Hiroshima at 70 exhibition

Hiroshima tilesIn 2011, the University of Reading received a remarkable and moving gift from the University of Hiroshima in Japan: a shattered roof tile collected from the riverbed near the hypocentre of the atomic bomb attack of 6 August 1945.

The gift was made in recognition of the fact that the University had sent books in response to an appeal by its Japanese counterparts in 1951, as part of a project to establish an international peace library. Recent research conducted by the University’s History Department has revealed that Reading was one of only a handful of universities in the UK, and the first, to respond.

This display includes fragments of the tile, along with documents sent by the University of Hiroshima to accompany it, including those confirming that the tiles are safe.

The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing has seen renewed interest in the tiles, which were the inspiration for an academic conference in Reading on 9 February.

In his message of support for the event, the Mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui, said:

“On August 6, 1945, a single atomic bomb rendered Hiroshima a burnt plain. From infants to the elderly, tens of thousands of innocent civilians lost their lives in a single day. By the end of the year, 140,000 had died. An atomic bomb is an “absolute evil” that robs people of loving families and dreams for the future, plunging their lives into turmoil.”

“The “absolute evil” is not susceptible to threats and counter-threats, killing and being killed. Military force just gives rise to new cycles of hatred. To eliminate the evil, we must transcend nationality, race, religion, and other differences, value person-to-person relationships, and build a world that allows forward-looking dialogue.”

The circumstances surrounding the gift of books in 1951 are still unclear: this was a difficult time in Anglo-Japanese relations, as many prisoners of war had returned with accounts of mistreatment. The University of Reading was probably unaware of the impact that this small act of reconciliation would have in the future.

The packaging and some of the materials sent with the tiles are also among the items on display. Their arrival coincided with the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and they were first shown in Reading at a poetry reading organised in solidarity with the victims of that disaster. Subsequently, they have been displayed in the University Library and used in teaching sessions for both History and Museum Studies.

The University of Hiroshima also sent a full set of manga comics, the Barefoot Gen series, depicting a child's eye view of the bomb. The ten-volume series, published from 1973 onwards, is based on author Keiji Nakazawa's own experiences. Nakazawa was six years old when the atomic bombing of Hiroshima killed both his father and brother.

The exhibition will be on display at the Special Collections Service from 20 July until 8 September 2015. 

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