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The Hiroshima Panels Visualize Violence: Imagination over Life


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Experiencing the atrocities in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945, Chinese-ink painter Iri Maruki and oil painter Toshi Maruki began their collaboration on the Hiroshima Panels in 1950. During the occupation of Japan by the Allied powers, when reporting on the atomic bombing was strictly prohibited, the panels played a crucial role in making known the hidden nuclear sufferings through a nationwide tour. In 1953, the panels began a ten-year tour of about 20 countries, mainly in East Asia and Europe, and disseminated the stories of the sufferings in the age of the US-Soviet arms race. Acquiring perspectives that transcended national borders and ethnicities through dialogues with many people in these exhibitions, the Marukis embarked on collaborations in a new direction in the 1970s with their emphasis on complex realities of war in which the victim/perpetrator dichotomy was not clear-cut and on other forms of violence such as pollution and discrimination. The forceful images of the paintings give us an opportunity to know the memories of the dead that would otherwise be doomed to be erased from our collective memory, and to stimulate our imagination to recognize that we are always facing the problem of life. Understanding the “memories” that we have never experienced would constitute a torch to survive hardships in this world.
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Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament
ISSN: (Print) 2575-1654 (Online) Journal homepage:
The Hiroshima Panels Visualize Violence:
Imagination over Life
Yukinori Okamura
To cite this article: Yukinori Okamura (2019): The Hiroshima Panels Visualize
Violence: Imagination over Life, Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, DOI:
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Publisher: Taylor & Francis & Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Journal: Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament
DOI: 10.1080/25751654.2019.1698141
The Hiroshima Panels Visualize Violence: Imagination over Life
Yukinori Okamura
Curator of Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels
Experiencing the atrocities in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing of
Hiroshima in August 1945, Chinese-ink painter Iri Maruki and oil painter Toshi Maruki
began their collaboration on the Hiroshima Panels in 1950. During the occupation of
Japan by the Allied powers, when reporting on the atomic bombing was strictly
prohibited, the panels played a crucial role in making known the hidden nuclear
sufferings through a nationwide tour. In 1953, the panels began a ten-year tour of
about 20 countries, mainly in East Asia and Europe, and disseminated the stories of the
sufferings in the age of the US-Soviet arms race. Acquiring perspectives that
transcended national borders and ethnicities through dialogues with many people in
these exhibitions, the Marukis embarked on collaborations in a new direction in the
1970s with their emphasis on complex realities of war in which the victim/perpetrator
dichotomy was not clear-cut and on other forms of violence such as pollution and
discrimination. The forceful images of the paintings give us an opportunity to know the
memories of the dead that would otherwise be doomed to be erased from our
collective memory, and to stimulate our imagination to recognize that we are always
facing the problem of life. Understanding the “memories” that we have never
experienced would constitute a torch to survive hardships in this world.
At 8.15 a.m. on 6 August 1945, an atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima in
its first wartime use in human history. Iri Maruki, a Chinese-ink painter who was born in
Hiroshima in 1901, and his wife Toshi Maruki, an oil painter who was born in Hokkaido
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in 1912, rushed to Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of the bombing and
witnessed the devastated city.
The Hiroshima Panels1 are a series of 15 paintings jointly produced by the two
painters with Chinese ink poured on Japanese paper. At present, paintings from the 1st
through the 14th are owned by the Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels in
Higashi-matsuyama in Saitama prefecture, while the 15th, NAGASAKI, is owned by the
Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.2
The couple are nyūshi hibakusha (early-entrant atomic-bomb survivors); they
were exposed to residual radiation in Hiroshima but did not directly experience what
happened in the city on August 6. Nevertheless, they mostly drew the scenes of that
day. They listened to the testimonies of numerous survivors, including their relatives,
exerted their imagination as artists, and finally drew the scenes of the atomic bombing.
In other words, their works are something reconstituted from the memories of others,
but not from their own.
In the past, the Hiroshima Panels were often taken as a product born out of
direct experiences of the Marukis in Hiroshima right after the explosion. But Setsuko
Kozawa presents a different perspective by pointing out that the Marukis “experienced
Hiroshima only several days after, or half a month after. A ‘distance’ from August 6 has
to be taken fully into account when examining the Hiroshima Panels […] For the couple
who had no firsthand experience in the immediate aftermath of the bombing to
complete the panels, the time to reconstitute the experiences of others, or, the
experiences of those who directly knew August 6 was indispensable” (Kozawa
2002,62-63) .
In 1950, when the first trilogy of the panels was released, Japan was still
occupied by the Allied powers. Reporting the effects of the atomic bombings was
strictly prohibited. Thus, the paintings of the Marukis soon took a leading role in
publicizing the hidden nuclear disaster through a nationwide exhibition tour. Until 1952,
when the occupation ended, the Hiroshima Panels served as the almost sole medium
that was able to portray the sufferings.
