Seventy-five years after the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a museum in Little Tokyo of Los Angeles is casting history in a new light. “Under a Mushroom Cloud: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and the Atomic Bomb,” on display November 9 to June 7, represents a collaboration between the Japanese American National Museum and Hiroshima Peace Museum in Japan.
Featuring two rooms, the exhibition captures the bombings and contemporary interpretations of the events. The first room contains artifacts loaned from Hiroshima, such as tattered bandages, the blouse of 15-year-old victim Mutsuko Shimogochi, and a paper crane President Obama folded on the first US presidential visit to Hiroshima in 2016. In the second room, personal testimonies and multimedia exhibits includes photography capturing the faces of the hibakusha, or survivors, and a sound installation rendering acoustics of the Hiroshima Dome, now the Peace Memorial. “Of course the powerful image of the mushroom cloud is familiar to all of us,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of the museum. “But it’s also important that we all know more about what happened underneath that cloud.”
The museum showcases the history of Japanese Americans since the first generation of issei arrived in America. Subsequent nisei generations including 3,200 who lived in Hiroshima at the time of World War II were some of those affected by the bombings. As part of the museum’s ongoing documentary project “Discover Nikkei,” son of nisei parents Howard Kakita tells the story of how he survived the bombings in Hiroshima. The museum has also organized exhibits celebrating milestones such as the 20th anniversary of the 1988 Civil Liberties Act, through which 60,000 nisei who were interned during the war received reparations. The building of the museum, originally a place of worship, was constructed by Japanese Americans.
But even as the war narrative evolves, the bombings remain deeply embedded in American and Japanese memory. The events brought World War II to a standstill but did not resolve questions about how the United States, Japan, and other countries should interact in war and peace, or the role of nuclear weapons. On Aug. 6, 1945, US bomber Enola Gay dropped a 9,700-pound uranium bomb on Hiroshima; with the second bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later, 200,000 people died within minutes and in decades to follow. After Japan surrendered to the Allied forces, relations between the United States and Japan would take years to repair.
Today, Japan is one of America’s staunchest allies in the Indo-Pacific region. 2020 also marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. Trade between the two countries at $300 billion in 2017 represents strong linkages in goods, services, and technology, notwithstanding issues in market access. The relationship between Japan and California has come a particularly long way, with 450,000 Japanese Americans currently residing in the state, and Japanese tourists accounting for $2.6 billion in expenditures per year.Amanda Mei is a research intern in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She graduated from Yale University with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies in 2018.