Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Building Modern Peace Cities

Exhibited by: Kento Ikeda

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only cities to have ever had atomic bombs used against them. Each city was effectively destroyed at the close of the Second World War, but after the war they were rebuilt into modern cities. Hiroshima has a population of nearly 1,200,000, while Nagasaki has a population of around 446,000.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s unique role in history has helped to define the modern character of each city. Perhaps most notable of all is that each city has a sense of global purpose that is uncommon in cities. Each city has a strong peace tradition found in its political traditions and urban landscapes. Each city works to warn the world of the dangers of nuclear warfare and advance the cause of nuclear disarmerment, and promote the more general cause of world peace.

Scale of Destruction

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima on the morning of August 6th, 1945 instantly killed over 60,000 people, with the death toll rising to 140,000 by the end of the year from radiation poisoning and other harm sustained by the bomb. Around 90% of the buildings of the city had been damaged and destroyed, and while some strong buildings survived, most of the buildings within 2 kilometers of the bomb blast’s hypocenter had been completely flattened.(1)

The atomic bomb that was used on Nagasaki was more powerful, but Nagasaki’s irregular terrain and lower population prevented it from doing more damage. 74,000 people would die from the effects of the bomb by the end of 1945, with another 75,000 injured. The area within 2.5 kilometers of the bomb’s hypocenter was completely destroyed, a wider area than in Hiroshima, and broken windows were reported from as far as 19 kilometers, but the mountains of Nagasaki shielded a great part of the city, and only 36% of buildings were damaged or destroyed.(2)

US Military film footage of Hiroshima in the Spring of 1946. People can be seen to be living in the ruins of the city, and an operating street car can be seen. There is no associated sound with this footage. This footage is in the Public Domain.

Top, Left: US military aerial photograph of Hiroshima before the atomic bomb, with concentric circles 1000 feet apart from the hypocenter of the atomic bomb’s target. This photograph is in the public domain.

Top, Right: Japanese aerial photograph of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb. This photograph is in the public domain.

Left: US military photographs of Nagasaki before and after the use of the atomic bomb. These photographs are in the public domain.

Reconstruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Efforts to rebuild Hiroshima and Nagasaki began very early. Though 90% of the streetcars in Hiroshima were destroyed, On August 9th, just three days after Hiroshima was bombed, and on the same day that Nagasaki was bombed and the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, enough repairs were made on one of Hiroshima’s rail lines that streetcar service could be resumed. Three streetcars that survived the atomic bombing are still in use more than 70 years later, preserved as symbols of Hiroshima’s recovery.(3)

National efforts to reconstruct Hiroshima began with the passage of the 1949 Hiroshima Peace City Construction Law, which placed great emphasis on Hiroshima as a city that experienced the atom bomb.(4) But modernity was also encouraged. The atom bomb was a symbol of the importance of science, and the surrender and dissolution of Imperial Japan marked a period when many people in Japan were exploring new values, some imported and some developing out of the war experience, and the possibilities that these new values brought. Just one month after the bombing and Imperial Japan’s surrender, the governor of Hiroshima Prefecture called “building a new Hiroshima and a new scientific Japan.”(5)

National efforts to reconstruct Nagasaki also began in 1949, with the passage of the International Cultural City Construction Law. Early Nagasaki politicians were less concerned than those in Hiroshima in reconstructing Nagasaki with the memory of the bomb in mind, and focused instead on drawing on other parts of the city’s history and culture. For centuries, Nagasaki had the only port open to Europeans in the whole of Japan, and Nagasaki also was the center of Japanese Christianity, and establishing international trade and a connection to the wider international Catholic community were made high priority. The Catholic community in Nagasaki tended to want to move past the bomb, and the Occupation government, staffed largely by American Christians, were sympathetic to this perspective. Memory of the atomic bomb would increase in importance in Nagasaki, but the rest of Nagasaki’s cultural heritage has not been wiped away.(6) Reconstruction would take time.

Though Japan had experience rebuilding cities, Tokyo had been largely destroyed in the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, Tokyo benefitted from having the rest of the country working pretty much normally. Almost every city in Japan was destroyed in the Second World War, so almost every city in Japan needed reconstruction, and the resources demanded of war and overall destruction had left Japan a very poor country. The needs of the occupation government further took resources away from the reconstruction of Japanese cities, with a large share of housing resources being taken used to provide accommodations for Allied officials and soldiers.(7) The occupation government also censored scientific literature on the effects of radiation, making it difficult for scientists and doctors in Japan, both Japanese and of international origin, to address the needs of atomic bomb survivors adequately.(8)

Two Hiroshima Electric Railway Company Model 650 streetcars that survived World War II that remain in service. These streetcars are a symbol of the early efforts to rebuild Hiroshima. This photograph is by Douglas Sprott, and is used under the Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

Peace on the Landscape

Hiroshima and Nagasaki have each worked to preserve parts of their destroyed landscapes. Each city has also developed parks, museums, and monuments that memorialize and educate about the history of each city, as well as broader goals in world peace.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also known as the A-Bomb Dome, with a sign showing a picture of what it looked like before the bomb, when it functioned as Hiroshima’s Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is an iconic part of the larger Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Photograph by Surgeonsmate, used under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

