“Gender Forum in Hiroshima” raises various views on nature of A-bombed city

by Hiromi Morita, Staff Writer

On December 19 and 20, the “Gender Forum in Hiroshima” was held in the city, attended by about 220 people from Japan and overseas. With the passing of 70 years since the atomic bombings, the event provided an opportunity to reflect on the nature of Hiroshima from a variety of perspectives to move beyond stereotyped views.

The forum was organized by an executive committee composed of Hiroshima citizens. Ulrike Woehr, a professor at Hiroshima City University, and Kikue Takao, the chairperson of the Hiroshima Women’s Studies Research Institute, served as leaders of the committee. The committee members spent about two years preparing for the event, which was conceived in response to a trend where the A-bomb experience has been viewed in feminized and maternalized terms with a focus on the purity and innocence of female victims. The organizers felt that this tendency was obscuring other perspectives of the atomic bombings, including Japan’s aggression during the war and the presence of minorities in the A-bombed cities.

Division of labor based on gender

There were 23 speakers over the two-day gathering, including researchers and citizens. They spoke on a range of themes, such as how memories of the atomic bombings have been expressed and received by the media, artists, and local communities; how the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have responded to concerns involving the Korean A-bomb survivors, sexual minorities, and issues linked to Okinawa and Fukushima; and how “Hiroshima” should be defined, considering Japan’s relations with the United States and East Asian nations, where people hold different views of the atomic bombings.

In a session titled “Feminism, ethnic group, nation, and war –Possible viewpoint of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima,” Mikiyo Kano, a researcher of women’s history and an A-bomb survivor, offered an analysis of media coverage and pop culture in relation to the Hiroshima bombing, which have focused on young women suffering from keloids or leukemia as symbols of A-bomb victims. Ms. Kano also highlighted the division of labor based on gender that occurred during the era of high economic growth, where men promoted nuclear energy technology to fuel industrial development while women, as mothers protecting human life, were engaged in a movement opposed to atomic and hydrogen bombs.

Lisa Yoneyama, a professor at the University of Toronto, who has examined the continuity of history and the feminization of historical damage in her book Hiroshima Traces, explained that Hiroshima was a military city during the war and has been a prime example of a regime forged by the United States in the postwar period. She appealed to her listeners to see the world not from a single point of view but from multiple perspectives, including that of gender.

Referring to the words of Fusae Ichikawa, a feminist who devoted herself to winning suffrage for Japanese women, sociologist Chizuko Ueno said, “I don’t believe we’ve exercised the right to effect change as we might have.” Ms. Ueno encouraged the audience to assume a sense of ownership for these issues by seeing the diversity in individual experiences and historical events.

Learning about essence of things

During the forum, impassioned comments were made from audience members, too. A woman in her 30s, who evacuated from Fukushima, shared her discomfort at being collectively treated as an evacuee. She said, “Even if we seem similar because we all evacuated from Fukushima, each one of us, in fact, leads a different lifestyle and holds different ways of thinking. Sometimes we’re forced into the role of mothers protecting our kids or other people disregard our experience by merely labeling the accident ‘March 11,’ like an event in the past, when it hasn’t ended for us at all.” A female A-bomb survivor in her 80s, recounting the time she shared her A-bomb account with students visiting Hiroshima on a school trip, said that a teacher had asked her not to touch on political matters. “I fear that the power of politics today is seeking to rewrite the memories of the past,” she said. A male university student in his 20s said, “I became aware that reflecting on gender means learning about the real essence of things. I want to create a space for young people to discuss these issues.”

The slogan of the forum was “Towards the Thinking Hiroshima” and this event was the first step in the direction of that goal.

(Originally published on December 26, 2015)