The sixty-sixth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima was commemorated this past weekend, so it seems appropriate to feature this excerpt from “Dare to Dream,” a July 2011 New York Times article by Nassrine Azimi. Many thanks to Shari Tamashiro for telling me about the piece by Azimi, a senior adviser at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research in Hiroshima. Several paragraphs are included here, but be sure to read the whole thing—and for more about Hamai, see Wikipedia.
HIROSHIMA, JAPAN — Shinzo Hamai, who took over the helm of an atom-bombed and destitute Hiroshima in the spring of 1947 and who, over four terms as mayor, helped stir it back to life from the brink of hell, wrote in his memoirs that so utterly hopeless was Hiroshima’s predicament in those immediate postwar months that he and his friends started a “Dreamers Club.”
“Everywhere we looked stretched scorched rubble and the wreckage of war,” Hamai wrote shortly before his death in 1968. The Dreamers Club gave a space to this handful of young idealists, amidst the chaos of their broken city, to dream of a better future.
Hamai, at the time of the bombing a 40-year-old head of the municipality’s ration distributions and father of three young children, was to become the city’s first mayor elected by popular vote. His uncanny ability to combine organizational skills and political savvy with great idealism, during times when Hiroshima’s very survival was uncertain, made him a godsend.
Some things he got wrong, but legions more he got right. Among his accomplishments were the transformation of Hiroshima from a military city to one known internationally as a city of peace; the wrenching from the national government of all the land that had belonged to the Imperial Army; and, not least, the creation in the decimated city center of a Peace Memorial Park and Museum, conceived by young, talented artists and architects of the caliber of Isamu Noguchi and Kenzo Tange.
Recently translated into English with the title “A-Bomb Mayor,” the Japanese original of his memoirs is also in reprint, to be released next month. A number of copies are intended for municipal and prefectural authorities in the area stricken by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, silent encouragement from an able and visionary politician, himself a hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivor.
Japan has more than enough human talent in every sector of society to turn the recent calamities into an opportunity for change. Such a historical moment in its destiny cannot go unheeded. But the country needs more politicians of Hamai’s stature to lead the charge.
Hiroshima continues to be transformed by Hamai’s legacy in unexpected ways. In his memoirs, he wrote of the first sighting of sprouts from the burnt stump of a large camphor tree, on the grounds of a temple about two kilometers from the bomb’s hypocenter, tenderly describing the comfort these few humble, green shoots gave a desperate people. Over the years, Hiroshima has designated some 170 trees in 55 locations around the city as A-bombed trees, providing them special care and attention.
Inspired in turn by this legacy, recently a group of friends and I started an initiative to spread the seeds of these resilient survivors around the world. We call it, simply, “Green Legacy Hiroshima.”