Hiroshima Nagasaki ZERO Project to kick off on October 29, ponder peace with young people

by Miho Kuwajima, Yumi Kanazaki, and Makoto Iwasaki, Staff Writers

On October 29, a new initiative called the “Hiroshima Nagasaki ZERO Project” will start, sending out messages of peace from the A-bombed cities. With support from the Hiroshima International Culture Foundation, the project seeks to redefine the meaning of peace from different perspectives, such as the environment and human rights, and will share the outcomes with the rest of the world through 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings. Cannon Hersey, 40, an artist and the head of “1Future,” a non-profit organization in the United States, visited Hiroshima at the end of July and announced the launch of the project. This effort takes up the mission of Cannon’s grandfather, John Hersey, who wrote the well-know reportage titled “Hiroshima,” which described the horror of the atomic bombing in the following year.

Dialogue with former U.S. secretary of defense and art creation

The name of the “ZERO Project” conveys compassion for Hiroshima, which was reconstructed from “zero” after the A-bomb devastation, and transformed into a city of peace. The project will kick off with events in Hiroshima on October 29.

William Perry, 89, who served as U.S. secretary of defense in the Clinton administration and became an advocate for the vision of a world without nuclear weapons in 2007, prior to the call made by former U.S. President Barack Obama, has been invited to take part as a featured guest. The four main themes of the project are “Human Rights,” “The Environment,” “Community,” and “Innovation.” The project will seek to encourage as many young people as possible, from Hiroshima and other locations, to take part so they can consider how they might actively contribute to building a more peaceful world, and pose this same question to others.

According to the plan that has been announced, the events in October will begin with the opening session. Alongside Seitaro Kuroda, 78, an illustrator who has produced many works on the theme of war and peace, the participants, including children, will create a painting on a large canvas, with wishes for a peaceful world.

A dialogue session will then take place, with the participants divided into four committees. Mr. Perry will take part in this session and interact with the A-bomb survivors and young people. It is hoped that wisdom can be shared for building peace in the world from various perspectives, based on the enduring wish of the people of Hiroshima for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

More specifically, the session will facilitate an exchange of ideas on topics such as how memories of historic events linked to nuclear weapons can be passed down to younger generations; advancing peace from the viewpoints of nature and the environment through an effort to save the A-bombed trees of Hiroshima; revitalizing local communities; and transforming the earth into a sustainable and peaceful world.

Inspired by these discussions, groups of young people will take the lead in creating works of art, including art involving music and video. Their creations will then be shared at a live concert, to be held in the evening of that same day. The results of the event will also be shared with the world through the Internet.

“1Future,” the organizer of the project, was formed in the United States by artist Cannon Hersey, who is based in New York. The organization grew out of a workshop he led in Hiroshima in the 70th anniversary year of the atomic bombing, where young people from Japan and the United States, together with professional artists, created works of art that involved painting, imagery, photographs, and music.

The organization is working to broaden the scope of its activities in the United States, too. Mr. Hersey and others held an event titled “Not Yet Free” in New York at the end of April, with Motoharu Sano, a Japanese musician, traveling from Japan to take part. Some of the participants raised their voices to protest racism, which has been on the rise in the United States since Donald Trump became president.

The project in Hiroshima is in keeping with these efforts in the United States. Through 2020, the project’s target year, Mr. Hersey and his supporters will continue to send messages of peace to the world through three core programs involving education, media, and culture.

Interview with Cannon Hersey: Project aligns his work with mission of his grandfather

Interview with Cannon Hersey: Project aligns his work with mission of his grandfather

What is the purpose of the Hiroshima Nagasaki ZERO Project?
I came to Hiroshima in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing. It was my first in Hiroshima when we had a television opportunity to revisit my grandfather’s story for NHK and to make an education program around that. I had a feeling of responsibility. There was a different attention paid to me than anywhere I have been before because of my grandfather’s work here. I felt a certain obligation to live up to his work and to do the best job I could, and for the city and for the people here whom my grandfather felt the closeness to.

As an outsider coming from New York City, I only knew of Hiroshima from the book my grandfather had written. I learned that Hiroshima was the place of many very special people. It wasn’t just the history I read about. It was the city of hope. It was the city of resilience.

Taku Nishimae and I have been working together in New York for quite some time. Zero project is being developed through the request of the young people who participated in our art workshop in 2015 and it was a natural extension from what we were already doing in education programs. What can we do now? Look at the environment, look at the decline of business and the lack of job. Where are we? Where is zero? From this point, we can only rise. So Zero Project is an ambition to make a better future from Hiroshima. We feel that there is a great wisdom here because of the sadness that happened, because of the resilience of the great city and great people in Hiroshima. Our hope with Zero Project is to build a better future together through the conversation and art.

Why are you going to continue the project until 2020?
It is our goal that we can reach a global audience of a billion people by 2020 through a variety of workshops and symposiums. We felt that we needed to make a four-year-trajectory, a trajectory through to the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings when also Tokyo Olympic Games will be taking place. We will be able to have the biggest global audience for these ideas. We want to make it clear that this is not one year at a time.

