Thursday, August 1, 2013

American folk musician to perform in Hiroshima on bombing anniversary

Michael Stern from Seattle is currently in Japan to perform in an encore concert of last year's One World Peace Concert. He is also involved in a play about Japanese internment camps in the United States.

By Jon Overton

It began as an ordinary morning. Cars zipped through busy streets. Teachers instructed children on mathematics. In spite of an ongoing war, the city so far had escaped fierce firebombings, which ravaged much of the country. That day, its luck ran out.

A foreign plane flew overhead. It dropped a package and sped away. A blinding white flash and thunderous boom quickly enveloped the whole city. Men and women walking through crowded streets were incinerated. Thousands of buildings crumbled in seconds. After the blast, silence. All that remained of the fateful package was a looming mushroom cloud.

In 1945, the final year of World War II, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9 respectively. The bombings killed roughly 167,000 people, according to an estimate from the Historical Atlas of the 20th Century. On Aug. 15, Japan surrendered.

Last year, after a trip to Hiroshima, an American musician wrote a song to commemorate its bombing. He has been invited to return to perform it live on August 6 as part of global events devoted to remembering the destruction visited upon the two Japanese cities.

A Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber called the Enola Gay dropped the
uranium bomb, Little Boy on Hiroshima, which released as much energy
as 16 kilotons of TNT.
MichaelStern lives in Seattle and plays folk music typically themed around issues of peace and justice. "As if the Flowers Knew" is the focus of his newly released album, "Each Ones Different, Like a Work of Art."

When Stern first visited Hiroshima in spring 2012, he had been invited to perform in the One World Peace Concert, sponsored by the World Friendship Center. Workers with Brethren Volunteer Service helped the center organize the concert.

Stern said that he and the organizers wanted to "Help nurture peace and friendship and get people to understand the atomic bombing as indiscriminate and immoral in killing so many people."

This year, Stern will travel to Hiroshima to participate in an encore concert because of positive response in 2012 to the One World Peace Concert in which he and several Japanese musicians performed. He will also be involved in a play about the Japanese internment camps implemented in the United States during World War II.

Stern described his first visit to Hiroshima as both sobering and inspirational.

"I would encourage peace activists to go to Hiroshima," he said. "It was a very stark reminder of the magnitude of destruction our country did. For me personally, [going to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum] was very much like going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington."

Stern said that his experience in Hiroshima "rejuvenated me as a spokesperson" for peace.

"Hiroshima is probably the most antinuclear community I've ever been to," he said. "Seattle is pretty liberal, but when you're in Hiroshima everyone from the mayor to the Buddhist temples to Christians people really don't believe in war."

Stern said he was so moved by what he saw in Hiroshima that he felt compelled to write at least one song about the bombing. He saw budding flowers that surrounded one monument dedicated to remembering the destruction visited upon the city.

"Out of despair was coming hope," he said, "and out of destruction was coming new life."

At the museum in Hiroshima, Stern saw an artifact that he said partly inspired his song about the bombing, "As if the Flowers Knew."

"There was a wristwatch frozen in time and the person wearing it had been incinerated," he said. "The watch itself froze at exactly 8:15 a.m. when the bomb exploded."

Stern's ballad references fictional flowers in Hiroshima that remember the event and bloom every year at the same time and date that atomic fire destroyed the city.

Stern's personal interest in botany also influenced the focus on flowers. Sometimes they have burnt edges, caused by droughts or diseases and every season when the flowers bloom, they still have those marks. The flowers in "As if the Flowers Knew" are remembering the injury inflicted on Hiroshima as ordinary flowers remember past harm they suffered, Stern said.

"Nature has lessons to teach us and the flowers do have something to say," he said. "If we're able to listen to them, maybe we can learn something."

Visit for more information on Michael Stern and his music.

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