Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hibakushas' Legacy Video 1

I edited some of the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) interviews from Japan to create this 8:18 video that describes what they remembered from the day the bomb was dropped on their city. It was originally shown at the mini-exhibit last year in September.

The hibakusha in the video are Ernest Arai (Hiroshima), Isao Aratani (Hiroshima), Keiko Ogura (Hiroshima) and Sumiteru Taniguchi (Nagasaki).

I wish to thank all of the survivors who have taken the time to openly talk about their personal stories with me, as well as all of the volunteers who have helped me along the way and all the donors who have made this project possible.

Friday, September 13, 2013

International Peace Day mini-exhibit

[click on image to enlarge]

Project Hibakusha : Hope for Peace has officially been changed to Hibakushas’ Legacy : Hope for Peace to better reflect the purpose of the project, which is to continue to share the hibakushas’ (atomic bomb survivors) experiences with the world and to carry on their hope for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons.

With that said, on September 21st, 2013, in honor of International Peace Day, we will begin to share the hibakushas’ stories at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) in Little Tokyo. For nine days only, a mini-exhibit will be on display in the Doizaki Gallery to give the public it’s first peek into the ongoing photo and video project documenting the real life experiences of hibakusha. Visitors will get a glimpse into what happened on those fateful days in Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the people who survived the bombings.

At 2:00pm, an open forum will be held and a few hibakusha will be on hand to talk about their experiences. Audience members will be encouraged to ask questions so that they can learn more about what life was like for the hibakusha and their families.

The forum will be followed by an artist’s reception and short program. Darrell Miho, the photographer, will be on hand to discuss the project and the importance of preserving the hibakushas' stories. We must never forget the suffering that the hibakushas have endured for the past 68 years nor the tragedies that befell so many innocent lives.

It is now our responsibility to share their stories. We need to educate the world on how nuclear weapons affect people’s lives to ensure that no one else suffers the heartaches and loss that the hibakusha have. And most importantly, to carry on their hope for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons. 

Hibakushas’ Legacy : Hope for Peace
September 21 (International Peace Day) - September 29, 2013
Japanese American Cultural and Community Center
244 South San Pedro Street Los Angeles, CA 90012
(map and directions)
Admission is FREE!

Saturday, September 21 : 11:00am - 6:30pm
     2:00pm - Open forum : hibakusha will share their personal
     5:00pm - Reception and short program

 Everyday, September 22 - 29 : 11:00am - 4:00pm

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Journey Has Begun...

This is a much delayed posting that was written back in May of 2011. I was a little sidetracked as my friend Ken and I have been busy doing relief work in the Tohoku area documenting survivor stories and providing direct aid to the people who were seriously affected by the triple disaster. You can see what we have been doing on our website at Ai Love Japan or on our Facebook page

But back to Project Hibakusha : Hope for Peace…

May 31, 2011

The Journey has begun. On Tuesday, May 2nd, Matsui-san and I headed to Japan on what is to be the first of many trips to document the hibakusha’s stories. With four carry-on and four overweight checked bags, we flew out of Los Angeles (LAX) to Haneda (HND) and eventually landed in Hiroshima (HIJ) the next day.

The first couple of days were spent running errands, picking up a few things that we needed and spending time with our families. Both of us have relatives in Hiroshima. My grandparent’s on my father’s side are from Hiroshima and Matsui-san’s parents are from Hiroshima.

On Saturday, we interviewed five hibakusha at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, four in english and one in nihongo. Since my nihongo is not very good, two of my cousin’s joined us and helped me with the translation and interviews.

On Sunday, we went on location with two hibakusha, Arai-san and Kaneko-san, who took us to where they were on August 6, 1945. This added another dimension to their stories as they described to us in detail about their experience.
With its high-rise office buildings and apartment complexes, the city of Hiroshima is so well developed now that it is hard to imagine the devastation. After the bombing, people thought that nothing could live there for at least 75 years, but 66 years later, the city is alive and thriving with over 1.1 million people.

After two days of shooting in Hiroshima, we headed to Nagasaki where we were greeted with wind, rain and humidity. Over the next three days, we interviewed five more hibakusha, all in nihongo. My friend Oshima-san (and Jeff-san) joined us in Nagasaki to help with translation.

We thought that after conducting five interviews in one day in Hiroshima, Nagasaki would be a breeze with five interviews spread out over three days. Well, this was not quite the case. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, we had to change our interview room every day. This was no easy task considering the set-up we had. But we managed to do it. And each time, we got better and faster, so it was good practice, even if it was a little chaotic at times.

