For Japanese Family, No Touch of Bitterness
At memorial ceremonies for the bombing, Motoko Sakama and loved ones recall succeeding occasions of American thoughtfulness. LOOKING BACK AT HIROSHIMA
I should say at the outset that Motoko Sakama is my landlady.Skip to next paragraph
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Shortly after I moved into the top half of the 60-year-old Western-style house that Mrs. Sakama owns in Tokyo, she and her husband invited me downstairs to dinner. Over a gracious and friendly meal, I discovered that her father had been the mayor of Hiroshima at the end of World War II when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city.
Her father and daughter died in the blast, and her mother and a sister were both dead by the end of 1945, apparently from the effects of radiation. The Sakamas' two-year-old daughter was staying with her grandparents in Hiroshima at the time.
As Sakama writes in her account of her family's experience, published in this newspaper last week, ''Little Ayako probably died being hugged by my father.''
Since our introduction 15 months ago, Sakama and I have had several opportunities to discuss what she calls ''those sad days.'' Each time she has expressed her appreciation that she has had such friendly relationships with Americans during the past 50 years.
''I don't hate Americans. I hate the war,'' she says.
On the weekend of Aug. 6, Sakama and several members of her family traveled to Hiroshima to attend the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the bomb. A few hours after the event, I met them in the airy tea lounge of their hotel, a modern affair where Japan's prime minister was also staying.
They were a party of seven, all wearing black, and most of the immediate discussion about the ceremony concerned the hot weather. It is a Japanese convention to begin letters and conversations with references to nature, but in this case heat had special relevance.
The annual commemoration is traditionally short and somber. There is a minute's pause at 8:15 a.m., when the bomb exploded.
This year, two birds traversed the hazy sky as approximately 60,000 people fell silent. In the August heat, one could not help but imagine the searing burst of a second sun directly overhead.
Differing American views
Some Americans approach Hiroshima with trepidation. The recent controversy over the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit about the ''Enola Gay,'' the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, indicates that Americans are not of one mind about the event.
Edward Dougherty is a former college instructor from Ohio who has lived in Hiroshima for two years as the co-director of a guest house where foreigners and Japanese come to learn about the bombing. He has witnessed many Americans' visits to Hiroshima and the exhibits at the city's Peace Memorial Museum that detail the effects of the bomb.
''When you walk in, it breaks your heart,'' he says. ''The feeling is - and it's true - 'My God, we bombed kids.' ''
But it's equally common that Americans come away from Hiroshima without detecting any anger from city residents.
''Honestly speaking,'' says Hiroshi Hara, who was 13 years old when the bomb killed many of his school mates, ''there was tremendous hatred of the US immediately after the A-bomb, but not now.''
''The survivors and the citizens of Hiroshima,'' he adds, ''are not interested in blaming the US for things past.''