Editorial: Removal of mannequins from museum

How should the A-bomb experience be conveyed?

The City of Hiroshima has announced that the mannequins depicting A-bombing victims will be removed from the Peace Memorial Museum in March 2016.

In its explanation the city said that in conjunction with seismic retrofitting of the museum, the facility’s displays would be revamped to focus on artifacts of the A-bombing.

Many citizens and visitors to the museum have demonstrated an understanding of the need to remove the mannequins. On the other hand, there is also strong opposition to the plan. Clearly the debate over what and how the museum should display in order to convey the A-bombing experience is not over.

But Hiroshima’s mission to pass on memories of the atomic bombing to the world is not over either. We should take this opportunity to once again consider from various angles not only the museum’s displays but also how the A-bombing experience should be passed on.

A charred lunchbox, a clock that stopped at 8:15, tattered clothes: victims’ personal belongings silently and eloquently tell of the otherworldly destruction of the A-bombing.

Their impact is not limited to their appearance. Looking at these items anyone would be filled with emotion when contemplating the misery that lies behind them: What happened to their owners? How resentful did they feel? How grief-stricken were their families?

The significance of items that survived the A-bombing lies in their ability to convey the bare facts to future generations in an understated manner.

Excluding photographs and artwork by survivors, the museum’s collection comprises approximately 21,000 artifacts, but only about 420, a mere 2 percent, can be put on permanent display. The museum’s desire to exhibit as many of these items as possible makes sense.

On the other hand, though made of plastic, even now the life-size mannequins depicting victims fleeing the destruction seem about to utter a pathetic cry for water.

Some children are repelled by the horrible sight of the mannequins. Atomic bomb survivors point out that the reality was far worse.

The destructive power of the atomic bomb cannot be recreated in an authentic manner. In some cases items made after the bombing may be more effective in conveying the devastation realistically. Like literature and films about the A-bombing, these items have the ability to tell a story.

For that reason some people have asked the city to reconsider the removal of the mannequins. Put another way, the museum’s plan for the new displays is not well understood.

The museum has said that it will amplify its descriptions of the belongings on display by including photos of the victims so that the feelings of those connected with the personal belongings will be conveyed. If that is the case, we would like the museum to offer citizens and visitors a full description of its new image for the museum.

If the mannequins are removed, perhaps it would be possible to take advantage of modern technology to replace them with a video. It should be possible to avoid showing scenes depicting the devastation to children through editing and other measures involving the video player. The possibility of displaying the mannequins in another location must not be overlooked either. The museum should solicit various proposals.

The 70th anniversary of the A-bombing is approaching. Few buildings that survived the bombing remain, and the city has been beautified. The rebuilt city is the culmination of the efforts of our forerunners and the legacy of Hiroshima’s citizens. At the same time, the city’s modern streets drive home the difficulty of fighting against time to pass on the A-bombing experience.

In that sense, the importance of the role played by the museum will certainly grow as more and more time passes. We urge every citizen to consider what they would like museum visitors to remember most.

(Originally published on October 20, 2013)