Editorial: Time to reflect on the importance of A-bombed buildings

It appears that the buildings which survived the atomic bombing are now in jeopardy.

The Chugoku Shimbun carried out a survey involving 65 privately-owned buildings that are registered as “A-bombed buildings” by the City of Hiroshima. The owners and managers of 42 of these buildings expressed anxiety over their preservation in the future. Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing. It is only natural to wonder how much “life” remains in these aging buildings, and what the future holds for them.

On the other hand, a number of respondents, particularly those overseeing temples and shrines, indicated that they hope to preserve the buildings “permanently,” to which we owe them our gratitude. Many of the A-bombed buildings have undergone repairs and renovations, which speaks to the maintenance efforts being made by the owners.

When a building cannot be saved, a second option involves retaining a portion of an outer wall, pillar, or entrance, when the the structure is demolished, to serve as a monument for the new building. A-bombed buildings are effective resources for peace education as they are visible to the eye and can be approached on foot.

But we cannot continue to rely solely on the good will of the building owners.

In 1993, the City of Hiroshima began its registration program for A-bombed buildings which stand within a radius of five kilometers from the hypocenter, providing financial assistance for the costs of preservation. The number of such structures peaked at 98 in 1996, but has declined to 85, including publicly-owned buildings.

In cases where A-bombed buildings are used as offices or shops, their deterioration leads to issues involving safety and functionality. In some cases, due to redevelopment efforts, buildings were dismantled and disappeared; in other cases, older bank buildings were replaced with new facilities.

  However, preserving the A-bombed buildings for future generations, despite the passage of time, will grow in importance.

The A-bombed buildings give silent testimony to the horror wrought by a nuclear attack and the inhumanity of this weapon. For A-bomb survivors, these buildings served as places of evacuation and aid. The buildings, along with monuments and A-bombed trees, are reminders to keep their memories alive.

We cannot deny the fact that the City of Hiroshima has no legal authority to prevent owners from dismantling their A-bombed buildings. However, when there is the possibility that one of those buildings will be demolished and replaced, the city should engage the owner in careful discussion to seek alternatives while informing the public about the situation in order to hear their voices. The city should then pursue whatever measures can reasonably be taken to help preserve these structures.

In 1988, junior high school students from the Kansai region, mainly Osaka, called Hiroshima a “beautiful and impressive city” in a publication issued by the Hiroshima Student Peace Seminar. It can be said that, by this time, except for the A-bomb Dome, the scars of the atomic bombing had already faded.

In the aftermath of the atomic bombing, one idea involving reconstruction was to move the city’s functions to other areas in order to preserve the burnt ruins of the bombing for the sake of lasting peace in the world. Although this now seems an extreme view, in France there is a village that was savaged by the Nazis and then preserved in that state.

Although we cannot go back and change the past, we must prevent the city from losing the lingering scars left by the “absolute evil” of the atomic bombing.

The other day, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui revealed a change in his stance regarding preservation measures for the A-bombed buildings. In a positive gesture, he said that the city will now consider more flexible and diverse support measures so that these structures can continue conveying their potent message.

  Based on the mayor’s stance, in the case of publicly-owned buildings, the city must craft preservation measures that will incorporate these structures into its urban planning. The people of Hiroshima must think through how the former Hiroshima University Science Faculty No. 1 Building, located at the former Hiroshima University site, and the former Army Clothing Depot, with its red brick walls, will be used in the future. The buildings should be integrated in the redevelopment projects of the city and evaluated for their architectural merits.

It is also vital to pursue measures to preserve the scenery around the A-bomb Dome, a World Heritage site. The Peace Memorial City Construction Law is still in effect in Hiroshima. It is time to contemplate the preservation and use of A-bombed buildings, including the A-bomb Dome, in a comprehensive manner.

(Originally published on August 5, 2014)