Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


Memory of the Atomic Bomb and Statues of Kannon:
A Case Study of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Parks


(SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies),
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
Department of Japanese History)

Key words:

Kannon, motherhood, memory, atom bomb dead, monument, grave marker

This paper discusses how the statues of Kannon (Avalokitesvara) in the peace parks that were established in the hypocenters in Hiroshima and Nagasaki have helped to pass on the memory of the “atom bomb dead” and the “atom bomb disaster.” The statues of Kannon that have been erected there serve as one form of monument. I consider that there are two directions in the “memory” thus represented. One is the “social event” of the atomic bombing and memory directed toward the “collective anonymous dead,” and the other is memory directed toward the “dead with names.” In this analysis, the statue of Kannon, representing memory in the social and anonymous direction, is classified as a monument, and memory in the individual direction is classified as a grave marker.

As an object of Buddhist belief, the statue of Buddha is often established for the worship and remembrance of the dead whose faces their friends and families can still remember and for whom the meaning of grave marker is stronger. However, among all the images of Buddha, the statue of Kannon has also come to be a monument, as a symbol in latter-day thought of “motherhood” as well as a monument conveying the tragic memory of the atom bomb as an allegory of “peace” and “post-war Japan.”

The peace parks, developed after the war in the hypocenters of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that instantly became burnt-out areas due to the atom bombs, are where today large-scale peace memorial ceremonies are held every August. I have interviewed people who have come to pray during the August ceremonies. As a result, I have learned about their family members who died on the sites of the peace parks. Because the current peace parks are the places where their relatives lost their lives, the days of the peace memorial ceremonies have also become for the families the days for family commemoration of the anniversary of their deaths. The peace parks established by the nation have also become huge “monuments” to tell the memory of the collective dead to the countless number of people who visit there. However, different from a monument written in characters, the statues of Kannon in the parks have also become grave markers to evoke the memory of the individual dead. This meaning of the statues of Kannon may change, and may eventually come to express folk beliefs in Buddha, or another allegory of “peace” as a part of the larger monument complex, when living persons no longer have a memory of the individuals who perished there.