Studying Nuclear Weapons Through An Artist’s Lens

Throughout my time at the Hiroshima-ICAN Academy, I couldn’t help but connect certain lectures and lessons with the many texts, films, and performances I studied as I was writing my graduate thesis at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Below you will find a compiled list of some resources from my bibliography that I hope encourage your further exploration into the topic of the atomic bomb, nuclear weapons and waste, Japanese/Korean studies, and more. Keep in mind that this is an incomplete list, as there are many more resources I could have included. But I hope as you explore the links, you discover a new fact, a new perspective, or a new direction for your peace work. Please do write in the comments if something in this list resonates with you. And of course, if you come across a title that is not on this list, let me know!

 

Texts: 

Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse

Children of Hiroshima, edited by Dr. Arata Osada

“Hiroshima, City of Doom” by Yōko Ōta

Poems of the Atomic Bomb by Sankichi Tōge

Hiroshima by John Hersey

Trinity by Louisa Hall

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

The Emissary by Yoko Tawada

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Full Body Burden by Kristen Iversen

Dictée by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

Contemporary Japanese Literature: An Anthology of Fiction, Film, and Other Writing Since 1945, edited by Howard Hibbett

Hiroshima: A Tragedy Never to be Repeated by Masamoto Nasu

Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Hiroshima Notes by Kenzaburō Ōe

 

Films: 

In This Corner of the World

“Anointed” (a poem by Marshallese poet, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner)

Day of the Western Sunrise

Hiroshima Mon Amour

“Navel and A-Bomb” (a short avant-garde film by Eikoh Hosoe)

“General Paul Tibbets – Reflections on Hiroshima” (an interview with the pilot of the Enola Gay)

 

Performance Art:

A Body in Fukushima by Eiko Otake (here are two clips from the full film: one and two)

Eiko Dances with the Hiroshima Panels

 

ICAN, You Can, We Can Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Two weeks ago, I returned from a truly unparalleled experience in Hiroshima, Japan. It was my second trip to Japan this year (I had embarked on a solo adventure to Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Tokyo in January), but this particular time was a trip unlike any I have ever had before and probably ever will.

To my great surprise, I was selected as one of 15 international participants for the inaugural Hiroshima-ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) Academy on Nuclear Weapons and Global Security, a 10-day intensive for young professionals ages 25 and under. The Academy ran from July 30 through August 8 and included eight participants from nuclear-weapons states (e.g. USA, Russia, China, France, and England) and seven from non-nuclear-weapons states (e.g. Germany, Japan, South Korea, Canada, The Netherlands, Belgium, Australia). Throughout our 10 days in Hiroshima City, we heard testimonies by atom bomb survivors; learned about global trends on nuclear weapons and global security through exchanges with UN officials, diplomats, and NGO members (including members of ICAN and Peace Boat); and brainstormed concrete plans on how to engage young people in the realization toward a more peaceful world. Most humbling of all, we had the opportunity to participate in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on August 6th and honor the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing.

How did this all come about? It all started back in May when the Academy’s application came across my Twitter feed. I had been following the ICAN organization for several months as I worked on my thesis, so when ICAN shared this opportunity online, I knew that I had to apply—not only to research for my novel, but to become the global citizen I want to be. And there’s really no greater opportunity than to engage in nuclear disarmament and peace education in one of the two cities to ever experience nuclear warfare. For the application, I wrote a 700-word essay which assessed the current situation on nuclear disarmament, the priority agenda for action, as well as my personal involvement and interest in nuclear issues. I’m quite proud of that essay, and still, I never expected to be selected.

The majority of the other participants—my brilliant new friends—were hardcore students in the nuclear policy field. In contrast, I came to the Academy as “the artist” whose goal was to learn as much as she could about the technical elements of nuclear policy and international law, and translate that information into meaningful articles and texts for the masses. As someone who is usually a vocal presence in the classroom, it was at first difficult for me to take a step back and realize that I was not an expert on this topic and THAT’S OKAY! I quickly learned that one of the greatest tasks I could do at the academy was to listen, record, and absorb.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned at the Hiroshima-ICAN Academy was that when it comes to the abolition of nuclear weapons, we need everyone to put the specific skills that they have to good use. I remembered what Sasamori-san told the audience at the University of Vermont Hibakusha Stories event in 2018. She said that we must do whatever we could to ensure that no one suffers as the people did—as she did—on August 6, 1945 and August 9, 1945. Education is the first step: We must tell the stories of how nuclear weapons have affected people since 1945, provide information on the dangerous health effects of nuclear weapons, and explain why we should be extremely concerned that the Doomsday Clock is once again at two minutes before midnight. The humanitarian aspect of nuclear weapons is a key part of bringing awareness to the masses. In many ways, this humanitarian education is synonymous with storytelling.

I’ve already begun that work with my thesis, which attempts to reignite empathy and remembrance for the nuclear tragedies of the past. My hope is that, through my fiction, the curious will be inspired to read the personal accounts of the hibakusha and explore how you too can join in the movement for a peaceful world.

Be on the lookout for more blog posts coming soon, including specific highlights of the Hiroshima-ICAN Academy, a guide to the vocabulary of nuclear weapons, and supplemental books and films for continued education on the nuclear issue!

 

 

Spirited Away

Cue The Dragon Boy/The Bottomless Pit. 🎵

It’s been a week since I returned from my travels around Japan, and already I’m in that “Did I actually go there? Did this actually happen?” phase. I was there for two weeks, traveling around Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kyoto, and Tokyo. I had a few contacts there, but because of the New Year holiday, many of those contacts were abroad and unavailable. The major purpose of the trip was to research for my novel, particularly in and around Hiroshima. However, the immersion of just being in the country for that amount of time was research in itself. I loved knowing that somewhere out there, my characters were walking around me. Maybe I had passed one of them at a crosswalk, maybe one had walked out the restaurant door as I walked in, maybe one was staring at me from the second story window of a house, maybe I was sitting behind them in the Shinkansen. Stories lurk everywhere; they don’t just stay on the street corner you happen to be writing about. They are in the air you breathe, the food that touches your tongue.

This was also the first weeks-long solo trip I had ever embarked on. How to describe it? Empowering, inspiring, emotional, exhausting (in the best way), delicious, and to be honest, sometimes lonely. I’m forever thankful for the wonderful people I met along the way, and for every person who helped me when I made a mistake or didn’t know what to do or where to go. I hope our paths cross again soon!

Here are a few photos from the magic that is Japan:

Fumbling for my camera as we pass over Mt. Fuji
I ate lunch with the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima every day to respect the fact we are both alive.
Paper cranes clothe A-Bomb memorials, warming, protecting.
The Moat of Hiroshima Castle
And we’ll all float on, alright… in Miyajima
At low tide, the pilgrimage begins
This is Maki, my lovely new friend! She hearts Nabokov. We geeked out over all things books. Here we are at Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto.
I have a tradition of buying a children’s book in the language of the place I’m visiting so I can practice at home.
So thankful to the folks at the Hijikata Tatsumi Archives (Keio University Art Center) for giving me access to these special Butoh dance documents!
The Forest of Resonating Lights at the teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum 
A peek into just one of the many delicious meals I had! おいしい!

 

Now, I just need to keep plowing away at my Japanese language practice, so when I go back, I will be able to speak with my characters when I see them!