SAN FRANCISCO — The National Japanese American Historical Society presents the exhibition “Forgiveness: A Bridge Between Nations,” which is co-sponsored and curated by the Silkworm Peace Institute of Berkeley.
Thirty-four framed mixed-media replica works by Takashi Tanemori are currently on display at the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center, 640 Old Mason St. in the Presidio of San Francisco, and represent the essential message: “Forgiveness is the precursor to peace.”
The exhibition includes a selection of artworks that examines the historical and unique personal perspective of a Hiroshima survivor. Tanemori, in the first section, chronicles the diplomatic and international relations between the U.S. and Japan, which have been at war and peace in the past two centuries. Through symbolic imagery, he presents his historical interpretive overlay to the build-up of war between these two nations.
In acknowledging the unique Japanese American experience here in the States, he interjects a few powerful pictorial symbols of the wartime incarceration.
In the final selections, Tanemori presents his very personal experience and 40-year journey as a young man seeking revenge then realizing forgiveness. In the end, his lasting message is that forgiveness is the precursor to peace and the ultimate solution to human conflict.
Tanemori says that he hopes the exhibition “may allow individuals from both nations, especially those who fought one another, to see ourselves, who we really are, and to find out how the war impacts not only nations, but individuals.”
A poignant focal point of the show is a newly created work by Tanemori and his colleagues. Tanemori as a young boy is a colorful mixed-media image amid a slew of Japanese kites, fluttering like butterflies in the wind. Each work represents historical research and personal interpretation, and reflects his layers of process. This exhibition carries a universal message pertaining to trauma, recovery, reconciliation, and healing through time, culminating in peace through forgiveness.
The MIS Historic Learning Center is located at Building 640, which was the site of the first top-secret U.S. Army language school that trained Japanese American soldiers for war against Japan — one month prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
NJAHS chose to commemorate the 70th anniversary year of the end of World War II and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with this show. “As the last survivors in their 70s to 90s, this is a rare opportunity to tell the story from the perspective of the survivors of war,” noted Executive Director Rosalyn Tonai.
NJAHS is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and authentic interpretation of historical information about the Japanese American experience for the broader national and global community. It presents these different historical perspectives and experiences of people of Japanese descent and others to be shared toward greater universal tolerance and post-war reconciliation.
The center’s mission at this historic site is to preserve a vital part of American history as a tribute to the Japanese American experience and as a promise to the MIS legacy of peace and reconciliation.
This exhibition, which is on view until Oct. 31, is funded by NJAHS and in part by the San Francisco Grants for the Arts, in co-sponsorship with the Silkworm Peace (Kaiko Heiwa) Institute, which was founded by Tanemori in 1985.
On Aug. 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., “Little Boy,” a uranium bomb, on board the B-29 Enola Gay, was dropped on Hiroshima, a city with 340,000 residents. A massive fireball of several million degrees centigrade formed with an explosive force of 10 to12.5 kilotons of TNT that created a supersonic shock wave followed by a high-speed wind. Hypocenter temperatures escalated to 4,000 degrees Celsius, annihilating tens of thousands of people within seconds. Huge quantities of dust carried by the wind and raging fires shrouded the city in pitch darkness.
By December 1945, an estimated 140,000 people had perished, many from radiation sickness.
Three days later on Aug. 9, the U.S. dropped a 4.5-ton plutonium bomb, “Fat Man,” on Nagasaki, where some 70,000 of the 270,000 residents were killed. By 1950, the death toll for the two cities had climbed to 340,000 people, leaving hundreds of thousands more to live with the effects of the atomic bombings for years to come.
These weapons of mass destruction changed the world as it ushered in the nuclear age. San Francisco has commemorated the atomic bombings on the 40th, 50th, 55th and 60th anniversaries.
On May 3, NJAHS opened “Forgiveness” during its 2015 annual awards tribute. Tanemori was honored with the Peace Award from NJAHS and a Certificate of Recognition from Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Seventy years ago, Tanemori was an 8-year-old playing in a Hiroshima schoolyard seven-tenths of a mile from ground zero of the blast. He lost his father, mother, and most of his family members. He survived to tell his story through artwork and writing. He continues to suffer from the traumatic effects of the atomic bomb, including losing his eyesight.
When he shared his personal life experience with students, it was suggested that he make a pictorial representation of his life to accompany his moving story. Tanemori’s work represents the span of his life since childhood, post-war in Japan and the U.S., and international diplomatic relations dating back to the 17th century.
Tanemori declares in his artist’s statement: “It is our great hope that the world will forever remember, never forget, the events that unequivocally shaped the world and future, serving to remind that we do have a choice, to make the world a safer, more peaceful place for the generations living and to come. It is our conviction that today, in order to be responsible global citizens and a peaceful human race, we all must become ‘honest historians.’”
Today, at 77 years old, Tanemori is a cultural consultant, speaker, educator and artist who has made appearances on NBC, History Channel, NHK, and National Geographic. He presents to community organizations, business executives, governmental entities, and educational institutions, addressing diversity issues and cultural sensitivity.
He earned a Master of Religious Education from the Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis and now lives in Berkeley with his guide dog, Yuki-na. He has written an autobiography, “Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness” (2008) with John Crump and appears in a recent documentary, “Return to Hiroshima: Family Bonds and the Atomic Bomb,” directed by Perry Hallinan.
Currently, Tanemori is completing a new book, “What About Pearl Harbor Infamy,” making more artwork, getting involved in community events, and ever-thoughtfully sharing his message that “forgiveness is the precursor to peace.”
Saturday, June 27, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.: NJAHS annual open house and members’ meeting at MIS Historic Learning Center. Meetand-greet with Takashi Tanemori. Film screening: “Return to Hiroshima: Family Bonds and the Atomic Bomb,” in which Tanemori visits family members in Hiroshima 60 years after the bombing. Book signing: “Hiroshima: Bridge to Forgiveness” ($29.95/$25 retail paperback).
Saturday, July 18, from 1 to 3 p.m.: Family Day Kites of Truth: Storytelling and kite making workshop with Takashi Tanemori at MIS Historic Learning Center. You never know where life may take you, but Tanemori says, “Hold on to these kites of truth!” Children of all ages will listen to the story of Tanemori’s samurai kites as they make their own personal kites to fly on Crissy Field. Suggested donation for materials: $5 per kite; otherwise free admission.
Thursday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m.: Presidio Dialogues at Presidio Officers’ Club, 50 Moraga Ave., Presidio Main Post. Takashi Tanemori will speak at the about his works currently on display at the MIS Historic Learning Center and his life story. Free admission.
Admission to the MIS Historic Learning Center is $10 general, free to NJAHS members, veterans and children 12 and under. Free admission for everyone during public events. Regular hours are Saturday and Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m. Info: www.njahs.org/640
For more information on the Silkworm Peace Institute, visit www.hiroshima-forgiveness-tanemori.com.