In 1953, the panels began a tour that would last for a decade in nearly 20 East
1 The panels has long been regarded as a symbol of antiwar and peace movements, but it is only
from the 1990s onward that they have become a subject of academic scrutiny. Art critic Yoshie
Yoshida published the first analysis of its kind in 1996 (Yoshida 1996), followed by Setsuko Kozawa,
who meticulously placed the Hiroshima Panels in the history of Japan’s postwar art and thoughts
(Kozawa 2002). For analyses written in English, see Dower (1990) and Jesty (2018).
2 The Marukis recall the details and processes of the production of the Hiroshima Panels in Maruki
(1958) and Maruki (1988). This paper is based on these memoirs. Iri and Toshi passed away in 1995
and 2000, respectively.
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Asian and European countries. The details of the tour have not been well explored, but
what is notable is the panels’ prominent role during a nuclear arms race between the
two superpowers, the United States and the USSR.
The couple’s collaboration substantially changed its orientation in the 1970s.
Out of the subject matter of the atomic bombing, they uncovered complex realities of
war in which the sufferings of the Japanese people were inextricably intertwined with
the brutalities perpetrated by the same nation. In turn, the Marukis embarked on their
endeavor to transcend the boundaries of countries and nations and represent the
memories of the unspeakable. They finally captured a root of violence not only of the
atomic bombing but also of the massacres in other wars or of environmental
The shift in their subject matter was not necessarily an intended consequence
based on logical thinking. Rather, dialogues with people through the production of
paintings and exhibitions cultivated the couple’s thoughts during a time of change and
under the influence of social movements.
This paper will trace the process of the production of the panels and the way
they were perceived in society; examine the course of the couple’s lives, in which they
rose from the experience of the atomic bombing and acquired a comprehensive
perspective for looking at violence; and, finally, explore the issue of imagination over
1. The painters saw the bomb
In August 1945, the Marukis – who had taken refuge in Urawa in Saitama
prefecture, after fleeing Tokyo to avoid air raids – heard of a report about an “attack
with a new type of bomb.” Worrying about his parents and families of his siblings who
lived in Mitaki-machi in Hiroshima city, 1.5 miles away from the hypocenter, Iri took a
train and arrived in Hiroshima on the night of August 9. He was followed by his wife
Toshi, who presumably entered the city around August 20. During their stay, which
lasted about a month, they tended to the injured, fixed broken houses, and fetched
food. Toshi then drew two sketches of burnt land, but not of atomic-bomb survivors.
Soon after returning to Tokyo, the couple joined the Japanese Communist
Party. Since Toshi once lived in Moscow as an employed house teacher for children of
Japanese diplomats in 1938-39 and in 1941, she attracted attention as a woman who
was expected to usher in a new age. Seeking to create a new art movement that would
help establish a democratic society, Iri and Toshi became founding members of Nihon
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Bijutsu Kai (Japan Art Association)3 and Zen’ei Bijutsu Kai (Avant-Garde Art
Association)4 in 1945. But the deterioration of their health due to exposure to
radiation forced them to retreat to Fujisawa, Kanagawa, around the summer of 1948. It
was around this time that they determined to produce what would later become the
Hiroshima Panels, prompted by their acute recognition that war had left lasting scars in
the mind of the youth.
Rising political tensions inside and outside Japan also contributed to the
emergence of the panels.5 In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was born. In June
1950, the Korean War broke out. The US military, seeing an urgent need to turn Japan
into an anticommunist bulwark in East Asia, began to shift its occupation policy away
from the suppression of militarism to a crackdown on left-wing political forces
including communists. An arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union
had begun. In March 1950, the Stockholm Appeal6 was adopted in the third
Permanent Committee meeting of the Partisans of Peace led by the Eastern bloc,
prompting a worldwide petition campaign against nuclear weapons.
The first of the Hiroshima Panels was unveiled in the third Nihon Andepandan
Ten (Exhibition of Japanese Independent Artists) at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art
Museum in February 1950. At the outset, the painting, which would later be named No.
1 GHOSTS (Figure 1), was unveiled as AUGUST SIXTH, because the couple had been
persuaded by their friends not to use “Genbaku” (atomic bomb) in the title.7 Reporting
of the atomic bombing was still strictly prohibited under the press code imposed by the
occupation force.8
3 Launched in 1946 as a counter-movement against the Nitten, the official association of Japanese
artists. Later, Nihon Bijutsu Kai virtually became part of cultural section of the Japanese Communist
4 Launched in 1947 by radical artists who sought left-leaning expressions to address the coming of
a new age.
5 Recently, the panels have begun to be regarded as wartime paintings – drawings produced not
after the Asia-Pacific War, but during the Korean War in the 1950s (Yoneyama 2015).
6 An appeal released in March 1950 to call for unconditionally banning the use of atomic weapons,
and achieving a strict international control of the weapons. The appeal also regarded the
government that had used the weapons for the first time as a criminal to humanity. About 500
million signatures were collected in the petition campaign.
7 The Hiroshima Panels are Genbaku no Zu in Japanese. “Genbaku” means atomic bomb, and “zu”
means drawing.
8 The production of the panels was treated in No. 177 of news film Bunka Nyūsu (Cultural News,
produced by Riken Eiga and distributed by Daiei) in the summer of 1950. The film was oddly titled
Art is Enjoyable” without any reference to the atomic bomb in narration, most likely because of
self-imposed censorship.
