The Peace Tree from Hiroshima

When I picked up the book, The Peace Tree from Hiroshima, I felt a familiar flutter of hope. The title promised a story about the best aspects of humankind. But little did I realize how moved I would be by the book. Published by Tuttle Publishing, which was set up to promote Asian stories in America post World War II, this is a heartwarming tale of a tree that became a symbol of peace between Japan & America.

The Peace Tree from Hiroshima

The Miyajima or pine tree was handpicked in about 1625 when Mr Yamaki’s great great … great grandfather, Mr Itaro, went hiking in the mountains of an island, Miyajama – nicknamed the Island of the Gods for its scenic splendors. Ever since the pine lived in the home of the family: carefully tended for and handed over as a legacy from father to son. 400 years later, when the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, somehow this family and the bonsai tree survived.

From sample image on Amazon for The Peace Tree from Hiroshima

I had heard of Bonsai & Ikebana art, but did not truly understand what went into creating and preserving such magnificent specimens. When it comes to art forms with flowers and trees, the Chinese and Japanese have such a rich heritage. 

In what is the most moving gesture of humanity, on America’s 200th anniversary, Japan gifted America with 50 bonsai trees (one for each state). The bonsai trees were special ones including 3 from the Emperor’s collection. This 400 year old Miyajima tree from Hiroshima was also part of that gift and now lives in the Arboretum in Washington where it has been christened The Peace Tree. This tree that saw humankind go through industrial revolutions, technological advances unseen before, and the worst blemish in warfare is now a Peace Tree. I hope I can visit the Washington Arboretum one day and be in the presence of this little 3 ft tree with a powerful message of hope, resilience and forgiveness.

It truly became The Little Bonsai with a Big Story

This little bonsai’s story along with the Cranes of Hope, will hopefully be a reminder to us on the horrors of war.

I hope I can send these books along with the Butter Battle Book by Dr Seuss, to the current world leaders to remind them of how hard the world has worked towards maintaining world peace. A Course for World Leaders #ButterBattleCourse.

Sadako’s Thousand Paper Cranes

Towards the end of the book, the author writes a note indicating which parts of the story were fictionalized and which parts were true. They also include pictures of several bonsai trees including one that contains 11 trees in one arrangement, created by Bonsai artist, John Naka.  Apparently, one of the longest living bonsai, Fudo, lived over 900 years old. It was bought by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, but unfortunately this one did not survive the new conditions and died. 

How could the miniature version of the magnificent large pine tree outside our house live as a bonsai tree for upwards of 400 years? Wonders never cease and artistry comes in so many forms.

The Cranes of Hope

Late one night, I read Sadako’s Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. The book is based on the true story of a little girl called Sadako who contracts Leukemia ten years after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My heart attached itself to the lively, petite, friendly, active Sadako. Her energy is infectious and it leaps out of the pages and wants to make you skip too as you navigate the stairs and walk to school.

Sadako was two years old when the atom bomb was dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ten years later, her body is wracked with the unmistakable signs of Leukemia, a disease her family knows as the ‘Atom-Bomb’ disease. Her friend gives her hope and says when she makes a thousand paper cranes, she will become better. Sadako’s older brother offers to hand the paper cranes for her and pretty soon, the soaring cranes of every hue and size adorn her hospital room.

Wiki Link: Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes

According to the book, she is on her 644th crane when she dies, but her brother says she really made 1400 paper cranes and some of her paper cranes are still available for viewing as a message for Peace. It is a poignant story, and just writing the summary brought back the details of a lively spirit forever taken from the world, and I was shaken.

sadako

The nuclear threat is ever there. Read: Butter Battle Book by Dr Seuss. Mindless tweets on the subject by dictators leave me in an uneasy state of mind: We have on Earth right now the power to annihilate all lifeforms and spread widespread suffering. How many Sadako’s does humanity have to lose before we embrace all encompassing peace? Isn’t One Sadako too many?

Compellingly told, it is a light book with a heavy message. Oh! How heartless is warfare and why oh why did humanity have to develop nuclear weapons? I said aloud – a loud lament with silence as an answer.

In a mutinous mood, I stormed into the concluding essay on the Value of Science in Richard Feynman’s What Do You Care What Others Think? book. What possible excuse had he for his work on the Nuclear bomb. (The essay doesn’t directly allude to his work on the atom bomb, but on the general value of Science.)

Much as I wanted to storm and rage, I found myself reading the whole essay. He started the essay with something he had heard from a monk in a Buddhist monastery once:

To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell.

It is a valuable essay and well worth reading. It reminded me of the beautiful saying by Ursula Le Guin in the Earthsea books,

“To light a candle is to cast a shadow…”

 

The value of science is similar – while it is hugely important for understanding our universe, solving medical problems etc, there is also the troubling underbelly of Science using the same understanding with mal-intent or certainly unintended intent. (Problem with the Like button?)

Troubling? Yes.

But did you know, said a small voice in my brain, paper cranes are a symbol of hope and peace in Japan? We can hope and have faith in our uncommon knack to find solutions even as we create more problems. (The Wizard & The Prophet)

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