Planting 'Gods Tree' at Shinto Shrine in Hiroshima commemorating the victims of the Atom Bomb
Seventy four years ago today an atom Bomb was dropped on Japan by the United States of America on the city of Nagasaki. The first was dropped a few days earlier on the city of Hiroshima. With this in mind I reflect on my 2005 walk from Tokyo to Hiroshima and Nagasaki planting trees for people killed at war to draw attention to the devastating impact war has on humanity and the natural environment that we all need to exist.
When I arrived at Hiroshima six young Japanese people walking with me.
We arrived at the Atomic Bomb Dome, the epi-center of the 1945 bomb blast at three in the morning on August 6th. By 8.00 a.m. after a very brief sleep we were stood with thousands of people baking under the very hot sun for the annual event commemorating the bomb drop and it's victims.
The first speaker was the Mayor of Hiroshima who gave a fiery never again speech that had people moved. Following him was Prime Minister Koizumi. Now I can’t speak Japanese, but I could easily tell that this was one of the worst speeches I’ve ever heard. The Prime Minister, who gave the impression that he did not want to be there, mumbled barely audible for the entire time. The audience was silent, except for one man who shouted “Speak Up” which is highly unusual in the polite society of Japan. I was half expecting polite applause when he finished, but was pleasantly surprised when not one of the thousands of people attending clapped. Just dead silence.
The silence was extended by a minute of silence in memory of the atomic bomb victims. In the midst of this most respectful moment I heard shouting, which grew so loud that t was obvious that some one destroy the sanctity of the moment. The shouting was angry, discordant, disrespectful, disturbing and insane and was being broadcast over loud speakers from outside the memorial zone obviously with the intent of disturbing the peace being called for.
This was quite shocking to me and I later discovered that it was a group of extreme right wingers broadcasting their message to create division and empower their authoritarian creed.
After the memorial I was interviewed by an American TV station and mentioned how shocked I was at the disruption during the moment of silence.
The producer replied. “Well, this is a democracy.”
But what about decency and respect, does that not mean anything in a democracy? And I wondered how such a thing would be received by the people of the United States during the annual 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York City and imagined that his tune would be very different.
In the evening we were taken back to the park by the head monk of a major Buddhist Temple to experience Shoro-Nagashi, an event where thousands of people light candles and place them inside floating lanterns with messages of peace that are then released into the river that borders the Peace Park. This was a warmer and more spiritual event.
My friend Teppei explained things very well.
“This morning’s event was for the politicians. The evening’s event is for the people.”
The next day we planted a tree at Hirose Shinto Shrine, which was flattened when the Atomic Bomb exploded over the city. The Priest was a pleasant young man who sincerely believed in what I was doing. When we arrived he took me to the alter where the tree I was to plant stood in a place of honour.
“This is where God comes down.” He explained. “The type of tree chosen for you to plant is a ‘Gods Tree’. Yesterday we had our own memorial service and blessed the tree before placing it on the alter.”
The tree was planted in front of the cenotaph that memorialized the shrines worshipers who were killed when the atom bomb exploded.
Before we left the priest took us over to a stone guardian of the temple where he explained that the force and heat of the blast caused it to be twisted out of shape. The rest of the temple was blasted into oblivion.