Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome lighting event stirs controversy

JIJI

A daily illumination event involving trees around the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima has raised questions over whether it is appropriate to promote tourism in the area that was destroyed by the U.S. weapon in the closing days of World War II.

The tourism event was begun in December by the Hiroshima Municipal Government to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the dome’s addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List in December 1996.

The dome, which is apparently not adorned with any of the LEDs involved in the controversey, consists mostly of the skeletal remains of a building next to ground zero that survived the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing by the United States.

At least one hibakusha has raised concerns about holding the event as part of a tourism promotion campaign and underlined the need for debate.

The municipal government launched the campaign together with the city of Hatsukaichi, home to Hiroshima’s Itsukushima Shrine, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in December 1996. It did not consult with the hibakusha in advance.

The municipal government installed some 45,000 blue light-emitting diodes, mainly on trees around the Atomic Bomb Dome, and added electrical ornaments that included representations of large orizuru (paper cranes), which symbolize longevity in Japan.

The illumination starts at 5:30 p.m. and lasts for five hours. It ends Sunday.

The city received mixed opinions in advance of the event.

Given the commotion, the city surveyed visitors to the site late last year. Of the 131 respondents, 77 percent saw no problem with the event and 6 percent said the city should refrain from holding it.

In an open-ended question, one respondent said the event uses lights in a way that does not drastically change the meaning of the dome.

Another said: “It may provide visitors to the dome for the lights with an opportunity to look back at history.”

One critical respondent said the dome “is not a tourism spot.”

“The illumination of the dome, a place to mourn for the victims, is undesirable,” said Kunihiko Sakuma, 72-year-old head of an atomic bomb survivor group in Hiroshima.

“The dome was registered to the UNESCO list as a negative legacy, different from ordinary tourism sites. We want people to see the dome as it really is.”

Sakuma believes it is problematic for the city to organize the lighting project as part of a tourism campaign, treating the dome in the same way as Itsukushima Shrine.

The municipal government did not hold talks with hibakusha in advance of the event. In the trial period, Sakuma urged the city to reduce the number of lights.

“We want people to visit Hiroshima, see the dome and hear the reality of the atomic bomb victims, as the city hopes,” he said. “With opinions differing among Hiroshima citizens, it is important to deepen discussions.”