On utilizing the former army clothing factory buildings

Yasuko Claremont
Honorary Senior Lecturer
Japanese Studies
The University of Sydney

My connection with Hiroshima began with the atomic-bomb literature of Tamiki Hara, Sankichi Tôge, Sadako Kurihara and Masuji Ibuse. Art, such as literature, paintings, film, and music have an ability to move human minds and hearts. People can be connected across time through the power of empathy. Sharing the pain of others is powerful as well.

However, art is not the only means that can empower people to feel empathy towards the pains of others. The surviving complex formed by the former army clothing factory buildings (Minami-ku, Hiroshima), whose preservation and utilization are currently under discussion, is a good example.

My colleagues and I will be organizing an exhibition of anti-nuclear art to be held at the Tin Sheds Gallery of the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, the University of Sydney, 7 October – 20 November 2021. The exhibition will illustrate the role of art in opposing not just nuclear weapons, but all uses of nuclear energy including nuclear testing and nuclear power stations.

The exhibition will include a few images of buildings. There will be photographs of the buildings of the former army clothing factory, with which I felt intimacy through my reading of Tôge’s poems, ‘The Record of a Warehouse’ and ‘Eyes’, and of Ibuse’s novel, Black Rain. We will relate the history of the discussions surrounding the preservation or demolition of these buildings.

While I have been working on this exhibition project, my friend and the representative of The Association for Preservation of Literary Materials of Hiroshima, Tokiko Tsuchiya let me know about their Hihukusho Radio program. The program introduces the history of the former army clothing factory and talks to people who were associated with it. When I heard their voices on the radio I understood that the buildings are a chrono-topos packed with living memories of Hiroshima. And the remaining complex of the four buildings represents not just the army history of Hiroshima but symbolizes mankind’s history as both aggressor and victim.

Australia where I live, began its settlement in 1788 as a penal colony. The Aboriginal people’s land was regarded as terra nullius (nobody’s land) and British colonial rule continued until Federation in 1901. Racial discrimination against the Aboriginal people, however, still continues to this day.

In the 1950s the British nuclear tests at Maralinga took place. Because of the radioactive waste left behind, the local Anangu people cannot return to their land to live even now. In 1992, the High Court of Australia recognised the land rights of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander people, known as the Mabo decision. In 2008 the Rudd government delivered an official apology, yet discrimination still continues, for example, Indigenous deaths in custody are disproportionally high when compared to those of non-Aboriginal people in custody.

In any country it is not that easy to share the pain of those people who live through such a history of discrimination.

The 5th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army, Hiroshima, was one of the forces responsible for the invasion of the Malaya Peninsular in 1942. During the Japanese Occupation in Singapore many civilians became victims of the Japanese Army’s atrocities.

Australia fought a fierce battle with the Japanese army at New Guinea, and also Darwin was bombed by the Japanese Forces. 192 Australian POWs died as a result of starvation, illness and torture. So, from the Australian point of view Hiroshima is not simply a land of tragedy where the bombs fell. The Australians still hold firmly to the view that the atomic-bombing ended the war.

The former army clothing factory complex reflects the history of Hiroshima as a major army capital. It plays the role of a living witness to the history of the tragedy of the uncountable victims of the atomic bombing who were carried in there.

The Hiroshima Peace Museum was designed by Kenzô Tange, who envisioned it becoming ‘the factory to create peace’. However, if it was intended to produce a diverse range of peace activities, the reality looks otherwise.

For this purpose, the buildings of the former army clothing factory would be ideal because they were closely connected with the daily lives of the local people who worked there. I believe the ample spaces afforded by the buildings must be the most suitable place to promote peace activities.

What about, for example, making a literary museum, or a gallery or a multi-purpose hall that will be a cultural investment for the future. It would be a valuable spot for local and international visitors if it was refashioned. As to the financial resources, in addition to contributions from the public and private sector, it would be necessary to collect funds worldwide by setting up a foundation using the internet.

Inspired by the chrono-topos of the former army clothing factory buildings, by using our imaginative power, we will be working rigorously and positively towards a peaceful future. Such an action is surely a worthy memorial to those who died in the atomic bombing.