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Inheriting the legacy of Hiroshima: Embracing what we don't know as a starting point

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, in the background, and the A-bomb dome are seen in Hiroshima's Naka Ward, on the morning of Aug. 6, 2017, the 72nd anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. (Mainichi)

Hisashi Inoue's "The Face of Jizo" is set in post-atomic bombing Hiroshima. It all began for 34-year-old event organizer Ryoko Kubota when she became the Hiroshima dialect instructor for the two actors for a stage performance of the work.

The two actors were from Fukuoka and Aichi prefectures, respectively. Even then, how they earnestly faced learning about the devastation that befell her native Hiroshima and sought to express what they learned from her through the characters struck close to home for Kubota.

"In comparison, I thought, 'I haven't done anything, have I? Isn't there something I can do?'" Kubota remembers.

That was 2014. Even Kubota, who had learned a lot about the war and the atomic bombs at school in Hiroshima, felt that she needed to learn about the event all over again.

Her young friends also felt the same way. They also felt that they wanted to do something for Hiroshima. However, the "second generation," the children of the atomic bomb survivors, or "hibakusha," were not keen on the idea. They criticized Kubota and her friends, thinking that they only wanted to do something because 2015 was the 70th anniversary of the bombing, equating it to fireworks: just a momentary fancy that would quickly fade away. Kubota and her contemporaries were told to go and do something that would have more meaning to their own lives instead.

"If that was how they were going to react, I decided we should hold an event for 10 years," Kubota said. "I thought we would make the fact that we 'didn't know' the theme. We wanted to make an exhibition so that even if all the hibakusha passed away, the next generation would be able to carry on their legacy."

These are the roots of the event "Hiroshima -- 3rd Generation Exhibition: Succeeding to History" that I introduced in my last piece. What will be passed on to the next generation and how this will be accomplished is left in the blank space of the Japanese title.

"The moment the task becomes unconstrained, something will definitely come to you," Kubota said. "I think it's important to create a comfortable space that pushes people to be self-motivated rather than passive."

Those who attended the event yesterday will help continue to convey the message today. Kubota was surprised by the pure look in the eyes of the children who attended the event and their eagerness to learn. She feels that through her organization of the event, she can feel the circle of communities expanding.

Kubota is a web designer by trade. Her explanations flow smoothly, and I feel her ability to take action and move forward unwaveringly. There is a tendency for exhibitions related to hibakusha to emphasize how tragic the event was, however, Kubota feels that this alone is not effective:

"I think it's a problem when focus is on just death or fear and people just shut down and can't consider anything more than that. It's extremely important to be able to look at what happened from a variety of angles."

Her words made me remember an international conference I attended on nuclear arms reduction several years ago. Local high school girls presented their research, harshly criticizing the United States' policies on nuclear weapons and the Middle East. The representative from the U.S. listened without any change in her expression, but to me, it was a sad scene. There is nothing wrong with criticism, but to me, the cold words of those girls seemed to be the mechanically repeated rhetoric of someone else.

Without being broken down and labeled in one category or another, I hope that Kubota's exhibition can evolve naturally. It's precisely because of the honest and humble nature of the event's theme of admitting to "not knowing" that I think will be the starting point for passing the experiences of Hiroshima on to future generations. (By Hiroshi Fuse, Expert Senior Writer, Editorial Board)

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