JIN-361 -- The Profane Rises Above the Sacred in Hiroshima

T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News

Issue No. 361
Tuesday March 21, 2006 TOKYO

+++ VIEWPOINT: The Profane Rises Above the Sacred in Hiroshima

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+++ VIEWPOINT: The Profane Rises Above the Sacred in Hiroshima

On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb exploded above Hiroshima, reducing the
city to a wasteland and killing 140,000 by the end of December 1945,
according to data the city submitted to the UN. The bombing of Hiroshima
and, three days later, of Nagasaki, has given the Japanese a deep
aversion to nuclear weapons. No group is more vocal in its opposition to
these weapons than the survivors of the two atomic bombings, the so-called
hibakusha, who receive medical and other benefits under the A-bomb Victim
Assistance Law.

There stands a lone reminder to the destruction visited upon Hiroshima --
the ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, today
known as the Atomic Bomb Dome, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in
December 1996. It is the city's only building whose ruins have been left
intact. It has always stood out owing to its location on flatland along a

But a 44-meter-tall condo is under construction a stone's throw from the
Dome. This has piqued the anger of hibakusha organizations, which claim
the building will diminish the message of Hiroshima Peace Park. They
blame the city's vertically-segmented administrative system.

The official in charge of cultural property in Hiroshima first learned
of plans for the condo's construction when there was a request for
information about it from the Agency for Cultural Affairs in Tokyo at
the end of January. The building permit was issued in May 2005. Because
the plan satisfied building code regulations, the official in charge of
construction did not think it was necessary to liaise with other
departments. There was no system for inter-departmental
review of issues affecting the setting of a World Heritage Site.

The condo will rise 14 stories on a plot about 100 meters southeast of
the Dome. From its north side, where tourists gather, the condo looms
up behind the Dome.

Ten hibakusha groups formed the Association for the Preservation
of the Atomic Bomb Dome's Setting. Construction of the condo,
scheduled for completion in February 2007, was already underway when
the association requested Hiroshima City and the developer reduce
the building's height.

All the units in the condo, in a prime downtown location, have already
been sold. The developer, after discussions with city officials, plans to
paint the condo beige so that it will be an inconspicuous backdrop to the
russet-colored ruins. But the developer says insofar as it has received a
building permit, it's too late to reduce the number of stories. The city,
on the other hand, explains that in the absence of an ordinance
restricting building height, there's nothing it can do.

"Red tape led to this situation where it's too late to do anything,"
laments Tadayuki Kusunoki, a member of the Preservation Association, as
quoted by the "Nikkei Shimbun," a major daily. "If the first thing you
feel [when looking at the Dome's setting] is incongruity, the atmosphere
eliciting a wish for the repose of the dead will be spoiled."

"If we don't preserve the setting of the Dome, which is an integral part
of Peace Park," says Tadahiko Murata, deputy vice president of the Council
of Prefectural Atomic Bomb Victims and first generation hibakusha, "we
can't prevent a diminution of awareness of the atomic bombing."

Pursuant to a scenic law that went into effect in December 2004, the
city proposed a scenic ordinance to the city council last month. The
text states that to the extent that recovery from the devastation of
the atomic bombing "created Hiroshima's unique landscape, ...the crown
of our forefathers' labors must be passed down to future generations."

The city, while slow to act, has come up with a proposal that answers
Murata's and others' calls for passing down the generations the Peace
Park's significance. It is, however, too late to preserve the atmosphere
inducing prayers for the dead.

--Burritt Sabin

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Written by Willhemina Wahlin; edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)

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