The newsroom of the Chugoku Shimbun recently received a letter of complaint from a 76-year-old whose daily ritual is to take a stroll around the Hiroshima Peace Memorial every morning.
His complaint: tourists flashing the peace sign in front of the memorial. “Tourists are posing with the peace sign when they’re taking pictures. Aren’t they lacking sensitivity?”
The peace sign, or V-sign, can mean may things — a wish for peace, a sign of triumph after a victory or even a spontaneous sign. It is common practice in Japan to make the sign when having a photo taken, but is it inappropriate in front of Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome?
A Chugoku Shimbun reporter observed tourists in front of the A-Bomb Dome and noticed that Japanese visitors — especially the younger generation — have a tendency to show the peace sign. The reporter asked 50 people, both men and women as well as Hiroshima residents and tourists, whether they are disturbed by people making the sign in front of the solemn site.
Thirty-five people, 70 percent, said “yes.” Twelve said “no,” and three responded “not sure.”
Many who thought it was inappropriate said the sign is intended to be shown on a happy occasion.
“I feel horrible thinking about the people who died in pain,” said Yuriko Ubukata, an 84-year-old tourist from Gunma Prefecture. “The sign isn’t appropriate here.”
On the other hand, many who responded “no” to the reporter’s question argued that it’s a reflexive thing to do when having a camera pointed at them and that there’s no bad intent.
A 32-year-old female office worker from Kanagawa Prefecture said she made the sign because the A-Bomb Dome is “a Hiroshima tourism destination.”
“I just made the sign spontaneously,” she said.
The majority of people surveyed, regardless of their responses, noted they hadn’t thought about the problem until being questioned.
When a reporter asked a 22-year-old college student from the city of Kyoto why he was making the sign, the man appeared startled and looked at his friend. “Now that you mention it, it might have been inappropriate,” he said.
How does all this sit among survivors of the atomic bombing? Masaaki Tanabe, an 81-year-old filmmaker whose house was standing next to the dome at the time of the bombing, is disappointed.
“Those who show the V-sign perhaps can’t imagine that there had been a town where people lived their lives until the bomb was dropped,” he said.
Posting a sign reminding people of the solemnity of the site might be one way to deter visitors from flashing the hand sign. But Seiji Horie, a 46-year-old representative director of an educational nonprofit organization, said he is skeptical of such an idea.
“Forcing people not to make the V-sign won’t help them think deeper,” Horie said.
Through experience, Horie feels that students who’ve been instructed to listen to the survivors’ stories may have a solemn expression on their face, but do not necessarily understand the deeper meaning.
“What’s important is for them to think on their own,” he said. “The role of Hiroshima is to make younger people realize that war is not a story about the elderly, and to provide opportunities to contemplate about peace on more contemporary terms.”
On Aug. 8, it will be 74 years since the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. As survivors age, what is the significance of visiting the A-Bomb Dome? The V-sign tourists make spontaneously could be an opportunity to think about the question.
While the journalist was at the memorial, something unexpected happened. The college student from Kyoto who had been interviewed came back to the reporter half an hour later and confided he regretted his action. He said he had a change of heart after reading the description of the dome.
“I want to learn and know more about atomic bombs when I go back to Kyoto,” the student said.
This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on March 3.