The preserved remaining half of a Shinto torii gate in Nagasaki damaged by the atom bomb. In its undamaged state, it would have a symmetrical appearance. This photograph by Frank Gualtieri has been released into the public domain.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The museum is part of the larger Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The architect, Kenzo Tange, said he was contributing to “making Hiroshima into a factory for peace.”(9) This photograph is by Wiiii, and is used under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Part of the Nagasaki Peace Park is dedicated to monuments given as gifts by foreign countries. This statue was a gift from the People’s Republic of China. China was the country that was at war longest with Imperial Japan, and suffered the most losses. Photograph by Foto Captor, used under the Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

The Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum. Honkawa Elementary was the school closest to the hypocenter of the bomb blast. The school resumed service in 1946 with minimal renovation, and in 1988 most of the building was taken down and replaced with a new building. The remaining part of the original school is a museum run by the PTA and students.(10) This photograph by Kiyokun has been released into the public domain.

Preserved statues and wall of the old Urakami Cathederal in Nagasaki. The rebuilt cathederal can be seen in the background. Photograph by Gregor Jamroski, used under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan’s Peace Politics

Hiroshima and Nagasaki play an important role in Japan’s war memory, and the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of each cities are marked with memorial ceremonies to remember the experience of each city and to call for nuclear disarmament and peace. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony was first held in 1947 the second anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and has been held every year since, except in 1950.(11) Three days later, Nagasaki holds its own Nagasaki Peace Memorial Ceremony. At each ceremony, the mayor of each respective city makes a speech called the “peace declaration,” with the Prime Minister of Japan in attendance, and the Prime Minister of Japan and other distinguished guests also make statements. These ceremonies are broadcast nationally on television and radio on Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK.(12)(13)

In the peace declaration, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remember the atomic bomb experience of their cities, but also make comment on contemporary political issues relating to peace. The 1965 Hiroshima speech spoke against the Vietnam War, while the 1972 Hiroshima speech related environmental destruction to peace.(14) The 1993 Nagasaki speech called for the Japanese to remember the victims of Japanese Imperialism in Asia(15), while also criticizing Russia for their failure to progress on nuclear disarmament, while the 2015 Nagasaki speech again called for remembrance for the Asian victims of Imperial Japan while criticizing Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his weakening of Japan’s peace tradition.(16)

Prime Ministers are judged for their commitment to peace, and the need to make two speeches three days apart adds extra pressure to the Japanese political system. The cause of peace is aided too by the fact that each city is memorialized three days apart. In 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was pressured to state a commitment to Japan never acquiring nuclear weapons in his speech marking the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, after he failed to make such a remark three days previous during his speech marking the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.(17)

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue speaking at the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Ceremony in 2012. In 2015, Mayor Taue used the peace ceremony to speak out about controversial security legislation promoted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was in attendance. The large angular shapes on the stage are parts of larger depictions of paper cranes, a symbol of the Japanese peace movement. Photograph by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization, used under the Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been Prime Minister during the 2007, 2013, 2014, and 2015 Peace Ceremonies. In 2015, he was pressured to make a greater commitment to peace in the Nagasaki ceremony after criticism of his Hiroshima speech. At the same Nagasaki ceremony, Nagasaki Mayor Toshima Taue criticized the security legislation he was promoting. This photograph is in the public domain.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the International Stage

Hiroshima and Nagasaki both seek to warn the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons and war in general. At the 1982 UN Special Session on Disarmament, the mayor of Hiroshima, Takeshi Araki, made a proposal that there be a program for cities around the world to cooperate together for the cause of nuclear disarmament. This lead to the Mayors for Peace organization, which sought to create solidarity between cities in a campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons and work towards world peace.(18) Since 2006, the slogan “Cities Are Not Targets!” has been used.(19)

Mayors for Peace has over 6990 member cities in 161 countries. Japanese cities compose a little under a quarter of those cities. Other cities include Beijing, Delhi, London, Paris, Berlin, Nairobi, Cape Town, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Mexico City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.(20)

While nuclear disarmerment is the “primary campaign” of Mayors for Peace(21), the organization does not confuse nuclear disarmerment for world peace, and state that a “genuine and lasting world peace” requires work to “eliminate starvation and poverty, assist refugees fleeing local conflict, support human rights, protect the environment, and solve the other problems that threaten peaceful coexistence within the human family.”(22)

Hiroshima Mayor Takeshi Araki (middle) and Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima (right) shaking hands with East Berlin mayor Erhard Krack (left) in 1987. Photograph from the German Federal Archive, used under the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

Bibliography:

1. Ishimaru, Norioki, “Reconstructing Hiroshima and Preserving the Reconstructed City,” in Rebuilding Urban Japan After 1945, ed. Carola Hein, Jeffry M. Diefendorf, and Ishida Yorifusa, 68-86. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
2. Diehl, Chad R, 2011. Resurrecting Nagasaki: Reconstruction, the Urakami Catholics, and Atomic Memory 1945-1970. PhD dissertation, Columbia University. Ann Arbor: ProQuest/UMI. (Publication No. UMI 3459812.)
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