He is a survivor of the atomic bomb and I met him accidentally in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. He carries his own wooden bird feeder every time he comes to the park and fixes it on the backrest of the bench. Facing the Atomic Bomb Dome, he feeds the sparrows in the evening.
In Japan survivors of the atomic bomb are considered very special. Their number is limited, and they are living testimonies of the history and memories of war. However, this gentleman introduced himself as a ‘Hibakusha’ (Japanese term for survivors of the atomic bomb), and we could speak about many things leisurely. He explained his experience on the day of the atomic bomb attack and his life fast forward to today; how he still regularly visits the doctor for medication due to the effects of radiation that has not been cured still. Most attractive feature of his character was his tone of empathy. I did not see hatred or regret in his eyes, or in his voice, and of course if he hates the ones who killed thousands of his own people 70 years ago, he would never choose this particular place to feed the birds. He was simply glad about the life he has. I think, he finds peace and tranquility by feeding these birds here.
If I were him, could it be possible for me to speak with such a calm, hate-free tone? Of course I never believe that the whole Japanese society was/is always free from hatred, regret or revenge, even not this person in particular. Time must have played a great role in healing the hearts and reducing the trauma. However, it is a very unique personal capacity not to hate your enemy repeatedly, even though that enemy is responsible for killing your family members, your fellow citizens and destroy your way of living and making you a lifetime patient. For a person who has the firsthand experience of the atomic bomb, how far is it possible to reflect back on his memories in such a calm and tranquil manner? Perhaps, that is the level what we all imagine as ‘peace.’ Or if not, perhaps, the case of Japan is unique. Just after the devastation, Japan started its economic revitalization and people were determined in reconstruction and perhaps that is how they revenged. However, the gentlemen in this photo is a living testimony of an enduring populace rising from ashes without being prisoners of the past. Being an outsider in Japan, and also being a Sri Lankan (a country suffered from war for decades) this moment with him inspired me to put myself into Japanese shoes and reflect on endless possibilities of recovery, reconciliation, reconstruction and peace.
Photos by Sandunika Hasangani