Picture books and smiles for children after the conclusion of WWII
The 5-days Children’s Library (children’s library and predecessor of the Hiroshima City Children’s Library) is a library for children, a rarity in Japan, that was opened in 1949 directly after Japan’s postwar reconstruction. We interviewed Harima Yuko, the librarian, and Shimazu Chie, the director, about the history of the library and the role it has played as a library in Hiroshima.
“Following the war, Doctor Howard Bell(*) toured Hiroshima, and was heartbroken by the devastation in the city and what it did to the children there, causing him to donate 1,500 Western children’s books to Hiroshima City. Further, there were donations from the Hiroshima Kenjikai, which is formed of Hiroshima citizens who immigrated to California, U.S.; these two benevolent acts formed the beginnings of the establishment of our library.” (Harima)
At the time the Hiroshima Asano Library was located in Komachi, Naka Ward, and the library was opened as an annex to it. Later, in 1952, it was moved to its current location (Motomachi, Naka Ward). The distinct glass walls and circular exterior of the building were designed by the architect of the Peace Memorial Park and Atomic Bomb Museum, Mr. Kenzo Tange.
“Photographs of it filled with children were published in the newspapers of the time; it was an era with little to enjoy, so being library where you could read a lot of books for free made it popular with both children and adults. In 1968), the “Kobato” initiative began, where a car filled with books would patrol the region as a form of moving book collection to deliver books to countless children.” (Shimazu)
“The books Dr. Bell donated remain here today as the Bell Collection, and are on display in a special corner at the entrance, along with dedicated Books by Local Authors and Books about Atomic Bombs. At present, the Children’s Library has a collection of approximately 200,000 books. The collection includes children’s books, Kamishibai (“paper plays”), picture books, local materials, and books for children’s literature researchers. Popular works by local authors include the “Zukkoke Sanningumi” series by Nasu Masamiki and “The Giving Chair” by Kakimoto Kouzou.” (Harima)
Thanks to its location between the Atomic Bomb Dome and Hiroshima Castle, the Children’s Library is often visited by foreigners and tourists. Every year on August 6 and 9, the library holds a Peace Storytime event. The event consists of library staff reading the children picture books regarding atomic bombs and the war, and has seen the participation of countless children over the years.
“Not many children express how it makes them feel then and there, but I hope the experience gives them a little appreciation for peace.” (Shimazu) It has been 75 years since the war, and, as it becomes difficult to pass down the experience of the bombing, the role of books in passing down the role of peace is becoming increasingly important moving forward.
(*)Dr. Howard Bell After the second world war, Bell acted as the adviser to the Civilian Information and Education Bureau of the GHQ (General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers), which ruled Japan. During his visit to Hiroshima City elementary schools, he witnessed children taking their classes in roofless classrooms under the cold sky, and experience which caused him to donate books to Hiroshima City. These books remain stored in the Hiroshima Children’s Library as the Bell Collection, and are important materials for Japan that provide a look at the children’s books that were published in the 1930s and 1940s
5-Days Children’s Library (Hiroshima City Children’s Library)
Address: 5-83 Motomachi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima City
Holidays: Mondays, days following national holidays, year-end and New Year holidays. Other maintenance days, etc.
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