Junior Writers Reporting

Peace Seeds: Teens in Hiroshima Sow Seeds of Peace (Part 11)

Part 11: Flowers hold hopes for recovery from war damage

The season of blooming flowers, of many kinds and colors, is upon us. Flowers hold the power to soften our souls when we look at them. Seventy years ago, too, flowers consoled the spirits of those who were injured in the war and encouraged their recovery from the devastation they experienced.

On August 6, 1945, the first nuclear attack in human history turned the city of Hiroshima into charred ruins. But flowers, like cannas and oleanders, which later became Hiroshima’s official flower, were among the first flowers to bloom and gave heart to the people of the city.

The city of Fukuyama, in Hiroshima Prefecture, also experienced serious damage as a result of air raids on August 8, 1945. Since the war, roses have played an important part in strengthening the bonds among its citizens.

Flowers also convey the desire for peace of those who suffered during World War II. Roses grown for a Jewish girl who lost her life at a young age now bloom beyond national borders. In Hiroshima, roses linked to a doctor who experienced the atomic bombing in Nagasaki continue to grow.

We interviewed people who grow flowers with hopes for peace in the world. Through these interviews, the junior writers reflected on the preciousness of peace.

Roses offer hope to the city of Fukuyama

The city of Fukuyama became known as a “city of roses” when citizens planted about 1,000 roses on open land (now the rose garden in Hanazono-cho) in 1956. At the time, the city was still recovering from damage suffered in the war when air raids turned 80 percent of its urban areas into burnt rubble on August 8, 1945.

The land had been covered with plants growing wild and thick, as tall as a person, and was treacherous for women and children to pass through. Thinking that the plants would only grow back if they were cut down, citizens instead planted roses which produced beautiful flowers. The area was divided into 12 sections and a rose-growing competition ensued.

“Each day I carefully watched and tended to the roses, like we were engaged in conversation,” said Mikiya Kobayashi. “I came to know if they wanted water or fertilizer.” Mr. Kobayashi, 90, is the honorary chairperson of the Fukuyama Rose Society and one of those who began to plant roses years ago. Stressing the importance of cultivating roses with a loving heart, he said, “We were able to strengthen our own bonds by growing roses together.”

Mr. Kobayashi has been fond of flowers ever since he was a child. Flowers also soothed the painful experiences he endured in China during the war as well as after the war when he was interned and put to work in Siberia. Peach blossoms, dianthuses, star lilies, wild roses… Mr. Kobayashi said, “I was worried whether I would be able to come back to Japan, but flowers helped ease my anxiety.”

We visited the rose garden with Mr. Kobayashi. Roses of various kinds and sizes, in colors of red, pink, yellow, and white were in full bloom, and many people were enjoying the sight. “Flowers of love bloom in people’s hearts. Such people live in a town where roses bloom.” This is a short poem Mr. Kobayashi created. He hopes that people will see the preciousness of life by growing roses, which warmly convey the wish for peace. (Miyuu Okada, 14)

Oleanders bring new life to devastated A-bombed city

Oleanders, which had been planted along rivers and in parks in central Hiroshima, bloomed their red and white flowers earlier than any other in the aftermath of the atomic bombing. After it was said that nothing would grow in Hiroshima for 70 or 75 years, the sight of the blooming oleander flowers greatly encouraged the city’s survivors. One picture book features the history of these oleanders.

The Story of Oleanders, Sorry to Have Forgotten is the tale of an oleander that survived the atomic bombing and shares his experience with a boy, who takes the flower’s story to heart. Human beings were not the only victims of the atomic bombing. The author, Shumpei Ogata, 68, a lawyer and resident of Higashi Ward, said, “Through this picture book, I wanted to convey to children, who will create the future, the importance of each individual life.”

In one scene, a dog passing by the burning oleander after the A-bomb blast goes into the river, despite its own serious injuries, and comes back to sprinkle water on the flower by shaking itself. This expresses the importance of feeling compassion for others and helping those in need.

The oleander flowers bloomed to life amid the devastation in Hiroshima. When Mr. Ogata saw them, he felt as if they were appealing, “Are you living strong, too?” I now feel encouraged, as well, by these colorful flowers and their strong will to live. They give me hope for a peaceful world. (Miki Meguro, 12)

Canna flowers kindle hope for peace among schoolchildren

Canna flowers also bloomed in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing. At Motomachi Elementary School, in Naka Ward, there are about 50 roots of canna flowers blooming in 10 areas on the school grounds, including the “Niji no Mori” (“The Rainbow Forest”), where a third-generation hackberry that survived the atomic bombing was planted.

In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, there is a photograph of canna flowers that bloomed in the charred ruins of the city one month after the bombing. The photo was taken at a location in Motomachi, about 800 meters from the hypocenter, and perhaps near the south gate of Motomachi Elementary School. In 2009, the students of the school began growing canna flowers with the desire to convey the wish for peace.

