a new cycle of another 60 years of U.S./Japan relations, let us be less Japanese or American. Let us learn to be more simply human, and work and walk hand in hand. That way, we shall dance our way out of the shadow of the atomic bomb, together, sooner rather than later.

Thank you very much,

Jun Hoshikawa