Visiting Hiroshima Nagasaki Exhibition with children

Dear parents friends,

My son and I went to see Hiroshima Nagasaki Exhibition at Japanese Culture Center - 日本文化会館. I would like to share it with you, because I know that teaching young kids about atomic bombs sometimes makes us parents a little apprehensive. I am hoping my report would be of any help for you to consider visiting this exhibition with your kids.

The exhibition is held at the second floor of Japanese Culture Center in Lakeview. Its first floor is Aikido dojo, so expect to take off your shoes at the entrance of the building (i.e. No dirty socks!). When you get the second floor, you'll see panels on walls and several glass showcases in the middle of room. Panels start from the one about the time before bombings (how the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were like, development of bombs by scientists, selection of target cities, etc.), then scientific and historical description of bombing, damages of bombings on human and cities, and conclude with current situation of nuclear proliferation and disarmament and the call for peace. Each panel is clear and comprehensible even for a 7 year old kid. In glass showcases, artifacts most of which belonged to children (diary, bag, water bottle, etc) are displayed with stories of the owner. One showcase is dedicated for Sadako's paper cranes and paper cranes and message by President Obama during his visit to Hiroshima this year, as the first sitting POTUS who visited there. At the end there is a table you can fold paper cranes.

My son has just read "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes", thus seeing real Sadako's cranes really intrigued him. And Obama's visit in this year, of course. To that extent, it was the great timing for us to visit this exhibition. Also the artifacts and stories of owner kids seemed to resonate with him deeply. It is a compact overview exhibition on bombings, thus there were some important things missing (for example, Korean and Chinese victims who were in Hiroshima and Nagasaki because of Japan's colonization, discrimination against bombing victims, etc). Still it was a great introductory exhibition for both adults and children.

I think one of concerns parents including me might have is about graphic images of victims. There are 5-6 pictures of burns and injuries. There is also 1 picture of dead bodies. Although they are appalling of course, I would say, they are not the most graphically intense images of victims, among images I have known, at least. Every child takes graphic images differently, so it should be up to your judgement whether your kids would be OK or not, but just for your reference, my son, who is a rather scaredy-cat, was fine. Actually it looks like that seeing those pictures helped him to relate to the fact more deeply. He said that they were a little scary, but he didn't have a nightmare last night, so I do not think it was scary at psychologically traumatic level. If you are still undecided, those images are black and white, thus unless you get close they won't leap to the eyes. Also those pictures are on panels in the back of the room, not at the entry. So if you are worried, you may go in by yourself and check them first. If you think your kids won't take them OK, you can cover those pictures when you reach to the panel including them. Again, the exhibition is not like the one that graphic images full of room. There are only 5-6 of not-too-intense images in the back of room.

The exhibition is held until October 29th. Japanese Culture Center is a non-profit, small place, thus it would be better to check if they are open when you are planning to go. In line with this exhibition, a survivor of Hiroshima bombing will visit Chicago and speak about the day of bombing at several places. (http://ceas.uchicago.edu/page/voices-hiroshima) As survivors are aging, there are not many people left who can give a testimony of the day. It would be a rare and valuable opportunity to listen to their story. English translation will be provided.

As a personal note. Learning about Hiroshima and Nagasaki is often challenging in the states. "What about Pearl Harbor?", "A-bombs saved hundreds of thousands of lives", some says. But the more you know about the victims and damages, the less you get comfortable to stay in that framework to see this event. Japan is no way pure innocent either -- colonization and invasion of Asia, massacre in Nanjing, Comfort women, etc. There is no country in the world --not Japan, not U.S., not any other countries-- whose hands have not got dirty. But I refuse the fact that "everyone did it" to degrade my own humanity, especially that of my child, and would like to stand against any violence against humanity. Empathy is the basis of peace. And we need to cultivate empathy in children before all those ugly "grown-up" excuses would infect them. We don't want to surrender our kids to such adults who boast and justify their islamophobia. While "The Bomb" by Steve Sheinkin got many children book awards, there are very few opportunities to know about the victims, and that is why I recommend you, my parents friends, to visit the exhibition with your children.

Thank you for reading.


(Modified from the original post on FB)