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Perspectives from Postwar Hiroshima
Chuzo Tamotzu, Children’s Drawings, and the Art of Resolution

Children's Perspective from Postwar Hiroshima

Michael Amano '17 and Virginia Crow '18

What does it mean to grow up in a city devastated by a nuclear weapon? This was a key question implicit in the request for drawings initiated by Chuzo Tamotzu, in concert with Susan B. Anderson, the Director of Art Education of the Santa Fe city schools, and Iwao Yonemoto, who transported the works. In the wake of World War II (1939–45), the children raised among the ruins of Hiroshima observed the rebuilding city, offering a fresh perspective on this renewal, as they themselves matured. When the atomic bomb decimated 13 square kilometers of the city on August 6, 1945, the oldest children of this exchange were around four years old and many younger ones were just newborns. As Tamotzu recognized, these views of Hiroshima created by these young people suggested the potential for a fresh start in reestablishing ties between the country of his birth and of his new home in the United States. These poignant images offer insight into Hiroshima’s postwar recovery, as children record their impressions of the world around them. Through images ranging from beautiful countryside landscapes and urban centers to Japanese folklore and school plays, we too can see daily life in postwar Hiroshima through the eyes of a child.

As the exhibition of drawings reveals, nature represents an important subject. Indeed, following the bombing rumors circulated that nothing would grow in Hiroshima for the next seventy-five years. As work proceeded to clear rubble from the city, many were shocked when red canna flowers soon began to bloom and other vegetation began to grow up more rapidly than rebuilding itself. As the processes of reconstruction unfolded, this greenery raised spirits. Hiroshima’s abundant rivers, characteristic mountains and lush vegetation fill many of these drawings, suggesting that these images of the regeneration of the natural world came to define postwar Hiroshima for many of the children growing up in it.

In addition to the florescence of trees, flowers, and other vegetation, the art of children participating in this exchange serves as a physical record of how vibrant and meaningful the reconstruction of the city was to its residents. In contrast to many adult survivors, these children could not have remembered the bustling pre-war city. Yet in the context of the pervasive destruction that had been visited on Hiroshima in their early youth, their depiction of new modes of transportation and industrialization represent poignant evidence of the fast-paced changes in the world around them. Cars, trains, electric lines, and western-style houses were depicted by many of the young artists, each rendered in bright colors typical of children’s art, but not necessary visible on the industrial objects themselves. This special attention to evidence of the expansion of industry suggests a fascination with technology that touched the daily lives of a populace that lost everything less than a decade before.

Other drawings created by children for display in the United States remind us of the touching details of their lives, including taking part in theatrical spectacles, playing dress-up, and exploring traditional stories as part of the inevitable give and take between absorbing cultural tradition and building new models for the future.

The drawings exhibited here, created as part of the 1953 children’s art exchange between the city of Hiroshima, devastated by an atomic bomb, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, a city bordering the birthplace of that device, transcend historical, linguistic, and cultural barriers. They serve as a means to establish a new foundation for lasting peace and mutual understanding. Today, the images created by these schoolchildren continue to bring together communities as diverse as Brunswick, Maine, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Hiroshima, Japan.