From A-bomb survivors: Hiroshima’s Toshiko Tanaka to design ripple marks in sand for Japanese gardens in U.S.

by Yumi Kanazaki, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Five dry landscape Japanese gardens in the United States have requested Toshiko Tanaka, an A-bomb survivor living in Hiroshima’s Higashi Ward, to design for them samon, or ripple marks in sand, in the image of peace. The gardens are pursuing a plan to create the samon marks using rakes in conjunction with the International Day of Peace on September 21. In this way, the wishes of A-bomb survivors will be communicated beyond the barriers of language.

The project was first proposed by Martin McKellar, 70, an Asian garden specialist for the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida. Among the participating gardens are the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in Texas and the Karesansui Contemplation Garden in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a city that served as a base for the Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the atomic bombs.

During a visit to Kyoto two years ago, Mr. McKellar was asked by a student on a school trip to answer a questionnaire about peace. With that experience, Mr. McKellar began to look for what he and colleagues could do in terms of related activities. He found an article translated into English describing the work of the “International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN),” a coalition of non-governmental organizations, on the website of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center of the Chugoku Shimbun. The information led him to Ms. Tanaka, who works with ICAN.

Ms. Tanaka, an enamel artist, has been selected 16 times to show her wall art at the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition. After she was told of the request to create the samon design, she received pencils in the shape of a small rake created by students at the University of Florida. She drew several sand patterns with motifs of three separate Japanese characters spelling “he-i-wa,” which means peace in Japanese, taking into account the reduced scale compared with the actual size of the gardens and rakes.

Ms. Tanaka named her design “Peace Ring,” in which is imbued her wish for peace on earth to unite in a ring and spread. She is delighted about the collaborative project that transcends the borders between Japan and the United States. “The project motivates me as an A-bomb survivor and an artist.”

At first, public events were scheduled to be held simultaneously at the gardens. However, the gatherings were abandoned against the backdrop of concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, each garden will videotape the work of raking the samon, and on September 21, staff will participate in an online conference organized by the Northern American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA). The video will be finished after addition of the A-bombing account of Ms. Tanaka, who suffered burns and lost many of her classmates in the bombing. The video artwork will be released to the public at a later date.

According to NAJGA, there are about 200 Japanese gardens in North America, including dry landscape gardens. Mr. McKellar said that Ms. Tanaka’s hope for a peaceful world without nuclear weapons touched him. He expressed his desire to hold the project again next year.

(Originally published on September 7, 2020)