My report on peace ceremonies I attended in Japan, December 2000.
Cherry blossoms in the Spring in Washington D.C. are a sight to behold! Thousands of people attend an annual festival. Every school child in the United States learns that no one, not even the country’s first president, George Washington, is allowed to cut down a cherry tree. Last Spring, when a cherry tree was cut down, it was reported nationwide, and the hunt was on for the culprit, a beaver. He and his mate were quickly transported to a new home far from the cherry trees of Washington D.C.
The first cherry trees of Washington D.C. were a gift from Japan where Spring is always celebrated with the coming of the cherry blossoms. This gifting was a gift of love.
One would think that this act of love would cement relationships between the two countries so that no act of hostility could come between them. Unfortunately, it has not been the case. December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the two countries were immediately at war. It ended with the explosions of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first such weapons ever used in war. The result was devastating. Thousands died. The two cities were utterly destroyed.
That one act, the dropping of an atomic bomb, August 6, 1945, on Hiroshima, transformed the thoughts of the survivors, who were determined to build a city of peace from the ashes of the past, and this they have done. In this new Hiroshima, they have built a Peace Park with a museum and monuments to tell the story of what happened. Descendants of survivors continue today to dedicate their lives to guiding visitors through this Peace Park so humanity will understand the consequences of using nuclear weapons. An understanding, they hope, will help deter any thoughts of again using such weapons.
I joined Margaret Fikioris, a member of World Citizen Diplomats and a consultant for the Smithsonian Institute, in attending several peace ceremonies in Hiroshima. The first was on December 3, organized by the World Peace Prayer Society, http://www.worldpeace.org, and this ceremony was coordinated to coincide with a peace ceremony on the warship U.S.S. Missouri in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The WPPS of Hawaii has written, "Upon entering a new millennium, we believe that it is critical for humanity to transcend the wars and conflicts of the 20th century and move into the world of ONENESS in LOVE, because WE ARE ALL ONE. To promote this movement, we will hold an ‘International Peace Ceremony’ and pray for the peace of every country on Earth."
At the ceremony in Hiroshima, Margaret Fikioris and I spoke and Professor Hideo Nagazawa translated for the audience. We spoke simply and from the heart. I said, "I come to be with you today, so we can join our friends in Pearl Harbor to help heal the wounds of the past within the human family. We are One. Love. Peace. Peace. Peace."
http://www.geocities.co.jp/NatureLand/3176/hawaii/main.html has photographs of the Hiroshima ceremony. There is a home page and fifteen additional pages of photographs.
You will see in the photographs a peace pole at the ceremony. The World Peace Prayer Society (called WPPC in Japan) has helped plant throughout the world over 100,000 peace poles with ‘May Peace Prevail On Earth’ inscribed on the four sides in different languages. Also in the photographs, you will see flags of every country of the world. At the Hiroshima ceremony, as each flag was raised, we said in English and then in Japanese, ‘May Peace Prevail’ and the name of the country.
At the end of the ceremony, we spoke by phone with the people celebrating the peace ceremony in Hawaii while photographs from our ceremony were being sent to Hawaii via a computer.
http://homepage1.nifty.com/oneness, Yasuyuki Nemoto's web site in Hawaii has photogaphs of the Hawaiian peace ceremony.
has more photographs.
A report of the Hawaiian ceremony.
December 10, in a light rain, Margaret Fikioris and I attended at the edge of the Peace Park a peace ceremony held by walkers who had journeyed 1000 kilometers from Tokyo to Hiroshima between October 13 and December 10. They were carrying a Flame of Peace lighted from the atomic fire of August 6, 1945, and this flame had been carried by foot thoughout Japan for two and one half years. The walkers were Native Americans, South Africans, Japanese priests, college professors, Hiroshima A-bomb survivors, and others. Tom Dostou, Native American spiritual leader, carried a peace pipe consecrated by elders of the Hopi Tribe, plus a bundle of sacred sweetgrass that was presented to Professor Tsuyoshi Nara, head of December peace events called Hiroshima 2001: Prayer Gathering for Peace and Harmony. We were given tiny candles to light from the Flame of Peace, and we walked with them to the nearby Cenotaph where names of all known A-bomb victims are recorded. Each year more are added, and this year over 5,000 were added, including that of the grandmother of a park guide.
In the evening, Margaret and I were invited to attend a seminar hosted by the Organization for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement (OISCA), which brings youth from underdeveloped Asian countries to Japan to learn skills useful for helping their fellowmen. In general, males learn agricultural skills and females learn home economics skills. All learn the significance of deforestation and the urgency to stop environmental deterioration. They will take home seedlings to plant, and they are encouraged to continue with reforestation projects.
I sat at a table with youth from Borneo, Celebes Island of Indonesia. Myanmar, the Philippines, and two from Japan. Professor Vivek Pinto of India spoke to the youth about Mahatma Gandhi whose life began no differently from theirs. He told them that Gandhi was a barrister who practiced in England. Then he went to South Africa where he experienced the sting of Apartheid, and this influenced him to practice nonviolence, which he continued for the remainder of his life. The professor showed the youth photographs of Gandhi wearing a suit as a barrister, then wearing traditional Indian clothes of the middle class, and at the end of his life the simple loin cloth of a peasant. The professor's point was that if Gandhi can start his life similar to that of the students and eventually become a man respected for his principals by the entire world, then the students can do this also.
December 11, in the Peace Park, Margaret Fikioris and I attended a ceremony with Bruce Nichols of the U.S.A., who laid streamers of 1000 crane cutouts at the foot of a bronze statue of a child with a statue of a crane overhead. This is a memorial to a child who was a baby when the bomb exploded over Hiroshima. She had no apparent ill effects from the explosion, but when she was a school girl, she developed leukemia. There is a belief in Japan that a wish will come true if 1000 crane cutouts are made, and so this child began making 1000 cranes. Her classmates who visited her in the hospital encouraged her, and she did complete her task, but her wish did not come true. She started making 1000 more cranes, but she died before reaching this goal, and so her classmates completed the work.
Today thousands make the cranes and bring them to the Peace Park to put them at the foot of the child’s statue. Three schools in the U.S.A. made cranes and sent them to schools in Japan so the cranes could be taken to the statue. During the summer, many come to the park to put cranes at the statue.
Bruce Nichols made his cranes from candy wrappers while visiting an ill aunt who liked candy bars. One day when he counted the cranes and realized he had made over three hundred, he decided to make 1000. He bought candy bars for his friends and made cranes from the wrappers. The 1000th crane was made at the bedside of his aunt, who died soon afterwards. I photographed him holding the long streamers of cranes before he laid them at the foot of the child’s statue.
Nearby is an angel monument dedicated to the 17, 000 school children killed by the A-bomb. These children had been taken from school at the age of twelve to work in factories for the war effort. In another part of the park is a monument to 30,000 Koreans killed by the A-bomb. They were slave laborers in factories in Hiroshima, their country having been conquered by the Japanese. Nearby is a great mound holding the ashes of about 71,000 unidentified victims. Because the blast killed thousands and thousands either instantly or within a day or two, cremation fires burned day and night. It is the custom in Japan to bring the ashes of loved ones to temples and shrines, and so the ashes of the unidentified victims were brought to a temple site shattered by the explosion.
In the late afternoon of December 11, the walkers performed a Native American ceremony at the mound of the unidentified ones, with Native American leader Tom Dostou leading the ceremony. Margaret and I joined a large circle to pray for the victims who had no family to pray for them.
Afterwards we went to the river and joined nearly 2000 who wrote prayers on paper lanterns, lighted a candle within, and then sent the lanterns afloat on the river. What a beautiful site it was to see these colorful, bright lanterns bobbing and floating down the river! It was a moment of love.
December 12, a chilly morning, we 2000 plus were again at the Peace Park, and we joined hands to form a large circle from the Cenotaph and along the waterway to the eternal Peace Flame and back to the Cenotaph. A gong sounded at exactly 8:15 a.m., the moment of the explosion fifty-five years ago on August 6, and we stood in silence and in prayer for peace. Margaret and I were with the World Peace Prayer Society people whom we met at the December 3 ceremony. Every year on August 6, thousands repeat this ceremony here at the Peace Park as an expression of Hiroshima’s desire for nuclear weapons abolition and world peace.
Afterward, we sat in an auditorium to watch a three-hour program that opened with a brief, silent movie of the history of our universe, our earth, and the human race. The movie ended with a picture of the explosion of the A-bomb on Hiroshima. It was a somber moment.
An A-bomb survivor, a thin man with a long face and thick white hair, told his story of August 6, 1945, his face drawn in sorrow as he relived the great tragedy. Steve Leeper, the major organizer for the event, who speaks both English and Japanese, took notes, and when the man finished, he translated the story. A young woman from California sitting next to Margaret began to cry. She had not realized what had really happened at Hiroshima. Others were crying.
Steve Leeper has given me his notes, and I have attached the survivor’s story to this report. This is not a pretty story.
The remainder of the three hours focused on the beauty of living. On music and song and drama. A Greek violinist was accompanied at the piano by a young Japanese woman. A chorus sang. A quiet, traditional, Japanese drama between the young and the very old was played out.
At the end of Gathering of 2001, a brief movie showed Professor Nara walking in the Peace Park to the peace bell and ringing it once.
Will the world hear the ringing of this peace bell?
Will the world turn away from thoughts of war to instead smell the fragrance of the cherry blossoms?
Love. Peace. Peace. Peace.