Commentary – A thousand ‘dreadlocks’ of cranes

Pearl Lorentzen

Several years ago, I was in Japan in April. It was a cold spring, so the sakura [cherry blossoms] weren’t blooming yet in Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka. However, when I reached Hiroshima they were in bloom.

Sakura and origami cranes are two symbols which I associate with Japan. The sakura were not blooming when Hiroshima was destroyed by the atomic bomb, 75 years ago. The Allies dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, Nagasaki was bombed, which ended the Second World War.

I didn’t get a chance to make it to Nagasaki, but Hiroshima is surreal, beautiful and tragic. Everywhere you go from Hiroshima Castle [built 1589-99] to Shukkei-en garden [built 1620], the signs read built some date, destroyed Aug. 6, 1945, rebuilt later.

Some of the reasons Hiroshima was targeted by the Allies [which includes Canada] were that it was a heavily populated port city built on a flat plain surrounded by low hills. The Allies wanted the Japanese to see the impact of one atomic bomb.

I haven’t been to Venice, but downtown Hiroshima brought to mind the idea of Venice. It is speckled with canals spanned by arched footbridges. In Hiroshima, there is a sense that you are walking among ghosts, but also that you are in a haven of peace.

One of the first things I saw was an Inukshuk, which was donated by Canadian Inuit to the people of Hiroshima in the spirit of peace. It was in a business district with modern high rises, which could have been in any first world city around the world.

However, closer to the heart of the blast, the evidence of the bomb is everywhere. The focus is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. This is a long garden space with paths, plants, and artwork. Most include a view of the Genbaku Dome, which was the only building left standing near the centre of the bomb. It is a shell. The building is the remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, which was constructed in 1914, says Unesco.

“It symbolizes the tremendous destructive power, which humankind can invent on the one hand; on the other hand, it also reminds us of the hope for world permanent peace.”

Throughout the park, there are long strings of handmade origami cranes of multiple colours. They are draped over artwork, near the museum, and basically everywhere in the park except on the Genbaku Dome.

These chains of paper cranes reminded me of dreadlocks, with their variety of colours and repeated weft and weave from wing to beak to sliver of light before the next crane.

The connection of the paper cranes with Hiroshima comes from a child who survived the bombing, only to die later of cancer caused by radiation. She tried to make 1,000 paper cranes, as in Japanese legend the gods heal a sick person who succeeds in this task. The origami cranes have become a symbol of hope and peace, especially for children.

Today is Remembrance Day, as we honour the soldiers and police who keep us safe, let’s pray for a time of peace, when their service and sacrifice is no longer necessary.

May war always be a last resort.

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