Hiroshima junior high student and French pen pal clean Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound

by Kosuke Takeuchi, Staff Writer

Hiroshima resident Shoko Nakatomi met her French pen pal Odile Ruault for the first time on the morning of August 5 in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The 13-year-old junior high school student has been corresponding with the 74-year-old Paris woman who visits Japan for the anniversary of the atomic bombing every year. While preparations were being made in the park for the Peace Memorial Ceremony, they did weeding around the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound. Working together, they made efforts in support of a more peaceful world.

The two met in front of the Children’s Peace Monument at 5 a.m. Ms. Ruault was happy to finally meet Ms. Nakatomi in person and hugged her. They spent more than two hours working in silence around the mound.

After completing their work, a smiling Ms. Ruault said about her pen pal, “Shoko is like my granddaughter. I hope the younger generation will take up our wish for peace.” Ms. Nakatomi, a second-year student at Nagatsuka Junior High School, said, “I really felt that Ms. Ruault was communicating with the victims who rest here while she was working. I would like to listen to their voices, too, and do what I can for peace in the world.” They planned to attend the Peace Memorial Ceremony together on August 6.

On August 6, 2008, Ms. Nakatomi read an article about Ms. Ruault in the Chugoku Shimbun. The article said that Ms. Ruault had visited Hiroshima to clean around the mound for 14 years and remarked that “Hiroshima is a symbol of hope.”

Ms. Nakatomi could not understand why Ms. Ruault considered Hiroshima a symbol of hope, since the atomic bombing is viewed in such a negative light. She phoned Ms. Ruault while she was still in Japan, got her home address, and they began to exchange letters in English.

In one letter, Ms. Ruault wrote about her experience of seeing cherry blossoms in the spring of 1992, when she first visited Peace Memorial Park, and added that was the time she found hope.

Ms. Nakatomi had gained the answer to her question. “I think the smiles of the Hiroshima people, in overcoming the tragedy, made her use the word hope.” Inspired by this friendship with a person of a very different age, language, and nation, she has, for the first time, begun folding 1,000 paper cranes to dedicate to the Children’s Peace Monument.

(Originally published on August 6, 2009)