A chance to heal

Japanese group will be honored all week in Hiroshima-Nagasaki vigil events scheduled in Ashland
Hiroshima survivor Hideko Tamura Snider greets a guest attending a reception Monday at the First United Methodist Church in Medford. The reception is the first in a week of events commemorating the bombing of Hiroshima. Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

Hideko Namura Snider of Medford remembers wanting to tell her mother how she survived the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and all the fever, boils and liver-failure problems, "but she never came back. She was killed in the blast."

Snider was 10 years old and says she didn't want to live, but her best friend, Etsuko Shinohara, gave her lots of support and encouragement to go on and learn appreciation of "human resiliency and valuing the gift of life and caring about others."

The two stood together Monday, sometimes holding hands, at Medford's First United Methodist Church, as they told of the miracle of healing that came from the concert by the Rogue Valley Peace Choir at ground zero in Hiroshima in 2006. It was organized by Shinohara and other Japanese present at the church reception.

The group will be honored all week in Hiroshima-Nagasaki vigil events in Ashland.

A Christian minister in Kobe, Kazu Nishigaki, 85, told of the deeply emotional healing from the choir, when it sang a song by the late Dave Marston, the choir master, saying he was sorry for the bombing.

"When he sang, oh boy, the words went into my heart and I couldn't stop the tears from coming up," said Nishigaki. "Seldom do we hear American people say they're sorry for dropping the bomb ... but for there to be reconciliation, you have to say those three words first."

Snider, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1952, said survivors of Hiroshima still suffer many physical and emotional problems — and are discriminated against in their own country, as people think they carry mutations from radiation.

When they sang "We Shall Overcome" with the Peace Choir at Hiroshima, says Snider, the "normally sedate Japanese held hands with strangers and lifted them to the sky ... realizing so much positivity and joy is possible if you value life and go forward."

She is the author of "One Sunny Day," published in 1996, which tells the story of the attack and its aftermath.

The goal of the Japanese group, sponsored by the local Citizens for Peace and Justice, is to impress people with the persisting dangers posed by nuclear weapons, said member Allen Hallmark. CPJ also hopes to make Medford a nuclear-free zone, as Ashland became three decades ago.

"We want Medford to be more a part of this annual vigil," said Hallmark. "It's our 25th year and it's almost totally an Ashland event."

Peace choir member Elizabeth Aitken said singing at Hiroshima was "an amazing experience."

"So was getting to know these people as friends," she said. "Our hearts were full of peace and we radiated it."

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, killed 70,000 people immediately and an equal number from radiation sickness over time. U.S. commanders defending the bombing, saying the alternative was a full-scale invasion of Japan, which likely would have resulted in mass casualties on both sides.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is at ground zero and is now a World Heritage Site.

The bombing will be noted in a "Reflection: Hiroshima" event at 8 a.m. Tuesday in Lithia Park, with origami crane folding and live music at 6 p.m. in Ashland's Plaza. A Peace Choir ensemble performs at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Plaza. Linda Richards will speak on a nuclear-free future at 2 p.m. Friday at Peace House. "Reflection: Nagasaki" will be held in Lithia Park's Japanese Garden at 7 p.m. Friday. The film "Atomic States of America" will be shown at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 13 at the Medford library.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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