Overall, we interviewed 11 hibakusha – six in Hiroshima and five in Nagasaki – but there are many more stories to be documented. I have over 100 hibakusha who have all agreed to be interviewed for in places as far away as Seoul, South Korea and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

So the journey has begun. The journey of a lifetime.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

65th Commemorative Service of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Victims

On August 1, 2010, I was the guest speaker at the 65th Commemorative Service of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Victims at the Los Angeles Koyasan Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo. The event was hosted by the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors (ASA) and even though public speaking isn’t one of my favorite things to do, I was honored that they asked me to speak at their service.

The following is a transcript of my speech.

August 01, 2010

Hello everyone and thank you for coming today to remember those who lost their lives to the atomic bombings.

I’d like to thank Mrs. Suyeishi and the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors for inviting me here to speak to all of you. I also want to thank Asahi Sensei and the Koyasan Buddhist Temple for hosting this annual memorial service. It is an honor for me to be here and share with you my experience with the hibakusha and my own thoughts about peace and what we can do to make this world a better place.

About three years ago, I was at a crossroads in life. As a photographer and writer, I was grateful for the opportunities that I had been blessed with. Traveling the world, meeting people and telling stories. As a humanitarian, I volunteered my time to support charitable organizations because I believed in their missions, but I felt like there was more that I could do. I needed a new challenge.
So I started searching for a personal project that would combine my two passions in life – being creative and helping others. It took over a year for me to finally figure out my purpose in life, but it finally became clear that I needed to document the stories of atomic bomb survivors.

It is the perfect project for me. As a third generation Japanese American, I feel it is my duty to document the hibakusha’s stories. As an American citizen, my country is responsible for the bombing and since my grandfather emigrated from Hiroshima, my ancestors in Japan were directly affected. I know at least seven were killed. One died just this past year.

So 22 months ago, I started on this journey – a journey that had no clear destination, nor signs to show me which way to go. Each person that I meet holds a key that opens the gate to a new horizon. I now know that this journey has no end. For me, it is a journey of a lifetime that I hope others will continue on once my road has come to an end. We can not forget what happened 65 years ago.

On August 6 and August 9, 1945, the United States awakened the world with nuclear weapons that proved capable of unimaginable destruction on a massive scale. With just two atomic bombs, they annihilated two entire cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is estimated that 100,000 people were killed instantly and 250,000 by year’s end. Countless more lives were devastated. Men. Women. Children. Innocent lives who were only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Today, we honor those who died and offer our support to those who survived. For those who have passed, there is solace in knowing that they are at peace. For the hibakusha who are still with us, we offer our support for they have suffered far too much.

We can not possibly imagine the ugliness they have seen, the pain they have felt nor the suffering they have endured.

Can you imagine reaching out to help someone and grabbing their hand, only to have it slip away leaving their liquefied skin in your hand?

Can you imagine being 18 years old and responsible for stacking wood and burning dead bodies because all the crematoriums had been destroyed?

Can you imagine seeing a river full of dead bodies floating by? For many survivors, this was their reality. This was their living hell.

For Mikiso Iwasa, who was 16 years old and 1.2 kilometers from the hypocenter, his story was very personal. In his own words, he wrote, “I found my mother trapped under the collapsed house and I tried to pull her out from there, but it was impossible for a young boy [that] I was. So I fled the fire, turning my back to my mother who was saying prayers sensing that she was going to die. Yes, I let her die. She was burnt alive, caught in the fire.”

“A couple of days later, I dug out what looked like my mother’s body from the burnt ruins of our house. It was an object greasy with fat, like a mannequin painted with tar and burned. I could not believe that was my mother’s body. She was killed mercilessly, like an object, not like a human being. The deaths of A-bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki could not possibly be considered as ‘human deaths’”

Despite many experiences like Mr. Iwasa’s, the hibakusha do not carry any hatred or anger. Instead, they carry sadness and guilt for the loved ones they have lost. But more importantly they carry with them hope – a hope for peace. A hope that someday there will be no more nuclear weapons. A hope that their living hell is never repeated.

Right now, I’d like to take a moment to applaud them for their bravery and their courage. For their gambatte spirit to endure so much yet never complain.

Unfortunately, the hibakusha will not be with us forever to tell their stories, so today, I hope to encourage the next generation of socially responsible citizens who seek peace for the world we live in. People who will carry on the hibakusha’s hope for peace.