What is your impression of the book “Hiroshima” written by John Hersey?
I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I read it on the way to meet to see my grandfather. My grandmother, actually who helped him really put the story together, gave me a copy and told me to read it on the way to see him. I couldn’t put it down. It resonated with me as a human story, as a story of people that I could relate to. One of the greatest skills of the book is that, even as an American, someone who might feel Japan is different than them, the book “Hiroshima” allowed everyday Americans to feel like Japanese people were like them. Kiyoshi Tanimoto could have been their reverend. I think the characters―Dr. Sasaki and Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow―these were people like you who might have grown up with in your neighborhood, who happened to go through a terrible moment in history. I think that my grandfather was able to somehow make those characters very relatable.

Did your grand-father talk to you about “Hiroshima”?
He never spoke about the book to his son, to my father. I don’t think we ever specifically spoke about Hiroshima. I think that it was traumatic coming to Hiroshima nine months after the bomb and seeing what had happened. I think that he felt it in some way disrespectful to the legacy of those who died to talk too much about it. Or I think that he felt the words that he wrote should be strong enough to share the story without people asking him too many questions. In some way, it’s not the same, I would never say that, but I think he felt that it was something very hard to talk about.

John Hersey was also a journalist covering the civil-rights movement. What is the meaning of taking over his thoughts through this project?
I feel that the work we’ve done so far has been very much influenced by him. We have to look beyond discrimination and we have to look beyond stereotypes based on race, religion or place. Because he was born in China, and very early on, I learned that from him that people are people, and you have to listen to people.

We choose different approaches to share our experience. He became a great educator later in life. I have been involved in that process earlier in my life. But I think he had an extreme success at only thirty years old. That made his life quite different from mine. So my path is different than his, I am in the visual art world primarily, but I feel that I am very impacted and inspired. I see how I come from him, especially in the project here.

I think the leadership is broken in the world. Now we can fight until we destroy the whole world by nuclear weapons. We have the weapons and the capacity. But if we can look at each other as global family, it is much harder to destroy your brother or your sister, if you respect them. That was something he was very committed to.


Cannon Hersey bio
Cannon Hersey is a photographer, fine artist and organizer of large-scale cultural efforts in non-traditional spaces in New York City, Sao Paulo and Johannesburg. He is committed to connecting art and the public in unique and unexpected ways to explore the meaning of race, religion, culture and commerce in the modern global world. Born in 1977 in New York City and is the grandson of Pulitzer Prize winning writer and educator John Hersey. Lives and works in Brooklyn, USA.

Events Schedule for October 29

8:30 a.m. - 10 a.m.
Painting Session with Children (at Fukuromachi Elementary School in Naka Ward)

10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Dialogue Sessions on Human Rights, the Environment, Community, and Innovation (at Myoukeiin Temple in Naka Ward)

2:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Workshop and Artwork Creation (at Myoukeiin Temple)

7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Live Concert and Exhibition (at Motoyasu River Shinsui Terrace in Peace Memorial Park)

John Hersey and “Hiroshima”

In the summer of 1946, one year after the atomic bombing, 300,000 copies of The New Yorker featuring an article by John Hersey, titled “Hiroshima,” quickly sold out. The article calmly questioned the devastation wrought by the atomic bombing from the perspective of human beings on the ground, and generated a wave of newfound awareness of the A-bomb attacks.

To write the article, Mr. Hersey visited Hiroshima three months prior to the magazine’s publication. He conducted several in-depth interviews with people in Hiroshima who had ties to Christianity. In the article, he sought to convey what had really happened under the bomb’s mushroom cloud through the experiences of six people, including Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a pastor at the Hiroshima Nagarekawa Methodist Church; Hatsuyo Nakamura, a mother of three children; and Terufumi Sasaki, a doctor at the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital.

His description of the events provided vivid details such as the crowds of wounded at Sentei (now Shukkeien Garden), the horrifying conditions at the hospital, and what the hands of a person he had interviewed felt when carrying someone crawling with maggots. While spotlighting the suffering of those who experienced acute symptoms from their exposure to the bomb’s radiation, he also wrote about the daily lives of the survivors, reproducing the witty banter among people who had been displaced.

He also shared an episode where a foreign priest, one of the people he interviewed, and another person discussed the morality of dropping the atomic bomb. This is a prophetic glimpse of the current discussion on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, which underlies the creation of the nuclear weapons ban treaty.

The impact of “Hiroshima” was enhanced by the fact that this was the only article carried in that special edition of the magazine. This decision was made by the editor of The New Yorker who had asked Mr. Hersey to pursue a story in Hiroshima. At the time, as the U.S. government was carrying out its own detailed investigation on the effects of the atomic bomb, it was limiting the release of information on the bomb’s horror.

In 1985, the 40th anniversary year of the atomic bombing, Mr. Hersey paid a return visit to Hiroshima and traced the post-war lives of the six people he had interviewed for his story. He then released a sequel, titled “The Aftermath,” and the Japanese translation appeared in the morning edition of the Chugoku Shimbun.

John Hersey was a novelist, too. In 1944, during World War II, he received the Pulitzer Prize for a novel that was based on the information he gathered while covering events on the battlefields of Italy. After the war, he became a professor at Yale University and raised his voice in protest against the Vietnam War. He died in 1993 at the age of 78. Even today, his reportage “Hiroshima” is regularly praised as the greatest work of journalism in the 20th century.

(Originally published on August 14, 2017)