HIROSHIMA--Their owners were instantly vaporized by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by an American B-29 bomber in the closing days of World War II.
Now, 67 years later, the personal items of those who died emerge from being silent witnesses to having a voice to what happened on that terrible morning of Aug. 6, 1945.
American poet Arthur Binard, a Tokyo resident, has published a picture book, “Sagashiteimasu” (I am searching), that features 14 personal effects that are now housed in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
One of the witnesses is a lunchbox that was found near ground zero. (The poems were translated by The Asahi Shimbun AJW).
The atomic bomb radiated a blinding flash/ radiation spread inside the box/ What was left was only charred rice and beans/ The whereabouts of the box’s owner, Reiko Watanabe, 12, is still unknown/ I am looking for 'Let’s eat,' which Reiko could not say.
Now 45, Binard first arrived in Japan in 1990, and was struck by hibakusha calling the atomic explosion “Pika Don.” “Pika” refers to the brilliant flash the bomb radiated and “Don” describes the deafening noise that followed.
The expression came in sharp contrast with “atomic bomb” and “nuclear weapon.”
“Pika Don,” Binard said, is a term born out of actually experiencing the nuclear blast. Not only that, it captured the essence of nuclear fission, he said.
Binard has kept returning to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum ever since.
He sometimes felt as if the items left by victims on display were talking to him, making him want to be their “interpreter” to have their voices heard.
He chose 14 out of more than 20,000 pieces in the museum's collection and took thousands of their photos with photographer Tadashi Okakura.
It was on one of his visits when the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, struck northeastern Japan, setting off the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Binard went to Fukushima Prefecture and then back to Hiroshima to listen to what the 14 articles would have to say about people who continued to rely on nuclear fission.
What is the use of locking up people?/ Isn’t it uranium that must be contained?
That is a message from a bunch of keys left by Shigeo Nakamura, a 37-year-old lieutenant colonel who died at the military-police headquarters in the center of Hiroshima. In the rooms he locked with the keys, American servicemen who were captured after the Imperial Japanese military shot down their aircraft were imprisoned. The bomb, created in the United States, also killed its POWs mercilessly.
If we can ever flee from uranium/ we have to halt it before it explodes.
A cloth sack belonging to a 13-year-old girl shouted so. The sack, with medicine and beans as emergency food as well as diapers for her younger brother, survived, although she did not due to the atomic blast’s horrendous heat wave.
Binard said messages from the mementos serve as a lens through which we look at our reality and see our future.
A world where tens of thousands of people were killed by atomic weapons is now teemed with a vast amount of radioactive waste from dozens of nuclear power plants.
Binard said people have a duty to answer questions posed by those mementos to make sure that our children and grandchildren as well as all living creatures will be able to survive.
The 32-page book is available for 1,300 yen ($16) from Doshinsha Publishing Co. in Tokyo.
A poem to go with a lunchbox
Let’s eat/ Let’s eat/ Reiko was supposed to eat steamed rice and beans after opening my lid vigorously/ Only 12 years old, Reiko was forced to work every day to demolish buildings in Hiroshima/ She went to the work site on the morning of Aug. 6 only to see a brilliant light/ I tried to protect the steamed rice, but heat forced its way to spread radiation inside/ The rice is no longer good to eat/ Still, I am looking for 'Let’s eat,' which Reiko could not say.
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