Nearly seventy years ago, on August 9th 1945, atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. People had little warning, and fatalities numbered the hundreds of thousands. Many were killed instantly. Many died later. The heat from the blast was so intense that people going about their daily business were instantly vapourised, their remains forming ghoulish shadows on buildings which persist to this day.
From this carnage, a Persimmon/Kaki Tree (Diospyros kaki) miraculously survived in Nagasaki, though it was greatly weakened by the blast, and produced small and shrivelled fruits thereafter. In 1994, an arborist named Dr. Masayuki Ebinuma treated this tree, collected seeds from the fruits, planted them, and grew first generation trees. In collaboration with contemporary Japanese artist Tatsuo Mijajima, these first generation trees, or ‘Bombed Kaki Trees Junior of Nagasaki’ are now planted around the world as symbols of peace as a part of the Kaki Tree Project ( http://kakitreeproject.com/eng/). Due to the nuclear damage to their parent, these Bombed Kaki Trees Junior are considerably smaller than ordinary Kaki Trees.
Dr. Hiroko Kato from the Kaki Tree Executive Committee travelled from Japan to be with us at our planting ceremony. When we treated her to tea in the Oxfork Café afterwards, she told us that the day was also her birthday, and so doubly special for her! Representatives were also present from Oxford CND and from Oxford Quakers. Trish Fergusson and her husband Ian were present as representatives of Oxfordshire C.O.F.E.P.O.W. (Children of Far East Prisoners of War). Trish’s father was a prisoner of the Japanese during WW2, initially in Singapore, and later in Japan. She and her husband are campaigning for greater recognition to be given to those imprisoned in the Far East during WW2, and for anniversaries of the Victory over Japan (VJ) day to be given a higher profile.
The ceremony began with a welcoming speech by Joy Hendry, Professor Emerita in the Anthropology of Japan at Brookes University. Dr. Kato then spoke of her hopes that we would have more celebrations of the Bombed Kaki Tree Junior on the anniversaries of its planting. She had brought from Japan, in a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth called Furoshiki, hundreds of collapsed origami paper persimmons, which can be inflated into large orange fruits by blowing into them through a hole. These were an instant hit with the many children at the ceremony, who were learning about the Bombed Kaki Tree Junior in a special workshop led by Beatrice Emmanouil. For anyone unfamiliar with the Persimmon fruit by the way, they are a delicious orange fruit perhaps somewhere between an orange and a tomato (you can find them in some of the shops on Cowley Road if you look carefully).
Rip Bulkeley read his poem ‘At home in Hiroshima’, Melissa Holding made an offering of Koto music to the tree, and Glen Williams from Oxford Quakers read the poem ‘The Dove of Peace’ by Canadian poet Paul Hartel. Local composer Marguerite Wallis gave a touching performance of ‘I come and stand at every door’ by Pete Seeger, and East Oxford Community Choir sang ‘An Irish Blessing’ harmonised by James E. Moore, Jr.
Reiki Master Ama Boisard who runs ‘Oxford Reiki’ then led the part of the ceremony where the tree was planted. Reiki is a Japanese spiritual healing practice open to people of all faiths and none, and seemed particularly appropriate for this occasion. We were all given white pebbles to hold, and meditated on the tree and what it means. The tree was then planted, the children watered it, and then everyone placed their white pebble in a circle around it. The ground had been carefully prepared by Matt Morton, gardener at Barracks Lane Community Garden, and the tree is already forming leaf buds, which bodes well for its flourishing in this location.
Many people were hurt during WW2, more than any words can describe, or anyone of my generation who has lived a comfortable life in Britain can begin to understand. Prisoners of War in the Far East suffered torture, illness and starvation, and were physically and psychologically scarred for life. Their children also bear these scars. The people of Japan also suffered terribly, especially during the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Since this year is the seventieth anniversary of the end of WW2, there will be many commemorations. The dead will be remembered and honoured, and people will talk of their hopes for permanent peace in our world. When I hear such talk of peace, something cynical in me baulks. We are a primate species after all, sharing over 98% of our DNA with Chimpanzees. We have always had wars, and despite endless appeals for peace, we continue to have wars.
But for me the planting of a tree such as the Bombed Kaki Tree Junior of Nagasaki inspires hope in a way which no words ever will. Sometimes symbols speak louder than words, and what could be more eloquent than a little tree which has survived the most destructive force humans could devise.
I will watch our little Bombed Kaki Tree Junior of Nagasaki as it grows in Barracks Lane Community Garden, and I encourage you to do the same (the garden is frequently opened for visits, volunteering and events ( http://www.barrackslanegarden.org.uk/). May Oxford’s first Bombed Kaki Tree Junior of Nagasaki grow and flourish, and may it inspire peace, hope and healing in all who visit it.