My three-week visit to Japan is almost over. I came to make two final portraits for the exhibition Poppies: Women and War. Female survivors (hibakusha) of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I met four women who were schoolgirls when the bomb was dropped on them in 1945, changing their lives forever.

I attended both 70th Anniversary ceremonies and heard Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan re-assure his people of his pledge to keep Japan peaceful. Some are sceptical.

A week later I watch online coverage of the WWII VJ Day back home. Hear of the barbaric torture, abuse and starvation of British POWs at the hands of the Japanese military.

In these days of remembrance I have seen hundreds of young people carrying placards appealing for an end to war. Seen the words 'Never again x' scratched on a wall. Seen footage of civilians on all sides burnt and butchered. Heard apologies, speeches of remorse. Comments such as 'they started it so they needed to be taught a lesson'. Really? It was a dirty bomb for civilians, not just soldiers, and their bodies are still burning, 70 years on.

I heard dIrect appeals from survivors, visitors, tourists, against the making, stockpiling and continued testing of weapons of mass destruction by all the leading powers.

Meanwhile major art exhibitions on war and peace are being staged in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Osaka. They bring together gut-wrenching expressions of shock, outrage and sympathy by Kathe Kollwitz, Picasso, Otto Dix, Hamada Chimei and war photographers Robert Capa and Tomatsu Shomei. I see them all. Profound statements that leave me ashamed, bewildered and questioning. Mainly baffled by the insanity of war and the playground mentality of 'He hit me so I am going to hit him harder'.

Working on Poppies: Women and War - from women of WWI (the war to end all wars) and this, the ultimate in destruction of life, the nuclear weapon - I am reminded of how the chief, the dictator, the emperor, the president or the general rarely gets burnt to charcoal or has his eyeballs torn out. It is the young lads marching off to fight evil, or the schoolgirls who are taught only their side of the story.

Mostly it is the woman, and her child, who suffer.

This image will stay with me. A pencil drawing by 17-year-old Yokoyama Ayumi, a third-year student I met in Hiroshima. She drew a schoolgirl shackled by her ankles to the charred ruins of her city. She says:

''It has been 70 years since the WWII ended. As time goes by fewer and fewer people experienced the war, and that event is becoming vague. However I wonder if tragic history would be repeated if we completely forgot that event. The chains of the picture give us warning as we are becoming indifferent to the past. We should hand down the war and the tragedy of that in order not to repeat the same mistake.''

Share Post:

Share Post:
August 2015
Images taken on iphone, 70 years this week of the anniversary ceremonies to mark those killed and injured in the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Share Post:
August 2015
After almost a year researching the world's first atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, 70 years ago this week (August 6 and 9, 1945), I am here in Hiroshima to learn a about some of the women directly affected by the nuclear attack, and its aftermath. Three women and a girl. Three of them Japanese, one American. Two dead, two still alive.


Yesterday I folded paper cranes with Tomoko Watanabe, born to parents who survived the A-bomb, and a mother of three children. Inspired by the A-bomb survivors - known as hibakusha - Tomoko founded ANT-Hiroshima an organisation dedicated to conveying the reality of what an atomic bomb can do to people and to life.

For almost thirty years she and her team have worked to advance the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons from the Earth, instigating peace-building activities around the world, and promoting peace education wherever.she can and to anyone who will listen, especially the young and children of many countries. ''In order to find peace in our daily lives, we need to reflect on whether the state of our minds, our behaviour, and our relationships with others are peaceful or not,'' she says.

We folded paper cranes in memory of schoolgirl Sadako Sasaki who died aged 12 in 1955, from leukemia caused as a direct result of radiation poisoning from the atomic bomb. In hospital, Sadako believed that if she folded one thousand paper cranes she would get better. When she died her classmates continued to fold paper cranes. For the next three years they worked to raise enough money to erect The Children's Peace Statue placed in Hiroshima's Peace Park. In remembrance of Sadako and the tens of thousands of children who were incinerated within six seconds of the bomb exploding above their heads, or died of burns and radiation poisoning in the days, weeks, months and years afterwards. It was also their cry for peace.

Tomoko has helped publish books, stories and information about Sadako's story, books that have reached children in many countries in languages including English, Dari, Nepali, Bengali, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Swedish, Chinese, Korean, Mongolian, Arabic, Tajiki, Tagalog, Indonesian, Burmese, Khmer. ''What happened here in Hiroshima is very very sad. But please tell the children 'you have a power, you can change the world for the better. Never give up.''

Share Post:
July 2015
Overwhelming coverage for the opening of Poppies:Women and War last week at the Museum of Liverpool Thanks to all in the team for bringing these women’s stories, and the beauty, strength and the symbolism of the poppy flower, in all its colours, to a growing audience #poppieswomen

Special thanks to the creative and visual intepretation skills of exhibition designer Lee Kenyon.

Moina Belle Michael, and her legacy, is remembered too.

I’ll be giving workshops and talks this October and November at the Museum.

Heading out to Hiroshima and Nagasaki this week. Follow me on twitter if you get chance @leekarenstow

Share Post: