As the sun descended on Aug. 6, candle-lit paper lanterns illuminated Green Lake with their golden glow. The hauntingly beautiful rice-paper lanterns symbolized the spirits of the dead floating away toward peace in an ancient Buddhist ceremony called “toro nagashi.”
The ceremony is the culmination of "From Hiroshima to Hope," an event at Green Lake which commemorates victims of the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and honors all victims of war and violence every year on Aug. 6. This year marked the 71st anniversary of the bombings.
Written on the lanterns are words and phrases related to anti-violence, including “peace,” “remembrance,” and “hope,” all written in either Japanese Kanji or Gurmukhi (the written version of the Punjabi language).
“A lot of the people come to the event with a background of having maybe known somebody who was in the bombings or having had some other personal connection,” says Nancy Dickeman, a member of the event’s planning committee.
Mitsuko Gale, one of the calligraphers at the event, is a survivor who witnessed the effects of the bombings firsthand.
“Everywhere you have to put the blanket to your head and then we have to run to the mountainside,” Gale recounts. “We don’t have the food so we have to grab whatever we have and then we have to hide in the mountain. When the sirens stop, we have to come home.”
It wasn’t until she came to America that Gale took lessons in Japanese tea ceremony and learned the art of calligraphy.
It’s like my memory of seeing a Japanese woman brushing her hair and losing her hair. That image is what I repeatedly saw growing up in Hiroshima.
Despite surviving the impact of the atomic bombs, most people suffered poor health and deterioration of their human bodies, including the loss of hair, due to the high levels of radiation.
Artist Yukiyo Kawano said when her hair fell out while taking a shower, she was reminded of that tragic history. She is a third-generation “hibakusha,” meaning “bomb-affected person.”
Learning about her history inspired her to create “Little Boy (folded),” a fabric replica of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima called “Little Boy.” Wanting to fuse her grandparents’ history with her own, she constructed it with her grandmother’s kimono and stitched the pieces together with strands of her own hair.
“It’s like my memory of seeing a Japanese woman brushing her hair and losing her hair,” she explains. “That image is what I repeatedly saw growing up in Hiroshima.”
As Gale’s hand swept back and forth across the rice paper, painting elaborate kanji with her brush, a woman folded colorful squares of paper into origami cranes at another table.
“I made a thousand of these when my grandfather was sick and I made another thousand when our friend was sick in the hospital,” she says. “If you make a thousand, [they say] your wish comes true and it just pulls in the good energy, that you’re thinking of that person.”
At dusk, the people followed each other in a silent procession to the shore of the lake, carrying their lit lanterns in solemn remembrance of the lives lost from the bombings and all acts of violence.
Approximately 69 percent of Hiroshima's buildings along with 4.7 square miles of the city were destroyed, according to Japanese officials quoted in one of President Harry Truman’s documents. There is no exact death toll from the bombings; however, it is estimated that around 140,000 to 150,000 were wounded and killed from the impact of the Hiroshima bombing.
From Hiroshima to Hope is the oldest and largest lantern ceremony anywhere else in the world outside of Japan. The one-night event shed a beautiful light on of the darkest times in history.
Rhea Panela is a summer intern with What’s Good 206. Rhea is majoring in journalism with minors in English and diversity at the University of Washington. She is also the Digital Media Editor at the International Examiner and a writer for The Daily of the University of Washington. She was named one of the inaugural UW Husky 100 and was also one of the recipients of the 2016 Northwest Journalists of Color scholarship. See her previous work on her website and find her on Twitter @rheapanela_.
Fun Fact: She has an unhealthy obsession with Hot Cheetos.More stories by Rhea Panela