We must relieve them of this heavy burden that they have carried for far too many years. We can not forget the pain and suffering they have endured. We can not forget the devastation nuclear weapons have had on their lives. We can not fail the hibakusha.

It has been 65 years since the US dropped the atomic bombs and still, to this day, a US president has never attended the Peace Ceremony in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. I personally find that unacceptable.

While the world is hopeful for what President Obama can accomplish, we can not wait for our government to take responsibility. We must carry on the hibakusha’s message. We must inherit their gambatte spirit and never give up. We must be like bamboo, strong yet flexible. Bending, but never breaking.

We, the United States of America, brought the world in to the age of nuclear warfare and it is our responsibility to lead the way out. We can not expect others to disarm their nuclear weapons if we do not disarm our own. We must lead by example, not by rhetoric.

And while a world without nuclear weapons would be a great accomplishment, we can not stop there. Peace will not prevail when there are no more wars. Peace will not prevail when there are no more nuclear weapons.

Peace will only prevail once we learn to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs. Peace will only prevail when we embrace each other’s differences. Peace is something we must find within ourselves before we ask it of others. Peace begins with us.

We possess the ability to bring about change and we must work together individually and collectively to make this world a better place.

So my challenge to you is this, what can you do? What can you do to make this world a better place?

It doesn’t have to be about peace. It can be world hunger or global warming or my little sister wants to go to camp. It doesn’t matter what you do, big or small, just find something you are passionate about and do something.

Don’t underestimate the power of people. Friends, family, even strangers. If they see that you are passionate about something and share your beliefs, they will support you.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learn from them and move forward. You don’t fail because you make mistakes. You only fail because you quit.

And most importantly, don’t underestimate your own ability to bring about change. You have your own unique set of gifts. Discover them. Use them. If I can do it, so can you.

Find your passion. Find your gifts. And let’s make this world a better place.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Back to Japan...

It’s been awhile since my last post. I took a few months off in order to deal with the loss of my mother and take care of family matters. Life is different now, but I am still committed to documenting the stories of the hibakusha.

In order to get refocused, I traveled to Japan and South Korea to meet with more hibakusha and do more research. Did you know there are 2,696 hibakusha living in South Korea? Now you do. And soon, you will hear some of their remarkable stories.

Most everything is in place now. I just have to do some final tests and I will begin documenting the hibakusha’s stories next month.

Meanwhile…The United Nations Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is currently under way in New York City.
ニューヨークでは核不拡散条約(NPT)再検討会議が行われています。 (英語)

As stated on the UN’s website, “The NPT is a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.”

Every five years, representatives from nations around the globe come to the conference to discuss current nuclear issues and review the treaty to make it stronger and better in an effort to make this world a better and safer place to live. The conference runs through May 28.

A number of my colleagues attended the first week of the conference and I hope to have more information and links to their experience. One of the speakers was Sumiteru Taniguchi, who I met with while I was in Nagasaki last April. He was 16 years old when the US dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. He talked about his experience as a survivor. (english)
私の同僚の多くが会議の1週目に参加しましたし、彼らからの情報もここで紹介していきたいと思っています。私が去年4月に長崎でお会いした谷口稜曄さんもヒバクシャを代表して会議で証言をされました。彼は原爆が投下されたとき16歳でした。 (日本語)

I probably should have been in New York City as well, however, I was in Hawai’i to speak about “Project Hibakusha : Hope for Peace” on the radio show “Talking Out Loud” with University of Hawai’i Professor Christine Yano. You can listen to the show online here. (english)
私も是非ニューヨークに行きたかったのですが、ちょうどハワイで「プロジェクト・ヒバクシャ:平和への願い」について広報活動をしていました。ハワイ大学のクリスティーン・ヤノ教授と一緒に“Talking Out Loud”というラジオ番組に出演した様子をこちらでお聞きください。 (英語)

I promise not to wait another four months to update this blog. You can also ‘subscribe’ or become a ‘follower’ of this blog by clicking on the links to the right. You’ll be notified by email every time I update it. Thank you for your support!
次回の更新は4ヶ月もかからないことをお約束します。また右の‘subscribe’や‘become a follower’リンクをクリックするとブログの購読をすることができますし、フォロワーになることもでき、ブログが更新されるたびにメールが送信されます。皆様、応援していただきありがとうございます!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!
This year will mark the 65th year since the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and we are moving forward to document the stories of the hibakusha.

