2013 / Hiroshima photographer discovers “Jizo” stone figures which survived A-bomb


Cultural News, July 2013 Issue

20130717 July P01 Hibaku Jizo BookCover“Jizo” is the Japanese name of one of bodhisattva. Jizo is a beloved figure of Japanese Buddhism. Stone figures of Jizo populate cemeteries, temple grounds, and country roads. Often several Jizo stand together, dressed in bids or children’s clothes.

Photo documentary book “Silent Witness: Hiroshima’s Hibaku Jizo” is published by Hiroshima photographer Ken Shimizu in May 2013 after four years he discovered a Jizo stature which survived A-bomb in 1945 near the A-bomb epicenter.

The namesake photo exhibition will come to Los Angeles with the photographer from August 2 -6 as a part of “Remembering Sadako: Folding For Peace” programs sponsored by the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles.

The Jizo photo exhibition will be held at North Gallery in the JACCC building from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission free. The following is the artist statement by Ken Shimizu:       

Born in Hiroshima

By Ken Shimizu, Hiroshima photographer

I was born in Hiroshima in October 1950, five years after the atomic bombing, and lived there until going to university in Tokyo.

My mother, my aunt, and my grandmother are “hibakusha,” atomic bomb survivors. My father was not in Hiroshima on August 6 but was in training at the Naval Academy, approximately 20 miles south of the city. My father entered the “nuclear desert” that was Hiroshima on August 21.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

20130717 July P01 Hibaku Jizo Shimuzu

Hiroshima photographer Ken Shimizu (Courtesy of the photographer)

I started photographing traces of the Hiroshima bombing in 1975 when I returned to Hiroshima from Tokyo. And since then I have attended and photographed the annual memorial services for atomic bomb victims at Peace Memorial Park in downtown Hiroshima. But I never felt that the shots that I took of the services or of destroyed buildings were really what I was after.

In July 2009, when I was showing an out-of-town friend around the memorial building known as the A-bomb Dome, I accidentally found a small Jizo figure at the Buddhist temple, Sairen-ji.  Sairen-ji Temple is just 50 meters away from the A-bomb Dome. The Jizo was wearing a red cap and a bib.

The explanation on the plaque beside the Jizo said that because the heat rays from the atomic bomb came from almost directly overhead, although the sides and shadowed areas were smooth, the other areas were rough.

And, indeed, when I ran my fingers over the Jizo, I could distinctly feel the difference. Why had I never noticed this before? I remember thinking: “This Jizo recalls perfectly what happened on August 6, 1945 and is trying to tell us about it.”

Were there other such hibaku Jizo in Hiroshima? That was the start of my search for hibaku Jizo. Visiting other temples, I found more such hibaku Jizo. One had a smashed head; the face of one was burned raw; one had a crack like the kind left by a keloid.

These were the very aspects of the human hibakusha that I had heard about from my mother.

In this photo exhibition of Hiroshima’s hibaku Jizo in Los Angeles, I would like to share silent messages from the Jizo figures in the hope that they will speak to Americans as well, and that together we can make a world without nuclear weapons.