With the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima coming up, my thoughts have returned to Japan and the two visits I made to Hiroshima and Miyajima. How can I present this topic to my children in a positive light when the history is so dark?
I asked Tuttle Publishing if they could send Tristan and Kallista a copy of their book, The Peace Tree From Hiroshima as an opening for us to start talking. How can one explain to children the effects of a nuclear bomb, and how it impacts people around the world? It can be an awkward subject. Countries that were at one time enemies but are now allies can set a good example for the world. It all starts with one little sapling.
This story is told from the unique perspective of a bonsai tree! It was ‘born’ in a forest on Miyajima island and chosen with love as a souvenir by a man who dug it up and took it home to Hiroshima, where the little tree was passed down through generations for 400 years.
The little bonsai was protected by a wall when the atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima and survived amongst the rubble, as did Masaru and the family that took such gentle care of it. The little bonsai watched the city rebuild from the ashes for 30 years.
Masaru himself was now aging, and he had lived through the destruction America had dropped on his home town. He’d also watched the two countries become friends and give hope to the world. In 1976 Japan sent 50 bonsai (one for each state) to the USA. These little trees were going to be on display at the National Arboretum in Washington. Masaru chose his favourite ‘child’ to send as a gift.
The arboretum knew the little tree was older than the wars, but it didn’t find out until later that it had actually survived the attack on Hiroshima. It then had extra-special meaning and became known as The Peace Tree, representing the friendship between Japan and the USA.
In the story Masaru and his grandsons visited the tree in the USA, that year, but in reading the author’s note at the end of the story, the grandchildren didn’t visit until a few years later, and without Masaru. It was upon their return home that they learned the real story behind the Peace Tree.
At the end of the book there is a Glossary and Facts about Bonsai that I thought were quite interesting. Three years ago at our local Japan Society we attended a bonsai and sushi party. Tristan and Kallista were able to see bonsai up close and learn about them.
Tristan and Kallista have enjoyed this book, and asked a few questions after reading it. I do like when pieces come together for the children and they can take their memories from the JSNI event and add them to their newest book. They understand the history and culture behind one thing and can apply it to new information.
I have spoken a little about Hiroshima to Tristan and Kallista, but not in graphic detail. They’re not ready for that – I wasn’t ready for what I saw in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Here’s a link to a virtual tour, but I can’t view it without tears and memories of my visit returning. I didn’t see all of the museum my first time in Hiroshima, but I just couldn’t bring myself to enter a second time. There is a ‘friendlier’ portion of the website for children here that talks about Sadako and answers questions about radiation.
Trees have great memories, and I do hope that humankind will remember the atrocities of the past (and present) and find ways to live more peacefully in the future. I am pleased that there is a children’s book, inspired by a true event that sheds a positive light on a harsh subject.