Ceremony on Saturday to Commemorate Hiroshima Bombing

By Cheryl Slayton
Wednesday August 04, 2010 - 08:55:00 PM

In memory of the 1945 U.S. led atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hundreds of bay citizens will gather at Aquatic Park in Berkeley Saturday night for the annual Bay Area Peace Lantern Ceremony.  

"Its commemoration and ritual, with a side of education." says Steve Freedkin, Berkeley resident and founder of the event. Similar ceremonies are held annually in Japan and a growing number of cities in the U.S. This event, which is in its 9th year, is the only one of its kind in the bay area. 

On Aug. 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped the first atomic bomb "Little Boy" on the Japanese city Hiroshima. Three days later, Aug. 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Both bombs, the first of their kind, killed thousands upon impact, with many others dying from radiation exposure in the days, weeks, months, and years that followed. 

"It was a very unfortunate day," said Jack Dairiki, San Francisco resident and Hiroshima survivor. Dairiki was fourteen at the time of the attack and three miles from the center when the bomb was dropped. "I could see over the factory, and the whole city was covered with smoke and fire. The mushroom cloud was over the city like a tremendous genie, like fireworks in the night." 

"I felt my body floating in the air because the blast was so strong. When I opened my eyes, I could not see anything around but dust and smoke." Dairiki remembers instinctively falling to the ground and covering his eyes and ears before following the sound of footsteps towards a nearby bomb shelter. 

The Berkeley ceremony is modeled after a Japanese tradition in which lighted paper lanterns are decorated and set adrift across a sea of water. The journey of the lantern across the water represents the journey of the individual soul moving towards peace in the afterlife.  

At the ceremony, attendees will decorate lantern shades, or "soul ships", with personal messages connected with their own vision of peace. Freedkin encourages children to decorate their lanterns with images that represent the type of world they want to create. "It's a great way for them to start being in the habit of thinking of themselves as having a role in these issues," said Freedkin. "Kids will draw fields and hills and rainbows and unicorns. It was great to see that." 

Messages from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will also be read prior to the lantern launching. Freedkin expects the messages to contain a call to action to the U.S. toward the total abolition of nuclear warfare. However, he discourages activists from using the ceremony as a political platform to share their ideas. "We all support that kind of program," Freedkin said. "But this isn't that. This is a chance for us to reaffirm our beliefs and commitments and have a beautiful moving experience as a community."  

Freedkin also stresses the importance of staying positive. "I believe there is some value in taking a small step." he says "Once you take a small step, like coming to a lantern ceremony or writing a letter to Congress, or decorating a lantern shade," says Freedkin, "you become someone who does not just think about doing something but someone who has taken action. And the next time an opportunity comes for you to act, you will be more likely to do something about it."