As a moment of silence was observed on August 6 at 8:15 am in Japan to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, at precisely the same time in the US, August 5 at 7:15 pm EST, the panelist on the EngageAsia online forum shared that moment of silence, as an expression of friendship and remembrance. The commemorative webinar was moderated by David Janes of EngageAsia (co-sponsored by the MIT Japan Program) and featured Producer Shizumi Manale, Director Bryan Reichhardt, survivors of the bombings and other guests who were instrumental in the production of the film “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard” and who have worked tirelessly to eliminate the use of nuclear weapons.

The fascinating and inspiring discussion centered on the lessons drawn from the colorful pictures made by Honkawa school children who had survived the bombing of Hiroshima. The children had received a half-ton of art supplies from All Souls Unitarian Church in Maryland in 1947 after the pastor of the church was horrified by US newspaper reports glorifying the bombing and felt he had to do something to extend hands of friendship to those victims. The drawings were sent back by the Hiroshima children to the church as an expression of friendship and gratitude for the gift of the art supplies.

The 2010 film, “Pictures of a Hiroshima Schoolyard,” completed the circle of friendship by telling the story of the artists (who are now in their 80’s) reflecting on what inspired them to draw beautiful and joyous pictures that did not reflect the devastation of their surroundings. The producer of the film, Shizumi Manale, commented that when she saw the drawings on August 9, 2006, when she visited the church with three Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors), “I was stunned and speechless by the miracle of the pictures themselves, but also by the story behind them. These pictures were not drawings on paper, but rather, they showed what was in the hearts of 48 children who had suffered an unspeakable experience.”

As Dave Janes described, “They represented the human capacity for reconciliation.”

 “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard” was shown during United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs’ “Youth4Disarmament” Initiative,  the “Youth Champions for Securing our Common Future” in cooperation with the Panamerican-Panafrican Association. Manale has also told the story of the Honkawa children in her book “Running with Cosmos Flowers” which was published by Pelican.

Two of the artists from Hiroshima featured in the film, Tomoko Furusawa and Ishida San were guest panelists on the Engage Asia webinar as well as key members of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC, Melvin Hardy, and Judith Bauer who had since the 1990s seen that the pictures were preserved. Also on the panel were Sera Toshikum-san, who was born after the war and has recently published one of Shizumi Manale’s books, “48 Colors of Crayons”; and Gretchen Jones, also a member of All Souls Unitarian Church who has had 30 years of experience in bringing Japanese and US citizens together.

During the webinar, Tomoko Furusawa emotionally explained that when she saw the colorful paintings for the first time when they were brought back to Japan by Shizumi Manale and a delegation from the Church, “It was a miracle for me. The children will draw what they hope for. I drew a picture of my girlfriend hitting a ball in the playground. Before she passed away, I heard her painful story. Her mother covered her and protected her from the nuclear debris, but her mother died two days after with burns all over her body. She was never able to talk about her miserable experience, until she told me her story. I said to myself, if she couldn’t tell anyone, telling everyone has to be my task. All Souls church and Shizumi thank you for keeping the paintings for us all.”

The artist Ishida-san painted a scene from an outing that he had enjoyed with his classmates. While he does not remember drawing the picture, he stated that it clearly must have been a beautiful memory for him to be able to recall it amidst the ruins. He explained that while his grandparents had been at the epicenter of the bombing, he was brought back by his parents to find the devastation.

“The aesthetics of the human condition is something to be embraced, fortified and codified in children” commented Melvin Hardy, adding, “If you are created, then you are creative. There was great devastation …. and a talisman came out of it.

David Janes stated, “It is amazing how 75 years have transformed the two countries into closest allies… at all levels, and it’s remarkable the role that this project played in that transformation.” Clearly, as Manale pursued the production of the film, she created connections of love and friendship between two peoples who had been enemies. Melvin Hardy said it well, “The arts play an important role in bringing people together.”

During the webinar, Judith Bauer made an important comment on why the drawings of the children from the Honkawa school were so full of life and color compared to other drawings she has seen drawn by children in other areas and in the US. “Sometimes they are dark or not well developed,” she commented. “I tried to understand what made a difference. The Mayor of Hiroshima came to visit and he thought that it was because the children of Hiroshima were left orphaned but were cared for by the community.” She believes that it was the love for the children that made them look beyond the darkness.

In describing the importance of the film, Gretchen Jones felt that what was most important was the peacemaking and bridgemaking that took place during the production of the film. She was amazed how Americans had been inspired by the hospitality they had received when they visited Japan and felt they had to return the favor. Gretchen Jones saw the one-on-one interactions between Japanese and Americans who found ways to communicate and that the pictures were one vehicle through which they could…. “It was powerful,” she exclaimed.

The director of the film Bryan Reichhardt, has worked with Shizumi Manale on other productions, including the film “Geisha.” But he explained that more than any other, the cultural and human connections highlighted in “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard” were more fulfilling to him as a story teller. “I am drawn to stories of connections. I’m inspired that they saw the world through the child’s eyes and they saw the beauty. I am still moved by it.”

Shizumi Manale’s words ring very true in our world today: “We cannot change the past, or prevent all pain, but we can create a different future. We can bear witness and we can respond. One never knows what seeds of hope might sprout and bloom from kindness and how those seeds can take root for generations to come.”

 
 

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