Students involved in the flower committee water the plants and tend to them. This practice has been carefully handed down from the school’s older students to younger students. Yumi Aoki, 11, a sixth-grader and head of the committee, said, “Back then, I think everyone felt hope and wept for joy when they saw the canna flowers. I want to convey the message that a miracle can happen no matter how difficult your hardships might be.” (Ai Mizoue, 13)

Roses for Anne Frank grow beyond borders

The diary of Anne Frank (1929-1945) has been read by people all over the world. Anne died at the age of 15 in the Holocaust (the genocide of the Jewish people), which is a symbol of the tragedy of World War II. Roses in her honor, which leave an impression of Anne’s life, are grown at the Holocaust Education Center in the city of Fukuyama.

The roses change color, from red to orange to pink, during the period in which they bloom. It seems as if the flowers are flushed with the hope to live, seek to become even more beautiful, then fade with feelings that have been unfulfilled. The roses remind us of Anne, who never lost her optimism despite a life in hiding and at a concentration camp.

Toru Kono, 12, a first-year student at Mukai Higashi Junior High School and a resident of Onomichi, cares for the flowers as a member of Small Hands, a group of student volunteers at the center. To him, the roses seem to be expressing feelings.

This type of rose was created by a Belgian horticulturist who was moved when he read The Diary of Anne Frank. Anne’s father, Otto Frank, who was the only member of the family to survive the war, first presented the rose to Japan in 1972, and the members of Small Hands have grown them at the center since 1998.

More than 360 seedlings grown by Small Hands have been presented to schools and groups who visited the center. Seigo Yoshida, 11, a sixth-grader at Miyuki Elementary School and a resident of Fukuyama, is another member of Small Hands. He hopes, along with these roses, that the desire for peace will grow. (Maiko Hanaoka, 16)

Roses convey wish of doctor who survived A-bombing

Rose trees linked to Dr. Takashi Nagai (1908-1951), a doctor who experienced the atomic bombing in Nagasaki and treated survivors there, are found in a greenbelt along Peace Boulevard in Naka Ward, Hiroshima.

This variety of rose, called “Red Radiance,” produces vivid red flowers. Two trees, standing about one meter high, have been planted side by side. The roses originally bloomed in Dr. Nagai’s garden. In 1949, they were given to Hiroshima by Dr. Nagai, who was confined to bed due to A-bomb-related illness, when young people from the two A-bombed cities gathered for a youth event in Hiroshima. Recently, one tree weakened, but received treatment at the Hiroshima Botanical Garden in Saeki Ward and was returned to the greenbelt in March of this year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings.

The rose trees convey Dr. Nagai’s wish: “Even if the waters of the Ota River begin flowing backward, we must never again use an atomic bomb.” Osamu Hiyama, 80, chair of the group which looks after “peace roses” in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, said, “People in both cities experienced deep grief over losing loved ones. I want everyone to look at these roses and reflect on the importance of peace.” (Kohei Furohashi, 16)

Thoughts of the junior writers after the interviews

The roses planted for Anne at the Holocaust Education Center are cared for well and they were blooming beautifully. Next time I want to watch them actually tending to the flowers, like the grafting and transplanting work. I was surprised to hear that Seigo, who’s only in sixth grade, has already been interviewed several times about his volunteer work there. Since I’ve interviewed people, but have rarely been interviewed myself, I was impressed by how well he answered our questions. (Maiko Hanaoka, 16)

This was the first time I was responsible for taking photos. It was hard taking photos of the expressions and movements of Mr. Hiyama, who has been working to keep the roses alive, particularly the roses connected to Dr. Nagai. Next time, I’ll take advantage of the camera techniques I learned. (Nanaho Yamamoto, 15)

This was my first interview about this subject. I listened from a different point of view compared to the A-bomb accounts I have heard, and I learned a lot. I think it’s a precious opportunity to listen to people talk about these things. I’ll do my best to continue conducting interviews to share this information. (Kohei Furohashi, 16)

I learned that many people put their feelings for peace into flowers. When we went to Fukuyama, roses were in bloom everywhere in the city. Before, I only saw them as beautiful, but through our interviews, I learned that roses are a symbol of peace. I was surprised to find out that roses have a lot of connections to history. From now on, I’d like to show interest in flowers that stand for peace, too. (Miyuu Okada, 14)

I was surprised to learn that the offspring of trees which survived the atomic bombing have been planted in many places, and there are students thinking deeply about these trees and about flowers. Canna flowers, which bloomed early in Hiroshima after the bombing, appeal for the importance of peace. I want to take in and convey these feelings to others in Japan and overseas. (Ai Mizoue, 13)

I interviewed Mr. Ogata. At first, he talked slowly but he began speaking faster and faster, and it was hard to take notes. But his enthusiasm made me feel his passion for peace all the more. At the end of our interview, he encouraged me to live as happily as I can. I’m going to take his words to heart and value my life highly. (Miki Meguro, 12)

I gathered information about oleanders. After reading the picture book The Story of Oleanders, Sorry to Have Forgotten, I met the author, Mr. Ogata. He taught me: “Not everyone in this world is bad. Look for good people. Trust people. Don’t let yourself feel hatred.” I feel these words are important to my life. I walked through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and along the Honkawa River to take pictures of flowers. When I saw red flowers, I imagined how the people of Hiroshima were encouraged by the sight, and when I saw white flowers, I felt something different, like a quiet kind of dignity. (Atsuhito Ito, 12)

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, 49 junior writers, from the sixth grade of elementary school to the last year of high school, choose themes, gather information, and write articles.

(Originally published on June 11, 2015)