It’s called Lanterns for Peace. Every year, a large number of people gather at Memorial Boulevard in Winnipeg to commemorate the horrific atomic bombings of Japan in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the final month of World War II.
This year’s event, held on August 9, marked the 68th anniversary of the catastrophic attacks. The evening began with participants making their own lanterns using materials provided by organizers — a piece of cardboard with a candlestick stand attached to paper decorated with various illustrations and colours, conveying messages of peace.
People from all walks of life, young and old, gathered around the arts table to partake in this creative endeavor of making lanterns to promote peace. The lanterns would be used later that night for the “O-bon”, a Buddhist ceremony that honours the spirits of the dead and prays they have a safe trip to their eternal destination.
Terumi Kuwada of the Japanese Cultural Association of Manitoba and past president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, spoke at the event. She stressed the importance of remembering the victims of the bombings — in particular the survivors called “hibakushas”– and to heed their pleas to abolish nuclear weapons so future generations will not experience similar horrors. Kuwada also encouraged the audience to move toward peace and to be unified in the goal of attaining a nuclear-free world.
This was followed by writer and filmmaker, Nadia Kidwai, who read a letter from the mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui. The letter is a peace declaration that Mayor Matsui has delivered every year since 2005. It tells the stories of different ”hibakushas” experiencing isolation and prejudice from non-”hibakusha” Japanese after the nuclear bombing. It also reinforces the survivors’ goal for peace and call for a nuclear-free zone, particularly in East Asia.
A letter from Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz was then read by Terumi Kuwada. Mayor Katz’s message stated, that commemorating this event serves as a reminder of the trauma that nuclear weapons has brought, and that striving and working for peace through unity will help create “the quality of life that we deserve” for future generations. Katz’s letter also commended Project Peacemakers for their passion to their community through their “dedication, spirit, and perseverance in remembering the tragedies of the past and working together for peace.”
Kuwada also shared a story about a tree she saw during her trip to Hiroshima called the Phoenix tree, which survived the bombing and continued growing and blossoming for many years afterwards.
Dr. Clint Curle, head of stakeholder relations for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, spoke of the museum’s plans in the areas of peace. In his message, Curle focused on two positive responses: 1) show respect to the victims by ensuring they are not forgotten, and 2) seek out the lessons from these events through dialogue and reflection.
The evening’s event concluded with a lantern launching for the O-bon ceremony at the fountain on Memorial Boulevard. There was music accompaniment by Shane Nestuck, and some words of thanks by Kuwada. Participants then placed their beautifully crafted lanterns with lighted candles onto the waters of the fountain where the winds pushed them along in a serene, magical fashion.