Study Guide

Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto in Hiroshima

By John Hersey

Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto

Reverend Tanimoto is one of the six individuals that Hiroshima focuses on. In the days following the attack, he worked tirelessly to help the wounded in the area around the evacuation zone in Asano Park. He is, to put it mildly, a stand-up guy.

Where He Was When It Happened

On the morning of August 6, 1945, Mr. Tanimoto—who definitely reveals himself as a helpful, do-gooder type in Hershey's story—had been helping a friend move some stuff to a house in the suburbs for safekeeping (since Hiroshima proper was under constant threat of being bombed). Exhibit A: Tanimoto is a good dude who helps his buddies.

While they were out there, they saw a bright flash of light. Knowing that something bad had happened, and being far enough away from the city that they had time to react, the two men dove for safety before the concussion from the blast could reach them.

When they were able to emerge from hiding, Mr. Tanimoto kicked into rescue mode immediately. After helping some passersby, he surveyed the damage in the city from a hill. Instead of running as far from the disaster as he could (as many people would, right?), he ran toward the city, where he ran around tirelessly helping those who were injured/stranded:

He had thought of his wife and baby, his church, his home, his parishioners, all of them down in that awful murk. Once more he began to run in fear—toward the city. (2.3)

As you can probably tell from this moment, Mr. Tanimoto often seemed to be thinking about others before himself. Exhibit B: Tanimoto is a seriously good guy.

What Happened Next

In the years that followed, Mr. Tanimoto traveled to the U.S. to do speaking tours, raising money for various causes related to the Hiroshima attack, including reconstructing his church, financially assisting girls with severe facial scarring who wanted to get plastic surgery, and creating a center devoted to peacekeeping activism. Exhibit C… Oh, you get it: Tanimoto is awesomesauce.

Afterthoughts of War

Unlike some of the other subjects, Mr. Tanimoto was deeply reflective about the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and its significance for the world at large. He decided to devote his love to promoting peace while he was on his way to America to do a speaking tour:

On the sea voyage, an ambitious idea grew in his mind. He would spend his life working for peace. He was becoming convinced that the collective memory of the hibakusha would be a potent force for peace in the world, and that there ought to be in Hiroshima a center where the experience of the bombing could become the focus of international studies of means to assure that atomic weapons would never be used again. (5.130)

Remember what we said about him always trying to help others? Yeah, apparently that didn't go away with time. The rest of his life was comprised of Exhibits D-Z: Tanimoto should get a medal for being such a good man.

He drafted a "memorandum" laying out his ideas on this topic, including Hiroshima/the hibakusha's special role in pushing for world peace. Then, he got hooked up with the editor of The Saturday Review of Literature, Norman Cousins, who wanted to publish it.

The memo, which was published in the March 5, 1949 issue, basically committed all Hiroshimans to the cause of peace:

The people of Hiroshima, aroused from the daze that followed the atomic bombing of their city on August 6, 1945, know themselves to have been part of a laboratory experiment which proved the long-time thesis of peacemakers. Almost to a man, they have accepted as a compelling responsibility their mission to help in preventing further similar destruction anywhere in the world… (5.135)

Of course, as Hersey notes, "The people of Hiroshima were in fact, to a man, totally unaware of Kiyoshi Tanimoto's… proposal" (5.137), and Mr. Tanimoto had some trouble getting support/traction for his ideas back home among local officials (who were worried about American-imposed restrictions on "dissemination of or agitation for any reports on the consequences of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings—including the consequence of a desire for peace") (5.140).

However, Mr. Tanimoto ended up pushing head with his ideas anyway, "restrictions" or no restrictions:

Tanimoto persevered, calling together a number of leading citizens, and, after Norman Cousins had set up a Hiroshima Peace Center Foundation in New York to receive American funds, these people established the center in Hiroshima, with Tanimoto's church as its base. (5.141)

A pretty bold move to stand up to the authorities, no? According to Hersey, though, it took a while for Mr. T's "courage in ignoring the MacArthur restraints" to be "acknowledged by at least some Hiroshimans" (5.142).

Despite some bumps in the road, Mr. Tanimoto remained committed to the dual causes of peacekeeping and anti-nuclear proliferation at the end of Hersey's narrative.

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