It was 4 years ago as of last March that I first visited Japan. Living on Oahu, I could take a direct flight to Tokyo and arrive 7 hours later. Even though Hawaii has been a US State since shortly after World War II, I was located closer to Tokyo than I was from New York City.
I had always wanted to visit Japan, ever since I experienced the peaceful marital art of Aikido at Cornell’s Aikido Club. My desire to visit Japan increased after so many of my friends in Hawaii raved about the food, the high quality service, and a safe society where people left their bikes unlocked as they went into stores. My fist trip timed perfectly with the sakura (cherry blossom) bloom and the city of Hiroshima felt so alive. Its trees were peppered with white and pink flowers, accented with crimson cores. Perfect picnic weather.
As I walked up to the Atomic Dome (aka the Genbaku Dome) in the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park, I could hear a peace bell ringing in the distance, a deep hum from the giant temple style bells that can be rung by any passerby. Each ring of those bells was a wish for world peace. It was there that I met Okihiro Terao-san standing over his glass model of the Atomic Dome while speaking about the devastation of the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.
He presented his story on the weekends as a volunteer for the Memorial Peace Park. After his presentation, I asked him about how he knew what colors to make the Atomic Dome replica, considering that photos were disintegrated from the nuclear blast that nearly toppled the Atomic Dome. He replied, “I was there.” I was stunned because the the man that I originally thought was in his 60’s was in his 80’s. He was a Hibakusha, meaning he had survived the Atomic Bomb, and he survived the bomb at 8 years old. Many people asked me, “Why did you make this movie?” In truth, I didn’t plan on making this movie. It found me on the day I met Okihiro Terao-san. I was so impressed by his story that I asked him if I could return to interview him on camera. He obliged and became the first of several World War II survivors that I would come to interview.
When I first visited Pearl Harbor with my mother, she had met a Pearl Harbor Attack Survivor named Everett Hyland while I was in another area of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. She later suggested that I should interview Everett and document the Pearl Harbor Survivors stories, especially because I lived 15 minutes away from Pearl Harbor. What began as an archival project to preserve the stories of both Atomic Bomb Survivors and Pearl Harbor Survivors eventually became the PBS documentary Sakura & Pearls; Healing from World War II. This film asks the question, “What would happen if the Japanese Atomic Bomb Survivors met the US Pearl Harbor Attack Survivors”? To find out the answer to this question, I invited 2 Japanese Atomic Bomb Survivors to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center to meet 2 US Pearl Harbor Survivors for a special filmed event. This exclusive meeting is at the heart of Sakura & Pearls, as Masahiro Sasaki-san, Koko Kondo-san, Everett Hyland, and Jimmy Lee meet face to face to share their uncensored stories of survival. What happens when former enemies share their moving stories with each other?
To find out what happened, tune in to PBS on TV, PBS’s streaming service, or PBS’s channel on YouTube TV starting October 2021. Sakura & Pearls; Healing from World War II will be broadcasted nationwide for the next 3 years. When the ink was dry on the contract, I finally realized that this transformative project would be seen by the world. It brought tears to my eyes. May the stories of these brave elders inspire the next generations to resolve conflicts in creative ways.
Learn more about the synopsis of the film along with the trailer here: https://gkhunter.com/movie-sakura-pearls/