Hiroshima and Nagasaki Interfaith Peace Gathering, a set on Flickr.
Last week New Yorkers observed two solemn, historic occasions. The 68th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred on August 6 and 9, respectively.
First, on August 5 Japanese Buddhist Priest Reverend Dr. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki led an Interfaith ceremony with local Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, and Muslim leaders. It was Reverend Nakagaki’s nineteenth such ceremony. Nakagaki, the President of the Buddhist Council of New York and the Vice Chair of the Interfaith Center of New York, brought together not only religious leaders, but also members of the Japanese American community and concerned citizens in New York as well.
Community leaders read messages from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Tomiko Morimoto West, a Hiroshima Hibakusha (survivor of the atomic bombing), gave the keynote address.
Here is West’s message in a YouTube video put together by Jun Suenaga:
The event featured performances by Japanese and American musicians, including legendary American folk singer and peace activist Pete Seeger; Shinji Harada, a peace activist and Hiroshima native who is one of Japan’s top recording artists; Ronnie Nyogetsu Seldin, Shakuhachi Japanese flute player; and soprano StacyLyn Bennett, accompanied by pianist Rikako Asanuma.
At 7:15 p.m., the exact moment of the Hiroshima bombing (8:15 a.m. on August 6 Japan time), bells for peace were rung as each guest held a flag representing every country, the thought being that we are all part of one humanity.
The 94-year-old Seeger sang a beautiful and touching song written specifically for the occasion. Accompanying himself on the banjo, Seeger taught everyone at the gathering the song, which was about a young child who died in Hiroshima. Then everyone sang the Pete Seeger classic “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”
Prior to the commemoration ceremony, guests attended a special family program. Jonathan Fluck, co-founder of the New York Peace Film Festival, presented the experience of Tomiko Morimoto West in the form of Kamishibai, Japanese traditional storytelling. Tomiko herself will be present to answer questions. Toshiko Kobayashi taught guests, including young children and Pete Seeger, how to fold origami cranes, which after WWII became a symbol of peace in Japan and around the world.
A special photography exhibition from Hiroshima and Nagasaki was on display. Visitors had the opportunity to see the scope of the damage from both bombings.
JapanCulture•NYC had the opportunity to meet with Shinji Harada, one of the performers at the interfaith ceremony, and noted psychologist and peace activist Dr. Judy Kuriansky at the Friar’s Club.
Harada, a native of Hiroshima, has been performing at the Hiroshima-Nagasaki memorial ceremony in New York for the past eight years. Instead of commemorating the somber occasion in his hometown, Harada finds that coming to New York, “I can get a lot of chances to spread the word about the effects of atomic bombing of Hiroshima,” says Harada.
As an NGO representative at the United Nations, Dr. Judy has been instrumental in helping the popular pop musician further his message of peace. The two have collaborated on missions to the Tohoku area to comfort the displaced victims of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011.
Harada draws parallels between his lifelong interaction with Hiroshima survivors and his work in Northeastern Japan.
“People in Tohoku are like Hibakusha,” says Harada. “When I get together with them, I want to make them feel comfortable, happy, and loved. I don’t want to talk to them about the details of the disaster; I want them to see their future is brighter.”
Yumi Tanaka doesn’t want people to think about the atomic bomb whenever the city of Nagasaki is mentioned. Of course, last week it was difficult to separate the two, but the co-founder of the New York Peace Film Festival made sure that everyone who attended the Nagasaki Peace Ceremony live streaming event learned something new about the city that was devastated on August 9, 1945.
Tanaka, a Yokohama native who is a Nagasaki Peace Correspondent, introduced her guests to Nagasaki’s unique history, culture, and food. During a time in which Japan was isolated from the rest of the world, Nagasaki enjoyed healthy trade relations with the Portuguese (until they were banished for proselytizing Christianity), Dutch, and Chinese. The influences from those countries can still be seen today in the area’s religious practices, architecture, and cuisine.
The area is also becoming a popular inspiration for Hollywood movies. Nagasaki’s abandoned Gunkanjima, or “Battleship Island,” was recreated for the recent James Bond film Skyfall, and Martin Scorsese announced his intention to direct an adaptation of Silence by Japanese author Shusaku Endo.
After Tanaka’s presentation, the group watched the Nagasaki Peace Ceremony live streaming in English.
While these events took place last week in New York, Brooklyn-based photographer Paule Saviano has had recent exhibitions in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In addition to photographing Hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Saviano also photographed survivors of the air raids in Tokyo and firebombings in Dresden during World War II. Saviano compiled these photographs into the beautiful book From Above.
One of his exhibitions is currently showing at the Nagasaki Prefectural Museum of Art until August 18. One of his portraits is of Senji Yamaguchi, a Nagasaki Hibakusha and anti-nuclear activist who spoke at the United Nations in 1982, famously saying, “No more Hiroshima. No More Nagasaki. No more war. No more Hibakusha.” Yamaguchi died at age 82 on July 6, 2013, three days before Saviano’s first exhibition opened at the Nagasaki Peace Museum.
For more images from these events, please check out JapanCulture•NYC on Flickr.