Peace Seeds: Teens in Hiroshima Sow Seeds of Peace (Part 56)

Part 56: The Children’s Peace Monument and Us

The Children’s Peace Monument in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, located in Naka Ward, is the place where many children come together to pray and pledge to create a peaceful future. Former classmates of Sadako Sasaki, who died of A-bomb-induced leukemia at the age of 12, launched a campaign to raise this monument to comfort the souls of the children who lost their lives to the atomic bomb, with the monument eventually unveiled on May 5, 1958.

With this year marking the 60th anniversary of the completion of the monument, the junior writers, of around the same age as the children who launched the campaign, learned how the monument was realized and what has occurred since Sadako’s story was conveyed to the world. We made a presentation on this topic on the stage of the Hiroshima Flower Festival.

We also interviewed people older than us who attended the ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the monument held on May 5. We asked them about their thoughts and we considered how the younger generation in Hiroshima can communicate this wish to others.

Ceremony commemorates 60th anniversary of the monument

Some college students attended the ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the monument and sought to convey the thoughts of children in Hiroshima.

Marina Nagasaki, 21, a fourth-year student at Hiroshima Jogakuin University, in Higashi Ward, asked visitors to the Flower Festival to fold paper cranes and dedicated them to the monument. She said with enthusiasm, “Visitors from other prefectures and overseas were also happy to lend their support. I want to keep up my efforts, using social networking sites, so that people out in the world will know about the monument.”

Shinichiro Kurose, 77, chair of the board of trustees of the Hiroshima YMCA, in Naka Ward, addressed the young people and said he had high expectations for them. When he was teaching at Hiroshima Jogakuin Junior and Senior High Schools, he said that he worked with the late Ichiro Kawamoto, who suggested making efforts for the monument alongside children. Mr. Kurose said, “The wishes of children of those days have been conveyed to the younger generation. The children who will be part of the future must never again fall victim to nuclear weapons.”

Teenagers like us are next in line to convey to the world the wishes that are imbued in the Children’s Peace Monument. To start, I want to convey the horror of nuclear weapons by folding paper cranes or reading picture books. (Riho Kito, 17)

Junior writers make presentation on the stage of the Flower Festival

The holidays of Golden Week brought a clear blue sky and fresh green leaves. On a stage by Peace Memorial Boulevard in Naka Ward, where the Flower Festival was held, a group of junior writers made a presentation about the Children’s Peace Monument and its 60-year history. We showed photo panels, likening them to an album, and traced the path of Sadako Sasaki and the children who launched the campaign to raise the monument.

Who was Sadako?

Sadako Sasaki experienced the atomic bombing at the age of two, and was exposed to the black radioactive rain that came in the aftermath of the bomb’s explosion. She was an athletic girl and, as a sixth grader at Noboricho Elementary School, now part of Naka Ward, she became part of an event that strengthened the bond among the classmates. The event was an interclass relay race that took place at an athletic meet. Sadako and her teammates practiced for the relay race every day after school and their hard work led to their victory that fall. This happy result was the outcome of the teamwork they developed.

The following year, however, Sadako fell ill with A-bomb-induced leukemia and became hospitalized. At first, the people around her tried to conceal their concern so she wouldn’t know how serious her illness was, but Sadako learned the truth and began to fold paper cranes in the hope that this would grant her wish to recover.

But on October 25, 1955, ten years after the atomic bombing, Sadako passed away. When her classmates heard the news, they were full of sorrow and regret. Early on, they formed a group to visit her in the hospital to keep her spirits up, but as they became busier with their lives in junior high school, these visits grew less frequent. With her death, they began to consider how they might honor her memory.

The campaign grows

Two weeks later, Sadako’s friends launched their campaign to raise the Children’s Peace Monument. On their own, they mimeographed 2,000 flyers and began calling for donations. When they distributed flyers at a nationwide conference of junior high school principals, held in Hiroshima, some ignored their appeal but others contributed money and pledged their support. The campaign then spread across Japan, and overseas, and about 5.4 million yen was raised.

Finally, on May 5, 1958, the monument was unveiled in the Peace Memorial Park. The figure of a girl holding aloft a large paper crane on the top of the monument signifies the dream of a peaceful future, while the figures of a boy and girl to the left and right convey a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow for all children.

Sadako’s story spreads

The story of Sadako, and the children’s campaign for the monument, then rippled out into the world. A number of books on this theme have been written and published. And some organizations, including ANT-Hiroshima, a non-profit organization in Hiroshima, have made efforts to translate the story into other languages and share these books with the nations of the world.

The story has roused sympathy from people worldwide and led to the building of related monuments and parks in many places. There are times, though, when the local people feel torn. One example is the Children’s Peace Statue located in the U.S. state of New Mexico. It was funded with donations, but the site of the statue became a source of contention between the city of Los Alamos, where the atomic bomb was developed, and the surrounding cities, which resulted in the statue being relocated three times.

The wish for peace expressed by Sadako and the other children have touched many people’s hearts. At the same time, we, who live in Hiroshima, think it’s important to understand the viewpoints of others and take their feelings into account. (Yoshiko Hirata, 16, Shiho Fujii, 16, and Anna Ikeda, 16)

Making key chains with the wish for a peaceful world

We made key chains with the image of a flying crane with a flower in its mouth, a design tied to the theme of the Flower Festival. I hope that people will carry this image with them, which conveys the wish for peace to spread far and wide, in the form of the flying crane. I made these key chains with this wish. (Akane Sato, 15)

Sadako’s former classmate shares her memories

“When the white cloth covering the monument was pulled off, exposing the statue of a beautiful girl in the bright blue May sky, I clapped as hard as I possibly could.” Tomiko Kawano, 75, a resident of Naka Ward and a former classmate of Sadako Sasaki at Noboricho Elementary School, described the moment the monument was unveiled in her book Genbaku no Ko no Zo, Rokunen Takegumi no Nakamatachi (The Children’s Peace Monument, Friends from the 6th Grade Takegumi). I listened to her memories of what took place at that time.

With a smile, Ms. Kawano said that she had been on Sadako’s team for the relay race. But when she began to talk about the time she learned that Sadako was in the hospital, her face suddenly turned somber.

When Ms. Kawano heard from her homeroom teacher that Sadako was suffering from an A-bomb-related disease, she felt very sorry for her. Yet at the same time, she was taken aback at the thought that she could have been in Sadako’s shoes. Ms. Kawano experienced the atomic bombing at the age of three and feared that death might eventually claim her, too.

When Ms. Kawano visited Sadako in the hospital that summer, before she passed away in the fall, she saw red spots on Sadako’s hands and legs. When Sadako noticed Ms. Kawano looking at them, she quickly covered her hands and legs with a blanket. “That was the last day I visited her in the hospital. I should have visited her more often,” Ms. Kawano said, choking back tears.

Ms. Kawano shared her memories of Sadako with me and, as I compared her life with my own, I felt that Sadako had given me the chance to think about peace. (Kana Okino, 17)

What is Peace Seeds?
Peace Seeds are the seeds of smiles which can be spread around the world by thinking about peace and the preciousness of life from various viewpoints. To fill this world with flowering smiles, the junior writers—25 junior high school and high school students—choose themes, gather information, and write articles.

(Originally published on May 17, 2018)