Tag Archives: Hiroshima

TRAVEL // In Hiroshima – Meditations on Peace and Humanity (2003)

As a child of about 10 years old, I remember having a great fear of nuclear war destroying the Earth. This was during the early days of the Reagan/Thatcher era and a time of Cold War nuclear posturing between the two World Superpowers – the US and the USSR.

I went on an anti-nuclear march in London with my parents, that ended up in Hyde Park. At midday, a klaxon sounded and everybody lay down on the ground, as if to simulate what would happen in the event of a nuclear strike. Somewhere near me, the then-leader of the Labour Party Michael Foot (a committed believer in unilateral disarmament, with whom I would share a train carriage and an hour of conversation on a train back from the Glastonbury Festival many years later), lay down with the marchers.

The march left a deep impression on me and a few of years later, I created a collage of an anti-nuclear protest march in my school art class. Some of the banners in my creation included the phrase I remembered so clearly as having seen at the march – ‘No More Hiroshimas!’

As soon as I got my first three day weekend off from work after arriving in Tokyo (about 10 weeks on from my arrival in Japan), I took my first trip outside of the capital. There could be no other place to go for a first trip than Hiroshima.

The piece found below was initially written up in my diary as I sat in the Peace Park (where the epicentre of the bomb’s strike was), immersed in my thoughts. I later twisted it around a little and got it published in my trusty outlet, Tokyo Notice Board. Wasn’t sure whether they’d take something of such a heavy nature as they mostly published slightly more frivolous articles along the lines of ‘Isn’t Tokyo funny?’ or ‘What’s different between Japan and my home country’. However, publish it they did.

That visit also laid the foundations for the peace work (Peace Not War Japan) that I later started here too. Personally, I’d recommend that everyone should visit Hiroshima at some point in their life. It shows what people are capable of doing to each other and provides deep grounds for thought and reflection on the nature of war and peace.

All photos shown here are taken from that visit.

In Hiroshima – Meditations on Peace and Humanity

Outside the Park, the city goes about its daily business, the wheel still turning as if it had never been stopped. Modern day Hiroshima looks as if it were constructed from flat-packs, neatly yet hastily reassembled with little serious artisanship. Yet it is testament to the incredible rejuvenative powers that humans possess, the power to rebuild, to start afresh where once there was nothing. Inside the Park, an appropriate oasis of calm in a city with admittedly less of the eye-popping bustle than Tokyo, hordes of schoolchildren pass through. Some draw pictures or recite poems. Others lay wreaths at the Cenotaph. All feel the effects, the traces or the memories left by the fates that befell their ancestral countrymen, women and children.

It could have been any group of people that it was dropped on. Potentially, it could have been any nation that dropped it. Historical circumstances just so conspired that it was America that dropped the Atomic Bomb on Japan. It didn’t cause the greatest number of deaths within that section of that period of conflict. The Americans killed tens of thousands in the bombings of Tokyo. The Japanese themselves, during the Rape of Nanking, brutalised the Chinese in greater numbers than the combined mortals effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hitler’s concentration camps. Stalin’s Gulag. Leningrad. Millions were slaughtered in the name of the growth and eventual decline of the British Empire. But there is just something about Hiroshima, having been victim to the first bomb thus more so than Nagasaki, that represents the sheers horrors and inhumanity of such brazen and naked warfaring.

In the distance, another child chimes the Peace Bell.

Is any one of these children capable of growing up and taking the decision to wipe out such a vast number of his fellow species in one fell swoop (the gene surely cannot be that selfish)? Potentially, although one would certainly hope that a childhood visit to a place like this would leave enough of an impression to last long into later days, and bequeath an understanding of an unknown individual’s right to life. Japan seems quite at ease with its humiliation becoming a focus for tourism. Maybe it goes well beyond such things. It just happened to be Japan that it fell on. Japan therefore has a duty to hold a mirror up to the potentials for human folly.

It rather takes your breath away to walk around the place and think about quite how immediately levelled everything once was.

Then there’s the museum itself, set in the grounds of the Memorial Peace Park, to further knock the breath from your body. It includes an exhibited replica of ‘Little Boy’, the actual A-Bomb that exploded over the city at 8.15AM, August 6th 1945. It’s not much bigger than a Western style bathtub and almost looks like something from a cartoon, an ACME-stamped, Wile-E Coyote number. You just imagine that something that could completely level a city would be a little bigger than that.

What beasts we are. What barbarities against ourselves we are capable of. How tragic that, despite cries of ‘Never again!’ almost sixty years ago, we continue to perpetuate the cycles of violence that deny others the right to live in peace with one another. How right for so many the world over to have protested against last years war, that which we could not stop and it now developing into a struggle for liberation against occupation. How suitably appropriate to have personally bookended 2003 with the march in London and a visit to Hiroshima. Will we ever learn?

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ARTICLES // My Life And Bushido Ghosts (2006)

Probably the most common question I get asked in Tokyo is ‘Why did you come to Japan?’, even after having been here for almost four years. I sense that were I here for 40 years, I’d still get asked on a fairly regular basis.

It’s a fair question to ask, I suppose. During the Edo era (1603-1868), when Japan was ruled by the shogunate and populated by samurai, the country was effectively closed off from any foreign contact. From 1635, the Japanese were prohibited from ever leaving the country and if they did, prohibited from returning. It’s not a place steeped in traditions of mixing with peoples from other races.

Nevertheless, here I am. I think that something like 1% of the people living in Japan today were foreign born, so it’s still a little bit more of a unique experience living here as a ‘foreigner’ that it would be in Europe or the US for example.

In 2005, I was asked to write an article for the Hiroshima-based (and presumably now defunct) bilingual magazine ‘PEACE‘. I titled it with just that same question I am always asked, and it covered not only some of my motivations for coming here but also a little family background (much of my extended family has tended to expatriate themselves or have travelled widely) and the similarities and differences between my life here in Japan and the one I led back in Britain.

The following year, I came across another writing opportunity based on the theme of ‘Home and Exile’, through my subscription to the Brighton Fringe Mailing List. This time, it was for a new publication being set up in the UK, called ‘Don’t Look Back’. I sent off the same piece that was published in the Hiroshima mag, and they were interested enough to ask me to rewrite it and submit a new piece. This I duly did, coming up with the piece found below – ‘My Life and Bushido Ghosts’.

After submission, I never heard from them again, so I actually have no idea whether it was published or not or even whether the magazine ever went to print. I hope that they did, although it would be nice to know whether my article ever went anywhere!

The title was a Japan-slanted pun on the Brian Eno/David Byrne 1981 album ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts‘. Bushido means ‘the way of the warrior’ and commonly refers to the samurai code of conduct. The reference to ghosts comes from my feelings of finding my own ‘ghosts’, people from my past that kept springing up at the most unexpected moments as I neared the end of my time living in the UK.

In a way, writing the piece itself was an exorcism of sorts. Here in Japan, I don’t have so many of my own ghosts and the old ones have lost their spook factor too.

Perhaps next time I’m asked why I came here, I can now just give the questioner this URL and suggest that they find out for themselves!

My Life and Bushido Ghosts

Exiles, immigrants, expats, foreigners, outsiders, refugees – whatever you want to call us, we’re all displaced peoples. The square pegs, the forced out, the seekers and the wandering drifters, each uprooted and elsewhere. It happens to the biggest of us – Napoleon removed and sent to die in Saint Helena, The Stones as tax exiles in fading French chateaus. It happens to the smallest of us too – ghost ships washed up in Barbados, filled with desiccated corpses of young African men, Iraqis fleeing their home tinderbox in any direction they can.

Here in Tokyo, I label myself an ‘expat’. To me, it says that I exercised choice over my displacement. However, to the rest of this still closed global hotspot, I’m just another foreigner and that is what I’ll stay. Always on the outside, looking in. Party perhaps, to the appetiser, but never the full meal.

This is as it has always been. Born in England to an English family, then raised and schooled in Wales, I began with one foot in each camp yet not quite fully fitting into either, ‘different’ from the start. Identity is always so interchangeable and muddled through in the UK that it’s a tough job to convincingly claim to be a nationalist.

About three years ago, I tied up all my loose ends, condensed my life into two suitcases and a laptop and jumped onto a plane at Heathrow – bound for the other side of the world with a blank slate in my head and an empty diary in my bag. Leaving a childhood home or home country, when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.

I’ve often been asked why I came to Japan, but rarely ever why I left the UK. Most people leave home at some point and all have their reasons, whether they walked out with head held high or were kicked out with tail between legs. I did so for two main reasons. Firstly, because the world is changing rapidly and becoming ever more interdependent, I wanted to experience and understand that transition. To taste and perhaps even help shape some of that emerging global identity. To become a citizen of the future, not a relic of the past. Secondly, my ghosts crowded me out.

Even my original and later readopted hometown of Brighton had begun to teem with them after a while. They laid in wait for me on street corners, in pubs and supermarkets, in the books that I read and the songs I listened to, in the successes of others rightfully mine, and the new bonds made that I was excluded from. Most of all, they laid deep down inside of me, weighing me down and forcing me to chase my tail instead of following my nose or my dreams. I ran away to the new world and I ran away from the old one.

Of course, Japan has its ghosts too. A Tokyoite once told a tale of awakening feeling pressured, only to see the disembodied head of a samurai resting on her chest, and his body slumped in the corner of the room. Then there’s Hiroshima’s living ghosts, the hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) and the terrible tales they still tell about one fateful summer day in their childhood and its aftermath. But perhaps as Japan’s ghosts belong to others, I don’t see them in the same way as my own.

Exile, expatriation and exploration seem to run in the family. Both parents are well travelled and weave snapshots of recent human history into the family narrative. My mother, who actually recommended Tokyo to me, spent a little time in Soviet-era Moscow and Leningrad. It can be difficult to visit somewhere that my father’s not been before me. He was in Berlin a week before the fall of the Wall. My sisters, fellow siblings-in-exile, respectively live in Toulouse and Dar Es Salaam.

It goes back further and stretches out wider too. On Dad’s side, an uncle in North Carolina, a cousin born in Zambia. On Mum’s side, an uncle who sent himself to Cameroon, and another uncle in Germany, who’d rejected London at the end of the 1960’s and headed off with a camera round his neck. Hitching on some autobahn or other, he was picked up by a busload of hippies on their way to a Pink Floyd show and later married one of them.

Yet further still, the bloodlines intermingle with the bloodshed and fault lines of the last century or so. Another uncle, this time belonging to my grandmother, seemed to have lived the whole Empire boy dream. He found himself in Shanghai in the 1920’s, where he hooked up with a Russian girl he met. She turned out to be a minor royal that had fled the Revolution in 1917, and was now down at heel, selling matches on the street. Together, they fled China to escape from the invading Japanese and on to Batavia (now Jakarta). The Imperial Army had their sights on Indonesia too so they fled again, ending their days in Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was).

Completing the circle, it was a visit to my sister in Tanzania, during the week that the Americans and the British began their assault on Baghdad, that I decided I was finally ready to up sticks, put Blighty behind me and head far East. At the turn of the millennium, the rock ‘n’ roll gang I fronted began getting our first taste of fame by bursting into the national media by accident. Amidst our meteoric rise, however, I was ousted in a coup and thus began my English decline. In time, my senses became dulled by my daily grind and I needed to reawaken them with new experiences. Tokyo lured me with dreams of a high-tech, glittering city of the future.

My life here is both similar and different to the old one in England. I eat more fish than I did before and am also more used to earthquakes, but as I did in the UK, I teach English for cash and occasionally still sing in a local bar band. The all-efficient technology is so pervasive, however, that it’s barely noticed after a while.

My social circle is drawn from a much wider pool than my British one was. A Californian pal tells me tales of living on otherwise uninhabited Hawaiian islands. A Nepalese friend invited me to join him and his family in celebrating the Hindu Festival of Light, at home in Kathmandu. I became the global citizen I was aiming to be.

One part of the story remains untold. As with any haunting, you can only run from your ghosts for so long. In time, if the exile is ever to come home, he must also become exorcist.

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ARTICLES // Revolution # 9 (2006)

What does mankind gain from conditions such as war and occupation? It is rare indeed to find occurrences in human history where something positive can be found in the aftermath.

WWI begat WWII, which in turn begat the Israel/Palestine issue. The French occupations of Algeria and Indochina (Vietnam) led to violent and bloody resistance movements, blowing up into an even bigger conflict involving neighbouring states (Cambodia, Laos) and an international superpower (US) in the case of Vietnam. The Korean War led to the partition of the peninsula and one of the most heavily landmined places on Earth. British occupation of India may have produced a largely nonviolent resistance movement, but independence led to further wars and the division of the subcontinent. Issues still remain here, including the Kashmir question and the ongoing rise and fall of the standoffs between nuclear armed India and Pakistan.

The Asia-Pacific theatre of the Second World War was rife with its own horrors, such as the acts committed by the Japanese Imperial Army across East Asia and the American attacks on Japan, culminating in the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese, exhausted by the war, surrendered to the US and submitted themselves to an American post-war occupation.

Yet under American rule, one small seed of hope was planted that laid out a blueprint for all nations to avoid the scourges of war.

That seed was Article 9 of the then newly written Japanese Constitution. Coming from a nation (UK) that seems to need little prompting to engage in warfare (even within my lifetime during the post-imperial era – witness the Falklands and Gulf War I), I was astonished to discover such a feature in national life as I found in Japan. The country forbids itself from ever going to war again or maintaining a regular army.

What an incredible element to weave into the fabric of a nation! Of course, the sad reality is that Article 9 has been under threat almost since its introduction, with the greatest challenges to it coming now under the current administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Learning about Article 9 and the threats to it compelled me to write the piece found below, in the hope that I could raise further awareness of a tool that could benefit all nations and of the challenges that it faces.

The article was first published online here and an edited version later appeared in the Canadian quarterly ‘Peace Magazine’.

The Japanese NGO Peace Boat is co-ordinating a global campaign to raise further awareness of Article 9 and the threats posed to it. The campaign site can be found here.

