By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The 69th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was commemorated Aug. 3 with a memorial service at Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo.
This year’s special guest was Masahiro Sasaki, older brother of Sadako Sasaki, who died of leukemia at age 12 after being exposed to radiation from the Hiroshima bomb as a toddler. Her effort to fold a thousand origami cranes shortly before her death has made her an international symbol of peace, and every year the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center holds a series of events entitled “Remembering Sadako” around the Hiroshima/Nagasaki anniversaries (Aug. 6 and 9).
Sasaki expressed gratitude and respect to the organizers of this year’s “Remembering Sadako” events, which included a “Concert for Peace” with Melissa Manchester, a performance of “Sadako’s Paper Cranes and Lessons for Peace” by the Grateful Crane Ensemble, and a talk by Sasaki at the JACCC.
Sasaki, 73, who came to Los Angeles with his singer/songwriter son Yuji, said he felt that Sadako — who would be 72 if she were alive today — was with them in spirit. He brought with him one of the cranes she folded — very small, but full of Sadako’s thoughts and feelings, he said.
Recalling that Sadako spent eight months in the hospital, experiencing both physical and psychological pain, Sasaki noted that she never said things like “It hurts” or “Help me,” not wanting to worry their parents, and seemed to pour all of her strength into the time she had left.
Sadako asked him to convey to the world “omoiyari no kokoro,” or a spirit of compassion for others, Sasaki said, and he believes it is his duty to carry out her wishes. He and his son have co-founded a non-profit organization, Sadako Legacy, to promote her message of peace.
One lesson Sasaki learned from his sister is that if you can’t achieve “small peace” within yourself and with those around you, it isn’t possible to achieve “big peace” in the world.
When Sasaki visited Ground Zero in New York in 2009, he presented one of Sadako’s cranes to be put on display. While there, he met a woman who was still filled with rage and grief over the death of her son, a fireman, in the destruction of the World Trade Center. He asked her not to hold on to hate or sadness forever, but rather to honor her son by working for world peace. He felt that Sadako’s spirit touched her heart.
Most recently, Sasaki took one of Sadako’s cranes to Pearl Harbor as part of his effort to seek peace and reconciliation one step at a time. His goal is to leave a “beautiful Earth” to the next generation.
Words of commemoration were also given by Dr. Ernest Nagamatsu, one of the sponsors of “Remembering Sadako.” He recalled visiting Hiroshima’s Peace Park 35 years ago and, upon seeing the statue of Sadako and the thousands of paper cranes sent from around the world, feeling “embarrassed I didn’t know enough about Sadako.” He learned more by talking with a Japanese nun at a nearby cathedral and Caucasian man who worked for the U.S. Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.
Nagamatsu also learned a great deal from his late friend Walter Miyamasu, a Hiroshima survivor, who recalled “scrambling, jumping over bodies” as an 8-year-old in the aftermath of the bombing. He heard about the victims who begged for water before they died.
Resolving to “try to bring remembrance to Sadako … for the Japanese American community and the community at large,” Nagamatsu asked recording artist Jackson Browne to perform at the first “Concert for Peace” last year, which he did for free.
The first chairman of the Remember Sadako Committee was Nagamatsu’s friend Richard Diaz, who passed away suddenly last week and “left a big hole in our heart.” Diaz was remembered at this year’s concert.
Nagamatsu also paid tribute to his 97-year-old mother, Chiyo, who passed away recently. He held up a sack used to hold a hundred pounds of rice before and during World War II. “She embroidered happy faces (on it),” he said. “It tells you and reminds me … she never complained. She had the ability to put a happy face during tough times. I think that’s a blessing.”
Pointing out that such everyday objects can serve as powerful symbols, Nagamatsu referred to the documentary “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard,” which is about a church in Washington, D.C. that donated desks and supplies to a school that had been devastated by the Hiroshima bomb. In gratitude, the students sent artwork to the church. Decades later, the pictures were rediscovered and shown to the former students. “Some were in tears seeing paintings that they did in 1946 when they were 8 years old,” Nagamatsu said.
The Peace Flame from Hiroshima, which is kept at Koyasan, is another important symbol, Nagamatsu said, likening it to the flame used in Native American rituals. “We’re blessed that we have someplace to come” to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he said, and he makes it a point to “stop whatever I’m doing, take a short walk down the avenue and pay tribute here, knowing the flame is here.”
The program included an interfaith processional and sutra chanting by local ministers, candlelight offerings by representatives of community organizations, goeika chanting by Koyasan Eiyu-Kai, mantra chanting by the ministers, and a memorial message by Bishop Taisen Miyata.
Closing remarks were made by Leslie Ito, president and CEO of the JACCC, and Kaz Suyeishi of the American Society of Hiroshima/Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors, who asked the audience to repeat after her: “No more Hiroshima. No more Nagasaki. No more hibakusha. No more any war.”
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo