The Tenacious Ginkgo Trees of Hiroshima

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On August 6, 1945, the city of Hiroshima was devastated by the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare. The bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy”, exploded with a force equivalent to 16 kilotons of TNT, flattening the city and instantly killing around 80,000 people. By the end of the year, radiation poisoning and other bomb-related injuries raised the death toll to over 140,000. Yet amidst the utter destruction, a few living witnesses endured.

Six ginkgo trees, located between 1 and 2 kilometers from ground zero of the blast, though charred, somehow remained standing. These six trees are still alive today, their tenacity earning them the name “hibakujumoku” – meaning “A-bomb trees” in Japanese.

The ginkgo, with some trees estimated to live over 3,000 years, has always been a symbol of longevity and resilience. As one of the world’s oldest species of tree, its lineage can be traced back 200 million years to the age of dinosaurs. Often called a “living fossil,” the ginkgo has managed to survive multiple extinction events, including an ice age. Now it has a new success story to add – enduring one of the most destructive singular events in human history.

For the Japanese, these hibakujumoku survivors carry added meaning. Not only are they a stirring tribute to the power of life, but they are also a tribute to the endurance of the human spirit. In the Shinto and Buddhist traditions so integral to Japanese culture, trees are sacred, possessing a spiritual essence or power. The ginkgo trees that endured the atomic blast reminded the Japanese people of their own spiritual strength to rebuild and flourish again after the devastation.

Today, the six trees are treasured landmarks in Hiroshima. They are located at the following places:

  • Housenbou Temple (planted in 1850)
  • Anraku-ji Temple
  • Myōjin Temple
  • Jōsei-ji Temple (planted 1900)
  • Shukkei-en Garden (planted about 1740)
  • The site where the Senda Elementary School used to be, not far from the Miyuki-bashi station.

In Japan, artists and poets have long been inspired by this tree that shakes free golden fan-shaped leaves despite having much of its trunk missing. For many survivors, this constancy of nature restored hope. The citizens of Hiroshima took great care to look after the ginkgo trees, seeing them as living symbols of the city. Within a few years fresh shoots sprouted from the damaged trunks, signaling life emerging from the firestorm.

Just as the ginkgo lined the streets of Hiroshima before that fateful day in 1945, new generations of trees grace the rebuilt city today. By enduring the blast when so much else perished, the ginkgo trees became a symbol of hope that has aided Hiroshima in its rebirth – and its commitment to promoting world peace. Through this one city’s story we are reminded that tenacity and remembrance can sustain communities and cultures even after immense tragedy.

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