Editorial: Peace Memorial Hall marks the first day of its 10th year, use of A-bomb accounts must grow

If you were unable to hear the voices of the A-bomb survivors this August 6, a visit to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is encouraged. At the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, located in the park, visitors can read accounts of the atomic bombing written by the survivors.

On August 1, the hall marked the first day of its 10th year as a place for sharing A-bomb testimonies. Perhaps because the building is submerged in the earth, and thus has a low profile, the number of visitors to the hall has remained at roughly 210,000 people a year, about one-sixth of the number of visitors to Peace Memorial Museum, also located in the park.

The mission of the hall, though, is far from minor. The hall is charged with conveying and disseminating the experiences of the atomic bombing--the memories of the A-bombed city of Hiroshima--to the next generation, to those both inside and outside Japan.

Concern has been voiced over the fact that these memories are steadily fading. In addition to collecting and organizing the A-bomb accounts, the hall should seek to grasp a fuller picture of the damage wrought by the bombing through a detailed analysis of the contents of these testimonies. The hall should move to enhance the facility so that visitors who are unfamiliar with the atomic bombing can more readily share in the memories of this tragedy.

Established by the Japanese government, the hall is operated under the auspices of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. It is an underground facility, and includes the Hall of Remembrance, a space in which to mourn the dead. To date, the hall has collected approximately 130,000 A-bomb accounts and more than 15,000 photographs of the A-bomb victims.

It can be said that visitors to Peace Memorial Museum are confronted with “objects,” including items that once belonged to the victims, while visitors to Peace Memorial Hall encounter “people.”

Basic information, such as the name and age of each writer, and where the person was located at the time of the bombing, has been compiled in a database that contains about 120,000 of the accounts. Visitors can search for accounts they would like to read by using the computer terminals in the hall's library and then access selected testimonies from the archives.

Some of the accounts can be read in their entirety on the computer monitor, but the number remains low, currently 398. Increasing the number of full testimonies in the computers is an issue that should be discussed. Such a step would lead to significantly greater use of the facility.

If words, like words uttered by injured survivors, the sounds they heard in the ruins of the city, or the odors they smelled at the time, could be searched from a number of accounts by using a keyword search function, the A-bomb damage might be analyzed from a variety of perspectives.

It is essential, as well, to undertake efforts to increase the number of testimonies collected in the hall. Five years ago, the hall instituted a program in which staff members visit A-bomb survivors to take down their accounts of the bombing. But that program has the limited goal of recording the accounts of only ten people or so each year. The hall should increase its public relations activities and expand the program with the cooperation of volunteers.

Opportunities to listen to A-bomb accounts directly from the survivors within peace education programs at schools or at other venues appear to be decreasing. If students are brought in to assist with the writing process of A-bomb accounts, this would help hand down the survivors' memories to the younger generation.

When writing is combined with sound and image, people's thoughts are conveyed more easily.

One good example is the program of readings that the hall has organized for the past seven years. With the support of volunteers, students on schools trips, among other groups, have the chance to listen to readings of A-bomb accounts. The effort has taken root as the hall's flagship program. In addition to shooting more videos of A-bomb survivors sharing their own accounts, continuing to strengthen the program of readings by volunteers is another of the hall's challenges.

Memories of the devastation that day serve as the bedrock for the appeal to abolish nuclear weapons and the declaration that “the atomic bombing must never be repeated.” This is why, for the first time, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui quoted the accounts of some A-bomb survivors in the Peace Declaration he delivered on August 6.

In order to hand down such memories for generations to come, the A-bomb testimonies play a monumental role. Fostering the human resources to research and analyze these testimonies is a vital undertaking, too.

(Originally published on August 8, 2011)