The two faces of Hiroshima: sleek cars and peace messages
| Hiroshima, Japan
THE cook, the cashier, and a gaggle of waitresses in the narrow oyster restaurant were despondent. The day before, their baseball heroes, the Carps, had won handsomely against the Tokyo Giants. But today, the score was a disappointing 7-11 and, as the cashier said, ``It would have taken a home run with all bases loaded to change that.'' The cashier was an infant in arms when the A-bomb exploded over Hiroshima 40 years ago. She remembers nothing of that day when more than 80,000 people perished (and possibly another 100,000 within the next five years). But her mother does. ``She still has nightmares,'' the cashier said simply.
Hiroshima today turns two faces to the world. One is that of the Carps and the Mazda Motor Corporation, the city's largest employer by far. It is that of succulent Hiroshima oysters, of rainbow-hued neon signs shimmeringly reflected in the seven rivers that thread their way through the metropolitan delta, of shops bursting with Gucci bags and thousand-dollar kimonos, of the sleek bullet train speeding travelers to Tokyo in five hours. It is the collective face of 1 million citizens who
know how to work hard and play hard, who have both built and benefited greatly from Japan's economic prosperity.
The other visage, better known around the globe, is epitomized in the slogan ``No more Hiroshimas.'' It is the searing memory of a single moment -- 8:15 a.m. precisely -- on a cloudless blue August 6 that destroyed a city of 350,000 and added a frightening new dimension and an urgent new imperative to mankind's age-old cycles of war and peace.
Both of Hiroshima's two faces are genuine. As an example of the first, let us go to Mazda's headquarters in Fuchu, just outside Hiroshima's city limits. Sheltered by Golden Hill, behind which it nestles, from the bombs blast and heat waves, Mazda nevertheless found itself in a sorry plight when the war was over. It had no steel or rubber to make the bicycles and three-wheel trucks that were its major products. Its work force was down to 700.
``But our president, Tsuneji Matsuda, had big dreams,'' said company spokesman, Hirotsugu Yonekura. ``One month after the disaster he was already off to neighboring Kyushu in search of tires.''
Production was started up in December, with steel plates scrounged from the former Kure Naval Yard and fuel tanks from grounded planes. From this modest revival, Mazda rode the crest of Japan's economic recovery to become the nation's third-largest carmaker.
Today it employs 28,000 people -- 25,000 of them in the Hiroshima area. The company is also a major supporter of the Hiroshima Carps, owning 34 percent of the team's shares. (The rest are held by Tsuneji Matsuda's son Kohei.)
The Carps started as a municipal team, and when it fell on lean times, contributions from spectators kept it going. Mazda and Mr. Matsuda took the team over to give it a stable financial base, Yonekura said. Their reward has been four Central League pennants and three Japan Series victories in the past 10 years.
``I still remember our first pennant 10 years ago,'' the cashier said. ``All of Peace Boulevard, 100 yards wide, was filled with crowds.''
Hiroshima's other face, the face that has made it a synonym (along with fellow-victim Nagasaki) for Armageddon and apocalypse, is much in evidence at this annual season of prayer and remembrance, when the sun is hot and the scent of oleander fills the air.
Oleanders are the municipal flower, and they bloom in pink and white profusion all along the main avenues, parks and river banks of this southern city.
``They were the first flowers to bloom here, a year after the atom bomb,'' a city official said. ``They proved to us that our soil was not fated to be barren for decades, as some experts had warned. They gave us promise that our city would be green again.''
One-tenth of Hiroshima's 1 million citizens are officially listed as survivors of the bomb, either because they were in the city on August 6 or because they went into it in the fortnight thereafter, when radioactivity was lethally high.
Each August 6 they, along with thousands of visitors from all over the world, gather in prayer at the simple tumulus-shaped cenotaph in Peace Memorial Park, on which are inscribed the words, ``Rest in peace, we will not repeat the error.'' (The ``we'' in this case is explained as meaning, not the Americans who dropped the bomb, nor the Japanese who started the Pacific war, but all those who come to bow their heads at the memorial.)
Many of the predictions made in the immediate aftermath of the bombing have proved not to be true. Not only is Hiroshima green again, many survivors of the bomb have borne healthy children, who have in turn married and begotten offspring.
But emotional scars remain. And the fact that natural science simply does not know all the possible long-term effects of exposure to the bomb keeps slivers of uncertainty alive in the community.
``Mankind stands at the crossroads of survival or of destruction,'' said Mayor Takeshi Araki in one of his frequent appeals for nuclear disarmament. An atom-bomb survivor himself, he has become known locally as the ``telegram mayor'' because of the protests he fires off whenever any nuclear power, be it the United States or the Soviet Union or China, conducts a nuclear-weapons test.
``I don't know what good it does, but we have to do something,'' said a woman resting in the shade in Peace Park while her two children scampered about feeding the pigeons. ``Just think how many times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb are all the nuclear weapons in the world today.''
Across the river, seated in front of the stark A-bomb Dome, hypocenter of the August 6 explosion, a saffron-robed Buddhist priest was beating his small drum and chanting his sutras in a ``vigil for peace'' as the sign beside him proclaimed.
A young man and woman with Canada's maple leaf insignia on their backpacks strolled past, headed for the shade of a clump of trees. In the river below, what might be a courting couple launched out in a rowboat for hire, oars splashing gently in the water, under a sky as achingly blue as 40 summers ago.
A reporter contemplating the river scene and musing on the powerful symbolism of the skeletal dome etched against the sky asked himself what effect, if any, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had had on the Japanese psyche, and whether the consciousness of being the world's only atom-bombed people had made postwar Japanese different from those that had blindly followed the militarists into China and the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He recalled a partial answer coming from Koichi Kato, one of Japan's up-and-coming younger politicians, who currently serves as defense minister in the Nakasone Cabinet.
Mr. Kato believes that pacifism has genuinely taken root in Japan. Many observers, both conservative and socialist, agree. It was not merely defeat, they say, but the devastating nature of the defeat, in which both Hiroshima and Nagasaki played their role, that convinced most of their countrymen that a new start would have to be made.
That is why so many Japanese welcomed Article 9 of the postwar Constitution, which gives up the right of belligerency and forbids the maintenance of ``war potential.''
Kato, who belongs to the student generation of 1960 that opposed revising the US-Japan security treaty, believes that any attempt to revise the Constitution would create such strong opposition, even among voters who support Japan's modest self-defense forces, as to threaten the nation's political stability.
Another, more specific, consequence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been a total horror of nuclear weapons and an unwillingness even to contemplate the idea of nuclear deterrence.
While many Japanese accept the idea that a sovereign country should be responsible for its own defense, the concept of deterrence as a strategic doctrine is little understood. All that registers among most citizens here is that the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons has reached a level sufficient to destroy this planet many times over and that it still continues to increase.
It is not easy for Washington to convince Japanese voters that its weapons are good, while Moscow's weapons are bad. Thus Mayor Araki, in his speeches and messages, tends to cry a nuclear plague both on the United States and on the Soviet Union.
What has not yet emerged in this country is some sense that Japan's voice, if articulated intelligently and with imagination, could conceivably make a difference -- could help to halt what appear to many as a mindless proliferation of awesomely destructive weapons fueled by fear.
In the East-West divide, Japan stands firmly within the Western camp. But it has long been content to follow the leader. Left-wingers have exploited the horrors of the atom bomb to the hilt, but the conservative mainstream has not so far seemed to know how to harness the genuine idealism born of the terror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to a more constructive cause.
When it does, Japan may find its true voice.