By Shizumi Shigeto Manale
To me, these drawings and calligraphy by Hiroshima schoolchildren are evidence of a miracle that opens the door to another level of human kindness.
I first saw these drawings together with three hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors)--Mr. Yoshio Sato (75 years old), Shotaro Kodama (76 years old), and Kazuhiro Yoshimura (65 years old)--from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We were at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C. on August 9, 2006.
The drawings had been carefully removed from a neat paper cardboard box. Though slightly damaged by mold and moisture, they still, surprisingly after 59 years, expressed the energy and excitement of the school children in Hiroshima who had created them long ago.
I knew immediately that these drawings had to be preserved in order to keep alive, not only the hopes and dreams of the artists, but the history of a tragic historical period recorded by these children. It would be critically important to start the restoration and preservation work as soon as possible.
As I removed the drawings from the box, they looked as colorful and alive as if the children had just finished them! I was stunned and could not find a word to express this miracle.
Looking at these drawings triggered the memories of one of the hibakusha, Mr. Yoshio Sato. Though currently living in Tokyo, he talked about his childhood memories and Hiroshima as if he was back in the city.
Then, questions arose. Since these pieces dated from 1947, we could not help but wonder if Hiroshima was enjoying the cherry blossoms at the time as was depicted. Was the city this beautiful? Was the amusement park still there?
Photos of Honkawa Elementary School in 1947 show us devastating ruins, including school windows and doors with glass blown out. But what the students drew was what their hearts saw.
Another hibakusha could not help but be inspired by these children as he silently stared at their drawings. Another kept taking pictures to preserve their liveliness.
It was an inspirational moment for everyone in the room that day---as if a life treasure had been found. Especially for a Japanese person like myself, it is easy to relate to the feelings expressed by these children, to be inspired and to feel sympathy. But there is a more universal meaning in these drawings, a specific perspective that transcends a particular place.
It is the responsibility of our generation to preserve the history found here and pass it on to future generations. By restoring and preserving these drawings, we will also pay tribute to the kindness in the hearts of ordinary Americans and members of a church in Washington, D.C. in 1947, during this most difficult period in the relationship between the U.S and Japan.
In order to make more people aware of the drawings and the story behind them, as well as demonstrate their relevance for our society and the world today, a documentary film seemed the best medium.
The film provides a first-hand account of the artwork of Japanese school children who survived the bombing of Hiroshima and also the compassion this attack stirred in members of a church in Washington, D.C. at that time. Fortunately, in the winter of 2007, members of All Souls Unitarian Church found the funds to restore these pictures. When I heard about their efforts, I felt they had bestowed kindness on my own children. It is a deeply moving story, and the artwork created by these children, victims of one of the most devastating human-made disasters in history, speaks to us still.
The aim of this educational effort titled "Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard" will be to allow children and the community at large to see how life transcends adversity, whether it is physical or emotional. By offering a look at this tragic episode in history, the film will offer children a new perspective on their lives today.
By presenting this documentary film "Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard" to American and Japanese audiences, we hope to instill a sense of responsibility for preserving history, learning from the lessons of the past, and fostering peace and harmony in today's world.
Shizumi Shigeto Manale