My good friend Jana Katsuyama did a story on atomic bomb survivors that aired December 23, 2009 on KTVU Oakland. She interviewed 2 survivors, Jack Dairiki and Masako Kawasaki, a second generation survivor, Deborah Yamasaki, Dr. Jitsuro Yanagida from Japan and me. 

You can view the video clip here.

I’m hoping that this is a permanent link, but if for some reason the link does not work, please let me know and I will try and update it. I am also trying to get permission to post the video on this blog.

On a sadder note,Tsutomu Yamaguchi lost his battle with stomach cancer and passed away on January 4, 2010 at the age of 93. Yamaguchi has the unfortunate distinction of being the only certified survivor of both atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

As an engineer for Mitsubishi, Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima for business when the first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. Despite his wounds, he returned to his hometown of Nagasaki the next day and went back to work on August 9 when the second bomb was dropped.

I was looking forward to interviewing Yamaguchi for this project, but unfortunately, I will not have the opportunity to document his story. I’m sure it is documented somewhere and I hope that someday, I will get to learn about his experience.

You can read more about Yamaguchi here.

It is also being reported that director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) recently visited Yamaguchi in December to discuss a film on nuclear weapons based on the book “The Last Train to Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back” written by Charles Pellegrino.
また、映画監督のジェームズ・キャメロン(タイタニック、アバター)が12月に山口氏を訪問して、原爆をテーマにしたチャールズ・ペレグリーノによる本「The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back」の映画化について対話をしたと報道されています。

It will be interesting to see if and how Cameron depicts the fateful events of 1945. Will it be in 3D like his latest box office blockbuster Avatar? We can only hope that it is done with respect to the survivors and brings attention to their hope for peace.

Let’s hope that 2010 will bring a lot of changes towards a peaceful world.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hibakusha Exams

Every two years, a team of doctors and scientists travel to the United States to meet and examine hibakusha as part of the ongoing medical care the Japanese government has taken on to treat the survivors. Originally, they were supposed to come in May and June, but due to outbreak of the H1N1 virus, they postponed their visit until September and October.

I have spent the past two weekends at the bi-annual hibakusha exams in Torrance and Honolulu meeting hibakusha and telling them about Project Hbakusha : Hope for Peace. Most of them are happy to hear about the project, but still do not want to talk about their experience, at least not publicly.

One gentleman talked freely about one of the grim tasks he had to do. Because he was young and strong, one of his jobs was to stack wood and cremate the dead because the mortuaries had been destroyed. He said he lost count of the number of bodies he had to burn. Unfortunately, he is unwilling to go on camera to tell his story. Hopefully when I see him in two years, he will have a change of heart. Perhaps he will agree to do it anonymously.

Hibakusha have not only suffered from the loss of loved ones and physical ailments, but they have also suffered from the negative stigma that has been attached to being a hibakusha.

64 years ago, no one knew what really happened. No one knew what an atomic bomb was. No one knew what would happen from their exposure to the radiation. There were many mysterious illnesses and deaths that resulted from the bombing. Red spots appearing on their skin. Hair falling out.

Because of all the unknown mysteries surrounding the bombings, they were looked upon as ‘contaminated’ or ‘damaged goods’. Discriminated against by their own people, many chose not to disclose they were hibakusha. Many retain their silence to this day except amongst themselves where they can find some solace of sharing a common, horrific experience.

Some say they are too shy and don’t want to go on camera. Others say they don’t remember much. While others say it is still too painful. Unfortunately, there are many stories that will never be heard.

But there are a few brave survivors who are willing to talk about their experiences and these are the stories that I will be documenting. Their stories are important because if they don’t tell them, then people will never know what really happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I know I have only heard snippets of what they experienced, but the more I hear, the more I feel these stories need to be recorded for future generations to fully understand the pain and suffering that nuclear war has on people’s lives.

The next two weekends, I will be attending the exams in Seattle and San Francisco talking to more hibakusha and learning more about their experiences. There will no doubt be more heartbreaking stories, but at the same time, I feel the hibakusha themselves are a story of triumph. Triumph over tragedy.

They have endured so much pain and suffering and have overcome many challenges. Challenges that I can not imagine. Many have families and have proven that they are not ‘damaged goods’. Some came with their sons and daughters, who are also being cared for by the Japanese government. They are leading fulfilling lives despite their tragic past.

So I continue on this journey to tell their stories. I no longer consider this as ‘my’ project. This is ‘their’ project. I am merely the messenger passing on their stories for others to hear.