“Hiroshima – Nagasaki – Fukushima – Articulations of the Nuclear. The Case of Japan” Conference


As noted in my previous post (Splitting Atomic Symbolism: Words, Images, and Sounds of a Nuclear World), last week I attended the “Hiroshima – Nagasaki – Fukushima – Articulations of the Nuclear. The Case of Japan” Conference at the University of Cologne. It was a fabulous conference and I wanted to say some more about it.

The conference itself was part of a wider project called “Japan’s Split Society: Between Atomic Bombs and Nuclear Power Plants” – which has a great logo – and which had run a number of webinars in 2021, most of which I attended.

The conference was run over three days – this was the schedule:

You will see from the schedule, that the conference finished with a Roundtable Discussion. This was actually my introduction to the conference, as I was approached to be a moderator for this discussion in November 2021. In the end, not only did I enthusiastically agree to do this, I also decided that I would like to present a paper too. I am so glad that I did both.

As I noted at the Roundtable – where I was joined by Michele Mason and Marie-Christine Dressen as I felt we need more of a balance of gender, nationalities, and age on the ‘head table’ – we all would have got different things out of the conference as, although we were linked by a common topic, we had different approaches and specific interests, albeit with papers being put into very sensible panels.

Here, I would like to provide the (mostly) one sentence of something pertinent that I took from each paper – this is not meant to act as a summary of that paper, or even necessarily the most significant point made in the paper, but something that spoke to me. I took these sentences, and put them into one of four blocks (Research, Memory and Being Informed, Differing Images, and How to Protest and the Need to Being Informed), while acknowledging the links between the four groups. To understand the comments, you may find it helpful to look back to the title of the paper above to better understand the context of what the paper as a whole was about.


  • Anna Wiemann showed the importance of drilling down and speaking to individuals for research.
  • Marie-Christine Dressen did a very detailed presentation on a survey of newspapers held in Prange collection. From this it was possible to understand how Hiroshima and Nagasaki were transforming themselves into international cities of peace from 1945.
  • Franziska König highlighted how the use of the atom ties to the use of word ‘control’ (kanri 管理), which is used in two different ways. The paper noted that in newspaper articles in the period, there was little mention about Japan, but more generic points about how atomic energy can be used. Both this and Marie-Christine’s papers showed the importance of archival research and how such research can largely not be done by academics who have teaching and administrative roles also.

Memory and Being Informed

  • André Hertrich was one of those who pointed out that Nagasaki is often only added to a list to make it complete rather than any particular points or lessons made about the Nagasaki bombing itself.
  • Lauren Constance pointed out the importance of digitalisation and recording eye witnesses as they are getting older, so it needs to be done before they all pass away, though there are ethical and other issues in relation to how the recordings can be accessed.
  • Hiroko Okuda pointed out how police, firefighters, and SDF personnel at Fukushima were faceless and unnamed in media (just part of the collective group) and represented as volunteers and as rather than being forced.
  • Stephan Köhn pointed out how some authors, such as Yōko Ōta, are drawn in and compelled to write about Hiroshima experiences.
  • Atsuko Shigesawa noted the importance of Life Span Study (LSS), which was developed in Japan, to look at long term impact of radiation rather than just impact in the immediate aftermath, and how this is now the “gold standard” internationally.

Differing Images

  • Katharina Hülsmann pointed out how in some manga, nuclear is a positive thing, something that can be mastered and give special powers, and humour is also used.
  • Tobias Weiss demonstrated how there was a strong image of Naoto Kan (in his handling of Fukushima) outside of Japan (esp. Germany), but negative evaluation inside of Japan.
  • The issue of differing images was also one that was a feature of my own research, showing how the view of the mushroom cloud may vary depending on the story being told.

How to Protest and the Need to Being Informed

  • Michele Mason helped us to understand the role of certain manga in protests, but the issues of such manga not being mainstream & widely known. I feel that such manga, after 3/11, are key as, if anything, Japan flipped from pro-atomic power, anti-nukes, to anti-atomic power and, if not pro, certainly less anti-nukes.
  • Rachel Dinitto pointed out how authors get involved in activism against nuclear power, though Tsushima, for example, was forced to stop by criticism at home for further bringing attention to Fukushima.
  • Steffi Richter (who was presenting at her last ever conference before retirement) pointed out how artists who raise protests become ostracized and there are limits to what art is considered acceptable.
  • Robert Jacobs pointed out how decisions are based on political needs rather than consideration of generations of humans over at least 100,000 years. This very much tied into a visit that we made to a nuclear shelter in Cologne during the conference (see below), and made me think how “Deep Time” is a confidence trick and an exercise in making money.
  • Peter Kuznick provided a very passionate look at the way in which recent US presidents have behaved in relation to nuclear weapons and then linking that to the conflicting views, statements, and facts of key people over the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

During the roundtable discussion, we developed a number of the points above, other issues, as well as looked at one which had sparked some debate during the conference – namely the issue of censorship and self-censorship – and one which I felt that we had all largely avoided – namely the apparent rise in open discussion about Japan possibly having its own nuclear weapons or, at the very least, welcoming US nuclear weapons into the country. It was agreed that all of us have a responsibility to continue to raise awareness of a range of issues relating to nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

As well as the people listed above, there were many others who attended and contributed to the conference in some way, as well as many others who also joined sessions via Zoom.

As noted above, we also had a visit to a nuclear shelter in Cologne. I think we were all shocked at how badly planned it was (including needing 14 days to set up, so a “Four minute air attack warning” would be of no use, let alone the poor entry procedures). Coming from a country that specialises in doing things badly, to see it happen also in Germany (I also discovered the trains are badly run too) provided a feeling of happiness at the expense of others… if only there were a word for that 😉. Anyway, the tour was very educational and interesting, and we even had the final panel of that day in the shelter – see below.

I really can’t thank and congratulate the organisers of the conference, Stephan Köhn and Katharina Hülsmann (as well as all the people who helped them), enough for what they achieved. Such a wonderful conference that I learnt so much at but also provided many new friendships and memories which I will treasure. In the tradition of the panels, please now picture me knocking on the table with my fist.

I look forward to seeing the publication that comes from the conference and hope there will be an opportunity for us to have another gathering again one day.

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