Peace Not War Japan, the organisation I founded in 2004, provides further information about issues relating to peace and Japan, and also has a collection of great peace-related songs by Japanese artists.

Keep the peace, people!

Photo of A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima by Dom Pates

Revolution # 9

‘Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.’

(Article 9, Japanese Constitution)

In the journey through life, individuals maintain allegiances to friends, family, lovers, employers and educators for help along the way. A wider bond is often also upheld – that of a sense of belonging to one’s nation. Of just over 6.5 billion humans on Earth, most would consider themselves as being part of at least one of the roughly 190 nations whose territories (‘countries’) cover the planet’s land surfaces. Members of these ‘nations’ are usually distinguished by at least a common identity, and often a common origin such as ancestry.

A nation can simply be a state of mind. A state, however, is much more tangible. Comprised of buildings, hierarchies and officials it is designed to represent both the nation and the country. Given the immense power held over the lives of individuals by ‘the state’, it is crucial to have a system of checks and balances to ensure that the power wielded is not abused. More fundamentally, it is vital for the interests of the people that are represented by that nation, and peoples of other nations too, to have the principles and rules by which they are governed clearly defined and agreed upon.

A constitution is just that, a system that covers the principles and rules by which an organisation is governed. Certain powers are granted to that organisation on the grounds that it abides by what is set out in that constitution. Most commonly, a constitution is a set of rules that define the nature and extent of government.

The Constitution of Japan was established after World War II and was intended to replace the country’s previous imperial system with a form of liberal democracy. Written under close supervision of General MacArthur and the occupation forces, the Meiji Constitution, the demands of Japanese lawyers and the opinions of pacifist political leaders were taken into account and the document came into effect in May 1947.

The implementation of the Japanese Constitution came during an international trend towards the outlawry of war. For example, Article 12 of the Costa Rican Constitution, put into effect in 1949, stipulates that ‘armed forces as a permanent institution is prohibited’. Since then, Costa Rica has never maintained armed forces.

Article 9 is the unique provision within the document whereby Japan both renounces war and is prohibited from maintaining a military force. It was a strong and clear promise by Japan to the world, and particularly people of the Asia-Pacific region that the imperialistic aggressions acted out during WWII would never be repeated. It also served as a brake on Japan’s arms build-up during the post-war era, which has provided a sense of security for the entire region.

It is the main reason why Japan has been able to live through such a long period of peace and stability, with the country having militarily not taken part in a war in over half a century.

It has made a strong contribution towards attempts at the resolution of international problems of disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons. A UN General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament in 1978 declared the desire for complete disarmament of nations. The Hague Peace Conference of 1999 stated in its final document that every national parliament should adopt a resolution that renounces war like Article 9.

It is no less than a blueprint for how to save future generations from the scourge of war.

The previous century was the bloodiest and most violent in all of human history. It contained two world wars, three decades of arms-fuelled tensions between the world’s superpowers, and hundreds of genocidal purges, civil wars, armed invasions, military coups, revolutionary struggles, border disputes and localised conflicts, and led to the deaths of over 100 million people. As the new century gets underway, prospects for major downturns in this trend are not looking too good.

Article 9 is under serious pressure and has been since its inception. Even whilst Japan was still under US occupation, moves were made towards creating some sort of military organisation. Thus the creation and development of what became the Japan Self Defense Forces (SDF), which has seen constant court battles between government and critics over its legitimacy. Extensions of Article 9’s ethos, such as Japan’s non-nuclear principles and ban on arms exports, face strong and active opposition from those keen to remilitarise the country.

The US has continued into the 21st Century to encourage Japan to abandon what it adopted after WWII. The Japanese military were dispatched to assist the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and utilised for refuelling U.S. and British warships. In July 2003, Japan’s parliament passed a law authorizing the use of Japan’s SDF in Iraq, as long as they were confined to conducting humanitarian missions.

While some consider the removal of Article 9 as a natural stage in the evolution of post-war Japan, this would undoubtedly have a serious effect on the foreign policies of Asia’s most powerful states. If Japan were to again become a military force to contend with, it would undoubtedly reinvigorate China’s push for a powerful military. Russia could see an increasingly powerful Japan as a possible threat to its territory and interests in East Asia, and North Korea could feel itself backed even further into a corner. Memories of Japanese wartime aggression are still fresh even in South Korea, and the normalisation of good relations still has a long way to go.

As the prospects rise of a future with more wars over ever dwindling energy supplies, a world of environmental refugees fleeing within their own national borders, nuclear proliferation across the planet and the unravelling of the meticulously constructed systems of international law and order, it is vital that the signposts and beacons to a better and more peaceful future that we currently have within our possession are upheld, maintained and built upon. In the interests of a peaceful future for Japan and the rest of the world, for today and long into our distant tomorrow, Article 9 must be maintained and its principles spread.


Filed under 2006, Articles, Features