Title: MEMORIAL TO THE DEAD OF HIROSHIMA
Author: Isamu Noguchi
Location: Hiroshima, Japan
Year Complete: Unrealized
Year Commisioned: 1951
Description: A heavy black granite arch, with legs below grade and peak above, guarding a subterranean cenotaph.
In August 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the imperialist enemy of Japan. The first of the two hit Hiroshima on August 6th, reducing the city to nothing but ruble, ash, and toxic waste. These tragic bombings forced Japan out of World War II and efforts began immediately to rebuild, re-identify, but also remember.
Kenzo Tange was commissioned for the master plan of the Hiroshima Peace Park on the site most heavily impacted by the bomb. The park was to contain a number of memorials and monuments, with the center piece being the a memorial to the near 80,000 people killed on that day. This memorial was to sit on axis with the Peace Memorial Museum designed by Tange, and the A-Bomb dome, the remains of a building that survived the blast.
During this time of rebuilding, Japan denounced their imperialist policies and looked to reenter the global community in good graces. Because of this identity crisis, Tange was drawn to Japanese American artist and sculptor Isamu Noguchi for the commission of the center piece. Noguchi, born to an American mother and Japanese father, was born in the United States but spent his first 13 years in Japan. At the time of the commission Noguchi was gaining popularity in New York for his sculpture and art, and was known in Japan as a renowned American Modernist. Many Japanese looked to Noguchi as the answer to their identity crisis: the famous modernist with Japanese decent will come and rebrand a nation through his art and design. Even Noguchi was quoted saying, “I do not want to just make sculpture… I want to build a nation.”
Noguchi’s memorial design looked to encapsulate the many emotions surrounding the tragic event that occurred only a short number of years before. He wanted show the destructive power of atomic science and nuclear war, the pain and agony of loss, the solace of a final resting place, and the hope of rebirth. He used a thick, heavy, black arch that sunk below ground in an inhabitable cavern. This cavern houses the cenotaph, which as one single light shining down on it from a light well above. One can either enter into the cavern from an isolated plinth with a stairwell, or stay above grade and experience the top of the heavy arch.
While Tange and the board of the city both approved of Noguchi’s design, many Japanese citizens and the Peace Park Construction Committee firmly rejected the proposal. Noguchis’s American roots did not sit well with many, claiming that a full blooded Japanese citizen should be the designer. because of the rejection from the Construction Committee, the memorial could not be built. The design was scrapped, and Kenzo Tange took it upon himself to hastily redesign the memorial. He took elements from Noguchi’s design such as the cenotaph and arch, but made it much lighter,of concrete, and fully above ground with no inhabitable cavern.
After the rejection, Noguchi never gained the popularity he desired in Japan. Critical of the rejection, he put the model of the memorial in his office and later his museum, with one modification, the cenotaph had his name carved on it. His work was never realized because of nationalistic ideal and a us/them dichotomy. While those who rejected his work did so in the name of nationalism, many who accepted it did so in the name of extending an olive branch, and to show that Japan has healed and changed. Sadly both sides of the argument fail to recognize the design sensibility, and only get bogged down in politics.
Winther, Bert. “The Rejection of Isamu Noguchi’s Hiroshima Cenotaph:A Japanese American Artist in Occupied Japan.” Art Journal 53.4 (1994): 23-27. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 14 May 2017.
Kenjiro, Okazaki. A Place to Bury Names, or Resurrection (Circulation of Energy).