dateline japan


Hiroshima is a bustling city of 850,000 — a city the size of San Antonio, Texas, built from the ground up in 34 years.

Devastation is not evident today in Japan

Published Wednesday, Aug. 29, 1979, in the Corsicana (Texas) Daily Sun.

By JOHN SPRAGENS Jr.
Sun Staff Writer

NAGASAKI, Japan — The visiting engineer from York County, England, is frankly amazed.

“It’s incredible how they’ve rebuilt this place, and in just 34 years!” Ronald Bryer says. “When I left this city it was nothing but rubble.”

A prisoner of war at the time, Bryer survived the Aug. 9 atomic bomb only because he was working in an air raid tunnel when it exploded.

For 34 years he had carried with him the images of destruction and carnage. This year Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima asked him to return to see what the city had become.

“The thing that strikes me most is the children,” Bryer says. “ They’re laughing and talking and curious. They didn’t used to be like that. These are going to be a people to reckon with, I’ll tell you.”

In Nagasaki today, modern hotels perch on the mountainsides along with houses and the tiny neighborhood shops that give Japanese cities a village-like atmosphere.

The Mitsubishi shipyard, where Bryer was put to work as a riveter in his POW days, now builds some of the world’s most advanced ships.

As both population and income levels grow, new suburbs of single-family houses sprout astride asphalted highways.

At first, as they surveyed their ruined cities 34 years ago, even the people of Nagasaki and Hiroshima had a hard time believing there could be new life there.

There was a rumor that because of some poison sprayed by the bombs, nothing wouid grow on the atomic wasteland for 70 years.

“The survivors all evacuated the city,” Hiroshima Mayor Takeshi Araki recalls. “But gradually plants started to grow from under the debris. People started to realize the value of life and to hope that people could live on this land in the future.

“They started building temporary housing — huts, really, just to avoid the rain.

“I am a hibakusha myself — a survivor of the bomb,” he continues. “I started to build a hut using a tree as a pillar and a sheet of metal as a lean-to ceiling.”

Three months later, with aid from the American-directed occupation government, construction began on large wooden barracks buildings to house the tens of thousands of people who began returning to Hiroshima and even coming in from the outside.

In 1949 a national law designated Hiroshima as a peace memorial city. Former military land was turned over to the city for use as parks and school grounds, and funds were provided for city planning.

The broadest of the major thoroughfares which now cross the city at 500-yard intervals was named Peace Boulevard. As it runs from east to west, it passes in front of Peace Memorial Park, where the Atomic Bomb Museum and a variety of memorials to those who died under the bomb draw visitors from around the world.

In today’s Hiroshima, bustling shopping centers line covered pedestrian malls and major department stores feature a range of merchandise almost as great as their Tokyo counterparts.

As in Nagasaki, the giant Mitsubishi Corp. has shipyards in the port, and the main factory of Toyo Kogyo turns out Mazda automobiles for sale throughout Japan and around the world.

Mayor Araki says that, for all the outside aid that was received, it was still the spirit of the people of Hiroshima which made the difference in rebuilding the city.

“Please understand,” he says, “that people in the most difficult conditions still have the will power to live.”

The mayors of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki take an active part in the memorial ceremonies held each year to commemorate victims of the atomic bombing.

As they do so, they have more in mind than simply mourning their own dead. They see their cities as symbols of peace in a world threatened by nuclear war.

Motoshima has been in office in Nagasaki only a few months, but he has taken an active role in trying to make peace with those who suffered because of Japanese actions in World War II. Besides Bryer, he attempted to invite former POW Freddie Teaff of Tulsa, Okla., to this year’s ceremonies. Somehow he lost contact before arrangements were complete.

“Don’t look at what you see in Nagasaki with cool eyes as a third person,” Mayor Motoshima tells foreign visitors to the city. “I hope you will see it as a human being who is caught up with us in the 20th century. I hope that from today you will think of taking some action to create peace.”

“I have the impression Americans think the people of Hiroshima pursue peace because they hate the American people,” Hiroshima’s Araki reflects sadly. “But if we start with such motivations, we will never realize world peace.

“In Japanese there is a phrase about ‘going beyond deep hatred,”’ he says. “The creation of a peaceful world should be tackled from that point of view.”

Even in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though, memories of the reality of atomic warfare are receding into the background. As the number of survivors dwindles, keeping the memories alive is increasingly difficult.


Photo copyright © 1979 John Spragens, Jr.
Text copyright © 1979 Corsicana Daily Sun
Reporting for this series was supported by a grant from the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation.


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