Teenagers’ paintings keep memories of Hiroshima survivors alive
By Edurne Morillo
Hiroshima, Japan, May 17 (EFE).- Nearly eight decades after Hiroshima, the number of survivors of the atomic bombing continues to dwindle. But a group of teenagers is keeping their memory alive through their paintings, which are inspired from conversations with the survivors.
With the average age of survivors at 82, Hiroshima, the first city ever to be struck by an atomic bomb, is now looking for new ways to remember its history, especially in the face of recent conflicts that have heightened nuclear tensions around the world.
It is in that context that Hiroshima will host the Group of Seven summit this weekend, where the leaders of Japan, Germany, Canada, France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States will seek to send “a strong anti-nuclear message”.
With a view to preserving the memory of the bomb victims, a project was born in 2004 between the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Motomachi High School, in which students meet for almost a year with survivors to listen to their stories and paint a picture based on one of those memories.
“It took me about 10 months to finish the painting after five sessions with the survivor and I have the conviction that you can convey the message of peace and the atomic bomb not only with words, but also with paintings,” Haruna Fukumoto, a 17-year-old student, tells Efe.
After getting to know the bomb survivors – known in Japanese as “hibakusha” – Fukumoto painted “Please, look for my mommy!” based on her conversations with Chieko Kiriake, who was 15 at the time of the blast.
A week after the bombing, Kiriake went to the hospital in search of her uncle and found a little girl who asked her to look for her mother. Running out of time, she asked the girl to leave her alone, but returned to look for her a day later, without success.
“I want more people to see this painting. People of my generation and other generations younger than me. I want people to know what happened so I can advocate the importance of peace in the world,” Fukumoto adds.
Nagi Kagawa, also 17, based her work on conversations with Teruko Yahata, a hibakusha who was eight years old at the time, and captured her experience in the painting “An eerie flash of light,” where young Yahata can be seen in the garden of her home with a sky covered by a bright light before she loses consciousness.
Their stories bear similarities to those of other bomb survivors, people now at least 78 years old who have been dying over the past decades from the side effects of radiation or natural causes.
More than 100,000 hibakusha are still alive, out of a total of 650,000 that the Japanese government has recognized since the disaster. Branded as “survivors,” the hibakusha are viewed with respect in Japan, but the term also carries with it a number of prejudices and has led many of these people to social exclusion or to having to associate only with other hibakusha.
Although these young women have not had any experience with the atomic bomb, they have come to better understand the events through these interviews and their paintings, as well as keeping the memory of the survivors alive so that their message of peace can be passed onto the next generations and survive beyond the lifetime of each hibakusha.
Their importance is key in today’s Japan, where new generations are growing up without the knowledge of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and how both cities became the sad protagonists of the only two nuclear bombings in history.
The United States launched the first nuclear attack on the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and three days later dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, which led to Japan’s surrender on August 15 and ended World War II. EFE