At first glance, the drawing, which displays the boldness and energy typical of children-artists, appears to depict two enormous fish ensnared by a fishing line set against a brilliant blue ocean. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the two “fish” are in fact bright red and black fish-shaped kites, soaring in the air above a Japanese landscape.
The drawing, made by a young survivor following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was crafted from materials donated to Honkawa Elementary School back in 1947 by congregants of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C. Church members had shipped half a ton of crayons, erasers, paper, paper clips, paste, and pencils to Japan—and students there used their new art supplies to create a series of colorful, hopeful drawings which they sent back to the church to express their appreciation. Those drawings remain intact some 65 years later.
This cultural and international exchange is the subject of both the fictionalized book Running with Cosmos Flowers: The Children of Hiroshima and the film Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard. Shizumi Shigeto Manale, who wrote the book with Richard Marshall and produced the internationally acclaimed documentary, was born in Hiroshima and raised in Osaka, Japan. This dancer, author, and film producer is the artistic director of the children’s Shizumi Kodomo Dance Troupe and resides in Silver Spring, Maryland.
The book, written for young adults, was translated and edited by Gretchen Jones, PhD, Acting Vice Dean, Communication, Arts, and Humanities; Program Chair, Foreign Languages and Asian Studies; and Collegiate Associate Professor, The Undergraduate School. “It humanizes a set of very terrible experiences through the eyes of a younger person, who had no culpability in the situation,” she said. “These are important stories.”
Jones met Manale seven years ago when her daughter joined Manale’s Shizumi Kodomo Dance Troupe. She first learned about the post-WWII cultural exchange in 2009 when the troupe performed at All Souls, which was hosting an exhibit of the Honkawa Elementary School artwork. In 2010, the troupe performed at an exhibit of the drawings in Hiroshima that coincided with a trip Jones made to Japan, and her collaboration on the book soon followed.
This past December, UMUC hosted Manale at its diversity program at Largo to commemorate Human Rights Month. The author-producer said her book is based on numerous visits to Hiroshima and interviews with those who survived the bombing, including some of her own family members. Although hearing the personal stories of the school-children artists was “the catalyst for creating this work,” it was her mother, Midori Nosohara, a school teacher in wartime Japan, who inspired her to write the book.
“The main character of this story, Hanako Ito, is a soul into whom I have compressed all of the information I have gathered over 25 years,” she said. “While the experience within the story is Hanako’s, it is also a fact that these pictures were rediscovered in 2006 at a church in Washington, D.C.”
Unlike the book, Manale’s film explores the events surrounding the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the children’s pictures—through the recollections of those who actually lived there and who created the drawings.
Jones describes the film as an “extraordinary look into how actual people on all sides of World War II experienced that time. So often, we see things in black and white, and there is an ‘official’ [government or military] context to much of what we hear about the Japanese and World War II.”
By including both the voices of those who created the drawings as well as first-hand accounts from a teacher and a U.S. soldier, the film explores many different, human perspectives on the time, added Jones, who also assisted with English subtitles for the film and helped ensure that the Japanese sections were edited and timed correctly.
What is significant, Jones said, is that the film tells of the aftermath of the war, “which is a story that doesn’t get told much on this side of the Pacific.” The elders who recount their stories were children in the late 1940s. “It makes that time more tangible and real,” she said.