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Q: A Japanese coworker of mine told me she believes that somewhere in New York City is a statue from Hiroshima that survived the August 6, 1945, atomic bomb. Is this true?  —Darby Walker, New Market, Md.

 Hoshina Seki, President of the American Buddhist Society in New York, writes

A: Yes, this is true. Today a bronze statue of Shinran Shonin, the founder of Japanese Shin Buddhism, stands in front of the New York Buddhist Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The statue was a gift to my father, Reverend Hozen Seki, the founder of the American Buddhist Academy (now the American Buddhist Study Center). 

The story of how the statue came to America begins in 1937. Seiichi Hirose, a metalworks industrialist from Osaka and a devout Jodo Shinshu Buddhist, had his craftsmen cast six identical bronze statues of Shinran. Each around 15 feet tall and weighing approximately 1,300 pounds, they were installed in 1937 and 1938 in Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, Kuwana, and Niigata.

Three of the six statues were destroyed during the war; their metal was used for the Japanese government’s war efforts. However, the one on Hijirigaoka, a hill that overlooks Hiroshima, remained. On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb dropped on the city. The epicenter was only about a mile away from the statue, which received the full blast and survived the horrific destruction all around it. Even now, you can still see red burn marks on the statue and detect very small traces of radioactivity.  

The industrialist viewed the statue as an inspiration for peace, compassion, and harmony—central tenets of Buddhism, which teaches followers to be kind and gentle to all living things. After the war, he and my father agreed to bring the statue to New York City, which they considered to be the gateway to the world.

On September 11, 1955, the statue was unveiled in the courtyard of the American Buddhist Academy on Riverside Drive. There D. T. Suzuki, who introduced Zen Buddhism to the United States and was a good friend of my father’s, gave the keynote address: 

The present state of things as we are facing everywhere politically, economically, morally, intellectually, and spiritually is no doubt the result of our past thoughts and deeds we have committed as humans… we are, every one of us, responsible for the present world-situation filled with awesome forebodings.

It seems we still have much to learn about peace and harmony. ✯

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This article was published in the August 2020 issue of World War II.