‘Hiroshima to Hope’ marks 76th anniversary of bombing

SEATTLE — In the weeks before the 76th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, a group of women met in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District to write messages in calligraphy, infused with meaning.

“We try to be positive about it,” Midori Thiel said as, again and again, she wrote ‘peace.’

The calligraphy went onto floating lanterns that were released Aug. 6 at the annual Hiroshima to Hope event.

“I lost a cousin in the bombing,” Thiel said. “In a way, it’s a celebration of his life.”

Martha Brice came up with the idea of sending lanterns onto Green Lake to mark the anniversary.

“I thought we had to something dramatic, something that would touch people’s hearts,” Brice said.

That was the 1980s, a time of doomsday clocks in the Cold War.

Since then, Hiroshima to Hope keeps expanding.

“We want to keep it relevant to the current times, remember what happened in the past as sort of a warning of how bad things can get,” said Stan Shikuma, an organizer of the event.

The 2021 commemoration came after a year off for the pandemic, and at a time of racial reckoning.

“I see (the bombing) as just an extension of racism that still continues today,” said author and poet Larry Matsuda, who served as this year’s emcee.

“It occurs to me the only people who suffered an atomic bomb were Japanese, Asians, minorities; we were not white people. And I wonder sometimes, would they have dropped the bomb on Germany?”

Matsuda’s family home on his mother’s side was a thousand meters from ground zero in Hiroshima.

Matsuda was born during the war while his family was interned at an Idaho concentration camp.

“If you were in our family, the Yamada’s and the Matsuda’s, you were either in prison during World War II or you were at Hiroshima unknowingly waiting for the bomb.”

Many Japanese people from Hiroshima moved to Seattle, a connection that helped drive this event.

In the early years, it was common for people to set out lanterns in memory of relatives who died in either Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

“We were fulfilling a special need,” Thiel said.

As the years pass, fewer people feel that direct connection.

Yet, the event is growing so much that many of the messages on the lanterns are now made in advance.

It’s all so people can come to Green Lake and join what’s become a mainstay of the Seattle summer, a message of hope that goes right to the heart.