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From Hiroshima to Montpelier: Paper Cranes for Peace

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Origami peace cranes made by Takako Shimizu.

It’s not often that something happens in Montpelier and has reverberations all the way to Japan. But last year, a survivor of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II saw a video of the annual Montpelier-based walk that commemorates the event. And she felt compelled to reach out to its sponsors. 

Takako Shimizu was born in Yanai, about 40 miles from Hiroshima, four days after the bombing. She saw an ORCA video of the 2020 Remembering Hiroshima Peace Walk and Ceremony, which for the past several decades has taken place every August 6 in the Capital City and was so moved by the event that she crafted and shipped dozens of handmade origami peace cranes to the event’s sponsors, Buddhist Peace Action Vermont.

Participants in this year’s walk will carry one of her origami cranes, a symbol of peace, in a silent procession from Kellogg-Hubbard Library to the high school. “We are so grateful for and honored by her gift,” says Buddhist Peace Action Vermont member Glenda Bissex. “During our Peace Walk we will feel Takako with us as we carry her beautiful cranes from Hiroshima.” 

“It is a great pleasure and honor for me that my paper cranes will join your Peace Walk on August 6,” says Taka, as she is familiarly known. “I really wanted to express my deepest respect and admiration for your peace activities.”

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Taka is a professional tour guide in Hiroshima, and she uses her platform as a guide to help visitors understand not just the devastating effects of the atomic bomb on her city, but the destructive nature of war itself and the urgency of promoting world peace.

“We have realized the importance of learning history and not to make the same mistakes,” Taka says. “We have made a lot of mistakes which have led to many wars. War is an absolute evil.”

Hiroshima residents Takako and Ken Shimizu. Courtesy photo.

Taka and her immediate family were lucky enough to have survived the bombing because they were living outside the city. Nonetheless, they were subjected to the terrors of warfare. “In those days there had been a lot of air raid warnings because U.S. forces started full-scale air raids on the mainland of Japan in the closing days of WWII,” Taka explains. “People used to run into the shelter whenever the warnings were issued, but my mother was unable to move easily just before my birth. She hoped she would die with me in her womb rather than have to escape to the shelter.”

Taka’s mother and two sisters were inside their house on August 6. Her grandmother was outside. “She saw a huge mushroom cloud growing in the sky over Hiroshima. She experienced such shock and terror when she saw it, crying out, ‘What on earth happened?’”

Taka’s husband Ken’s family was not so fortunate. Even though his parents had moved six miles outside the city to avoid the air raids, his grandparents remained in town. After the bombing, Ken’s parents went into the city to try and find the grandparents, whose house was located 1,200-feet from the epicenter of the bombing. “After three days of searching, they found the silver comb that his grandmother used to wear in the kitchen area,” Taka says. “As for Ken’s grandfather, he was in the habit of reading a morning newspaper sitting on the river bank every morning. There were no bodily remains or even ashes. With such intense heat they evaporated instantly.” 

Ken’s uncle, who was 12 years old at time, was only 2,100 feet from the epicenter and one of the few people so close to the bomb site to have survived. He was in critical condition for three days, suffering from internal bleeding, and came close to dying but managed to live another 30 years, battling cancer for the last years of his life. “He rejected all requests to tell us about his A-bomb experience,” says Taka. “That was the memory he never wanted to recall.” 

Even though most of Ken’s family were not at the epicenter, all of them suffered after-effects: his great grandmother was exposed to the heat rays of the bomb and died seven years later of leukemia; his father suffered from acute high fevers, causing him to hover between life and death for many days; his mother experienced symptoms similar to blood poisoning and had three miscarriages. 

Taka and Ken were actually lucky that they were able to marry. “To have been involved in the nuclear disaster was a big issue in those days because of the fear about radiation effects on the offspring,” explains Taka. “There used to be lots of discrimination in marriage, employment, and many others matters against Japanese A-bomb survivors, known as Hibakusha.” Taka’s parents believed that Ken had avoided exposure to radiation because his family were living at the time outside the epicenter, and they allowed the marriage to take place. “Years after the birth of my third baby, my mother-in-law told me the truth that then 10-month-old Ken had been taken into the city on the second day after the bombing, carried on his parents’ back to look for his grandparents.”

Today Ken and Taka live in his grandparents’ house, 1,200-feet from the bombing epicenter, which is marked by the remains of a large domed civic building, now the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Every day for Taka is a day to work for peace. She reminds us: “We are all responsible for future generations.”

Peace Walk on August 6

The annual Remembering Hiroshima Peace Walk and Ceremony on August 6 will begin at 6:45 p.m. at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library and proceed in silence down State Street to the high school. At 7:15 p.m., the exact time of the dropping of the bomb, the procession will stop and the bells of Christ Church will chime 76 times, once for every year since the bombing. A short ceremony will take place at the high school, culminating in sending flowers for peace down the Winooski river. All are welcome. For more information, visit buddhistpeaceactionvt.org.