By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago was commemorated Aug. 2 at Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo.
The annual memorial service in front of the Hiroshima Peace Flame was co-sponsored by the temple, the American Society of Hiroshima/Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors (ASA), and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC).
Rev. Junkun Imamura, bishop and shukan (head priest) of Koyasan, led the religious rites and gave opening remarks. Attendees lined up to pay their respects to the thousands who were killed by the nuclear blasts on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945 or died later from exposure to radiation.
JACCC President and CEO Leslie Ito discussed “Sadako: Folding for Peace,” an annual program held by JACCC in memory of Sadako Sasaki, a Hiroshima girl who was 2 when the bomb was dropped and died of leukemia 10 years later.
“Through these programs we remember Sadako Sasaki and what she has come to symbolize, a call for world peace on behalf of our children,” said Ito. “… Today we gather to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki … We also honor those that fight every day for peace …
“Over the past several weeks at the JACCC, we’ve collected over 2,000 cranes from our local community … (and) hundreds of haiku for peace from countries across the world that we’ve gathered through Facebook and social media as well as people coming to art events. As a gift of peace from Los Angeles, we hope to send both the cranes as well as the haiku to be shared both with Hiroshima as well as the Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina.
“Please stop by the JACCC to read these messages of peace and share your messages as well. While these offerings could be seen as just paper and words, they also represent the love, care and human compassion that fuel a peace movement.”
The main speaker was photojournalist Darrell Miho, who has worked with hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) as well as survivors of the 2011 tsunami in northwestern Japan.
“Over the past five years, I have met with over 400 hibakusha,” he said. “Many still don’t want to talk about their experience. For some it is still too painful. For others, they were too young to remember, while still others just want to forget. For those who do talk about their experience, their goal is to teach us about the war and to remind us that we cannot forget what happened 70 years ago …
“I have heard many heartbreaking stories, and a few have really stuck in my head. There is a survivor in Hawaii who didn’t want to be interviewed on camera, but he openly talked to me about his experience. He was 18 years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Because of the mass destruction, most of the buildings were destroyed, including the crematoriums. He said that bodies were all over the place and rotting in the heat.
“His job was to pile up wood and cremate the bodies. He said he doesn’t remember how many bodies he cremated or how many days he did it. But he said he still remembers vividly the unbearable stench of the rotting and burning flesh.”
Miho also related the experiences of Mikio Iwasa, who was 16 years old and three-quarters of a mile from the hypocenter, in his own words: “I found my mother trapped under the collapsed house and I tried to pull her out from there, but it was impossible for a young boy that I was. So I fled the fire, turning my back to my mother, who was saying prayers, sensing that she was going to die. Yes, I let her die. She was burnt alive …
“A couple of days later, I dug out what looked like my mother’s body from the burnt ruins of our house. It was an object greasy with fat, like a mannequin painted with tar and burned. I could not believe that was my mother’s body. She was killed mercilessly, like an object, not like a human being.”
“I feel fortunate that I was able to be there when both of my parents passed away, so I cannot imagine what it would be like to have to leave your own mother when she needed you most,” Miho remarked. “The guilt and the feeling of helplessness is unimaginable to me …
“There are many more (stories) like this, equally heartbreaking, each of them tragic. And while each survivor has had different experiences, there have been many similarities in the many stories that I have heard. Many talk about the dead bodies lying in the street or floating in the river. Many talk about people walking around like zombies with outstretched arms and skin hanging from their limbs. Many talk about people asking for water, and then dying after they drank it.
“But the one thing they all talk about is their hope for peace. Their hope for a world free of nuclear weapons. Their hope that no one will ever have to experience the living hell that they witnessed.”
He added, “Some of the nuclear weapons we possess now are 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. If just one nuclear weapon is detonated over a city like Los Angeles, the death toll would be in the millions and the damage would be catastrophic, so catastrophic that the world may never recover from it. Many scientists believe that the nuclear fallout and the subsequent nuclear winter would end life on this planet as we know it.”
Urging everyone in the audience to do something to make this world a more peaceful one, Miho said, “Each and every one of us has the ability to effect change because what we do affects what those around us do … If someone yells at us, our natural reaction is to yell back, which often leads to more yelling. What happens if we break that cycle? In most cases, the yelling stops.
“What would happen if we were like the hibakusha and took the time to stop and think about the bigger picture? … What if we stopped and said to ourselves, ‘I don’t want to yell. I don’t want to fight. I want peace in my life’? Despite the atrocities they have seen, the hibakusha understand that fighting back is not the answer …
“Understanding that if we want to live in harmony with one another, we need to be open to different perspectives and sometimes we need to compromise and do what is best for all and not just for us. We may not be able to control what our governments do or what people around us do, but we can control what we do … Peace begins with us.”
Junji Sarashina, treasurer of ASA, was 16 years old when he survived the Hiroshima bomb. “I might have seen close to 5,000-6,000 people dead,” he recalled. “You see the first people on the ground dead … you’re kind of scared. But after you see 5,000-6,000, it’s an ordinary thing.
“I tried to help some of these wounded, but it was beyond what a human can do. Everybody rushed … to the Red Cross hospital. We couldn’t get any help there because all the nurses and the doctors were also the victims and they couldn’t do anything. Three days later, the doctors and the nurses from the outskirts of Hiroshima came to the city and helped the people, whatever they can do. They stayed in the city of Hiroshima for a few days, 10 days, maybe one month.
“The worst thing was after one month, the doctors and nurses who came to help started to lose their hair, started to get the red rash all over them, and they became the victims of the radiation … I’m sure the same thing happened in Nagasaki too.
“The worst thing I have seen and still remember is a mother holding on to a round object. That’s her baby. That image is still vivid in my mind after 70 years.”
Sarashina had high praise for Miho, the only non-hibakusha on the board of ASA. “He’s been helping us financially. Whatever we ask, he will always do it for us. In fact, he’s a busy man. Tomorrow he’s going to go to Japan and attend the Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-bomb memorial service.”
Kaz Suyeishi of ASA, who usually speaks at the Koyasan service, was also in Japan to attend the 70th anniversary commemoration.
Denise Duffield, associate director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, announced a peace vigil to be held on Aug. 5 at 4:15 p.m. in front of the “Chain Reaction” peace sculpture at the Santa Monica Civic Center, timed to coincide with the observance in Hiroshima on Aug. 6 at 8:15 a.m. Sarashina was among the speakers at that event as well, and the Hiroshima Peace Flame was presented by Rev. Ryuzen Hayashi.
Dr. Gloria Montebruno Saller of University of LaVerne announced a Hiroshima-Nagasaki exhibit to be shown on campus on Sept. 21 to mark International Peace Day.
A number of other peace events were planned on or around the two anniversary dates.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo