The Peace Lanterns of Hiroshima

Courtesy: DNA

Bela Bhatia

Bela Bhatia is Honorary Professor in the Tata Institute to Social Sciences, Mumbai.She can be contacted at

The Atomic-Bomb Dome stood silhouetted against the night sky as countless colourful paper lanterns floated gently down the inky black surface of the Motoyasu river at its foot. Thousands of people thronged both sides and on the bridge, watching the lanterns or waiting their turn near the river to set afloat one of their own, hands folded in quiet repose afterwards. These lanterns were part of the evening peace ceremony for those who had sought refuge in the river that day, 67 years ago, when a virtual sun burnt the earth and everything it touched, obliterating the Nakajima district (the city’s busy downtown area) and killing more than a hundred thousand instantaneously — 140,000 were reported dead by the end of the year. It was this river that those who found themselves still alive after 8.15am painfully inched towards, away from the fires and the heat, with their hands outstretched, their burnt flesh hanging from their bodies, in search of water….water… They immersed themselves in the Motoyasu — forever.

August 6, each year, is a mourning, a remembrance, a contemplation, a resolve. On war and peace. A world without nuclear weapons. The hibakusha (survivors) usually start telling their stories from how far they were from the hypocenter — a word that everybody knows, for it decided what was to remain of their lives. The atomic bomb (uranium 235) was dropped from a height of approximately 600 metres above the city releasing intense heat, blast and radiation. At the hypocenter, the heat generated was 3,000-4,000 °C (steel melts at 1,500 °C), the blast blew at 440 meters per second (about 984 miles per hour), and the large quantum of discharged radiation has been a silent killer since.

Please also see:
Fukushima Protests in the Hiroshima Week: Expanding the Nuclear-Free Future

In the ireihi (cenotaph), the memorial monument shaped like an ancient Japanese house, is a stone chest that contains a register of those who died due to the A-bomb in 1945 and since. The register includes the names of Japanese as well as foreign nationals, including Koreans (since Korea was then a colony of Japan, there were many Korean conscripts and labourers) and American prisoners of war. Each year, new names are added in the register just before the memorial service. This year 5,729 names were added, bringing the total number to 2,80,959; in Nagasaki, where 70,000 died due to the plutonium 239 bomb at 11.02am on August 9, 1945, the recorded deaths so far are 1,58,754.

In Pictures

The lanterns on the Motoyasu river

The Atomic-Bomb Dome in the evening

No Nukes!

Rally on the main road

“Don’t repeat it!…Don’t repeat it!”

The rally by autonomous groups

Student from Nagasaki collecting signatures

The buddhist monks

Meeting of a new-left group

There were many diverse groups

People started coming early to the peace memorial park

The 6th August ceremony in Hiroshima this year included two simultaneous ceremonies. One was the official one by the mayor of Hiroshima. Like each year, the mayor delivered a ‘peace declaration’ to the world. Activists were disappointed, however, since even though the issue of “black rain” was included, the declaration failed in taking a stand on nuclear power plants, which has become a pressing issue since the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last year.

The people’s ceremony was held in front of the A-Bomb Dome. It included a wide variety of citizen’s groups that were holding their activities at the same time. While a meeting of a new left group was being conducted at one end that at one point involved some tussle with the police, there was a poignant “die-in” by members of autonomous groups at 8.15am. Buddhist monks of the Nipponzan Myohoji Order beat rhythmically on their drums for non-violence and a world without war while school students from Nagasaki collected signatures for nuclear weapon abolition that they send every year to the United Nations. Musicians and their guitars, drums and flutes played on.
Rallies followed. A large one was by the autonomous groups that culminated in front of the high-rise office of the Chugoko Electric Company that is responsible for the proposed nuclear power plant in Kaminoseki in the neighbouring Yamaguchi prefecture, which fisher-folk and farmers of the area have been resisting since the 1980s. These street public meetings and rallies were colourful events with banners and slogans such as “Genpatsu — hantai!”(Against Nuclear Power Plants), “No more Fukushima,” “Saikaido – hantai!” (Against restart), Kodomo o mamore! (Save children).

The most overwhelming perhaps was the evening — what can be considered to be the third ceremony — that belonged to the people, thousands of them, of all age groups and from all over. Parents could be seen helping their children write peace messages on special paper that was then used for the lanterns. Peace volunteers and citizens helped outsiders. A kind of silent agreement of thoughts and sentiments prevailed. Looking at the virtual flood of people, one knew that a day would surely come when there will be a world without nuclear weapons and “power.”

Hiroshima and Nagasaki have lived on. The meaning of the inscription on the stone chest of the cenotaph — “Let all the souls here rest in peace. For we shall not repeat the evil.”— has expanded after Fukushima. While before, the cenotaph was a site of protest each time there was a nuclear test anywhere in the world, after Fukushima, people in Hiroshima and other parts of Japan are determined that there should be no more hibakushas whether from genbaku (nuclear weapon) or genpatsu (nuclear power plant). That is why perhaps the most popular slogan that one sees everywhere is: “Nuclear is over. If we want it.” The people of Japan certainly want it.







One Comment

    Join discussion: leave a comment