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Hiroshima honors prewar magazine for kids

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Motoyasugawa river and the Atomic Bomb Dome are seen in Hiroshima. Miekichi Suzuki lived nearby and played here in his childhood.

By Takehiro Ito / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterWinter also comes to Hiroshima. The Atomic Bomb Dome’s grim appearance is the same as in news footage shown on TV each summer, but now dead leaves lie all around it.

Beside the dome flows the Motoyasugawa river, which is a branch of the Otagawa river.

“Its main stream is called the Otagawa, and its waters are very clean,” wrote Miekichi Suzuki (1882-1936), a novelist and writer of children’s literature, in an essay in which he recalls his home city of Hiroshima.

It was 1918 when Suzuki began publishing the children’s magazine “Akai Tori” (Red bird), with the aim of creating pure and beautiful fairy tales and children’s songs.

From the magazine, numerous masterpieces were born. They include “Kumo no Ito” (The Spider’s Thread), “Gongitsune” (Gon, the Little Fox), “Kanariya” (Canary), and “Karatachi no Hana” (Flowers of trifoliate orange).

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

As this year is the 100th anniversary of the magazine’s first issue, I wanted to visit the city of its origin.

On the waterfront of the Motoyasugawa stands the Red Bird Monument, which was erected in 1964.

Akinori Nagasaki, 71, head of the Suzuki Miekichi Akai Tori no Kai, an association commemorating the magazine and the novelist, explained: “[The monument] is a symbol of the cultural reconstruction of Hiroshima. Many other monuments in nearby areas are memorials.”

The association has continued its activities to honor the novelist by, for example, holding lectures about his life and work. “We want to pass on memories of the accomplishments of Miekichi, who gave dreams to children,” Nagasaki said.

The monument includes statues of a boy and girl perched on a stone block inscribed with phrases copied from Suzuki’s original handwriting. In 2016, an English explanation was added to the structure. In the explanation, one phrase is translated as, “I will forever dream, simply as I did in my boyhood.”

Many foreign tourists take photos of the monuments as mementos of their visit.

Suzuki spent the years until he was a teenager in Hiroshima. He was a naughty youngster but was also sensitive and loved reading poems.

The Suzuki family’s temple is Joonji, where Nagasaki previously served as a chief priest. He said, “As [Suzuki] lost his mother when he was a little child, I’ve heard that he played alone in front of the family grave.”

Suzuki often used a dry tone when he mentioned his home city and recalled his childhood in Hiroshima, in essays written while living in Tokyo. He once described Hiroshima as “merely a place where my ancestors’ graves stand.”

But he bought sake from Hiroshima, and liked oysters and Japanese pickles, which are its specialties. He also kept in touch with friends from his childhood, and spoke in the Hiroshima dialect when he was under the influence of alcohol.

In these ways in which his life was connected to Hiroshima, so too was “Akai Tori” reflected.

Inside and outside the city, there are various monuments dedicated to Suzuki, including the Miekichi Kinenhi monument in front of the Hiroshima City Children’s Library.

Nagasaki has been preparing for publication of a book called “Akai Tori Jiten” (Encyclopedia of Akai Tori magazine) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the magazine’s launch.

The Hiroshima City Central Library also plans to hold a special exhibition about the magazine in autumn this year.

After the end of World War II, the spirit of “Akai Tori” was inherited by the people of Hiroshima for a certain period.

On Aug. 6 of the year following the atomic bombing, a magazine called “Gin no Suzu” — meaning “silver bell” — was published in the city with the aim of “providing reading materials like ‘Akai Tori’ for children who are suffering from a sense of dejection.”

The publication of this magazine was proposed by people including elementary school teachers, and later a publishing company expanded it into an educational magazine on a larger scale.

Seiko Miura, 81, who heads the Gin no Suzu Kenkyukai, an association to study matters concerning the magazine, said that it had carried masterpieces of children’s literature from abroad and works by such famous writers as Hachiro Sato and Yaso Saijo.

“I heard that many writers were willing to accept requests [to publish their work], saying that they were happy to do so if it was for children in Hiroshima,” Miura said.

Copies of the magazine were sold through schools nationwide, and its circulation reached 1.2 million copies at its peak.

Though the publication of the magazine was discontinued seven years later, Miura said, “It was thanks to its predecessor ‘Akai Tori’ that [‘Gin no Suzu’] could encourage children.”

At the end of this trip, I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Its main building was undergoing refurbishment, and exhibits in the east building were on display.

The atrocious damage displayed there reminded me of something Nagasaki had said: “As a matter of fact, there are many people even in Hiroshima who don’t know about ‘Akai Tori.’ I think that the situation has been largely affected by the disconnect of cultures and memories caused by the atomic bombing.”

Hiroshima in winter makes me deeply consider the idea of a homeland and children’s dreams, and what is at the other end of the spectrum — war.

Sightseeing on tram

For sightseeing in the city of Hiroshima, there are many ways to get around, including electric trains, buses and rental bicycles.

Riding on trams is enjoyable because they have various features to cheer on the Hiroshima Toyo Carp pro baseball team. For example, it was surprising to hear an announcement in the voice of one of the players in a tram car.

To use the tram lines, it is good to buy a one-day pass, which is ¥600 for adults.

There are buses that run on loop routes connecting major tourist spots such as the Atomic Bomb Dome and art museums. A one-day pass for these buses is ¥400.

Access

It takes about four hours by Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Hiroshima Station, and about 80 minutes by plane from Haneda Airport to Hiroshima Airport. From Hiroshima Airport to the city center, it is 45-55 minutes by limousine bus. Inquiries: Hiroshima City Tourist Information Center at (082) 247-6738.Speech

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