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Figure 1: The Hiroshima Panels No. 1 GHOSTS, 1950
But pressure from the occupation forces that the Marukis had expected was
not actually harsh on art expressions as on news report. Photos and publications were
indeed censored, while no evidence has been found that indicates the implementation
of censorship on the paintings about the atomic bombing. The Marukis then decided to
entitle the painting “the Hiroshima Panel” in an exhibition that they independently
held at Maruzen Gallery in Tokyo in March 1950. With this, the name was established.
Several artists before the Marukis had already tackled the atomic bombing as
their subject matter.9 But the main objects in these paintings were a mushroom cloud
or scorched land; humans were neglected. Acknowledging these precedents, the
Marukis decided to focus on human beings on whom an atomic bomb was dropped,
with no background drawn.10
One of the most famous paintings drawn from the viewpoint of victims of an
air raid is Pablo Picasso’s GUERNICA, which was then most influential as an “antiwar
painting.” The Marukis must have been affected by this artwork. A panoramic large
sheet of the Hiroshima Panels with a height of 1.8 meters and a width of 7.2 meters
has much in common with GUERNICA. On the other hand, the Marukis depict humans
realistically, while Picasso adopted abstractionism. The Marukis’ emphasis on women
and children implies the influence of German antiwar painter Käthe Kollwitz. The
paintings of humans in a group drawn in a realistic way helped their viewers share the
memories of the atomic bombing and were instrumental in conveying hidden
9 For example, Teruo Niinobe, whose parents were killed by the Hiroshima bomb, entered the oil
painting TASOGARE (Twilight) in Nitten (Japan Fine Arts Exhibition) in 1948, and the artwork was
accepted. Other paintings on the atomic bombing produced and released under the occupation
include Kiyoshi Asai’s HIROSHIMA NO YŪYAKE (Sunset of Hiroshima, 1945), Mutsumi Otsuka’s
GENSHI BAKUDAN [HONEST JOHN] (Atomic Bomb [Honest John], 1947), Yoshio Fukui’s HIROSHIMA
(1948), and Keisuke Yamamoto’s HIROSHIMA (1948).
10 Toshi said in a roundtable discussion held in Hiroshima in October 1950, “When it comes to the
atomic bomb, people often think of a rising cloud or burnt land. What they do in the film Nagasaki
no Kane (The Bells of Nagasaki) is just praying. For me, people’s death is more heartbreaking and
irritating. So I just had to draw only humans” (Tsuboi, Akamatsu, and Maruki 1950, 31).
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sufferings at the time when the release of photos for the same purpose was banned.
Utilizing and molding the other’s strength in a miraculous fusion, the two
painters drew one painting. Toshi, who had learned the basics of Western painting, was
good at realistic expressions and drew characters in sharp lines. On the other hand,
Chinese-ink painter Iri, under the influence of Western avant-garde surrealism, poured
ink from above so that their painting would not become over-explanatory. This
sometimes created unexpected and profound effects with the Chinese ink flowing
freely over the paper.
The spectators whispered, “This is exaggerated,” or “Did they draw naked
people because they are painters?” Atomic-bomb survivors complained, “It was much
more cruel. They drew it too neatly.” Some said that the couple was not able to express
the horror of the atomic bombing because they had not actually seen it. But lack of
direct experience on the part of the painters eventually brought about a remarkable
characteristic of the Hiroshima Panels: numerous memories of others are poured into
the paintings, which work as a container.
In August 1950, half a year after the release of No. 1, the Marukis completed
No. 2 FIRE and No. 3 WATER, and organized a “Trilogy Commemorative Exhibition” at
Maruzen Gallery and Ginza-Mitsukoshi in Tokyo.
In No. 2 FIRE (Figure 2), they depicted people in agony under blazing fire after
the explosion. As noted above, they did not actually witness the scene. In an attempt
to visualize a “world of death” and make people aware of it, the couple applied their
Figure 2: The Hiroshima Panels No. 2 FIRE, 1950
In No. 3 WATER (Figure 3), the Marukis portrayed different points in time,
flowing in sequence from right to left: those who head to river for water, those who
finally perish in the river, and a pile of corpses awaiting cremation. An approach to the
“fact” in such an expression like picture scroll is all the more possible in paintings. A
mother holding a baby at the center of the screen reminds us of the Holy Mother and
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her child, a traditional subject matter in religious paintings. Toshi regarded the mother
and child that they depicted as a symbol of sorrow in the 20th century.
Figure 3: The Hiroshima Panels No. 3 WATER, 1950
2. Nationwide tour of the Hiroshima Panels
When the trilogy was completed, a nationwide tour of the panels began to be
planned. Although Japan was under the censorship of press and the oppression of the
Communist Party, it was still possible to make the atrocities of the atomic bombing
known through cultural movements such as exhibits. The Marukis made the panels
portable by remaking them as a hanging scroll. A tour began with an exhibition in
Goryuso near the hypocenter of Hiroshima under the sponsorship of Warera no Uta no
Kai (Our Poem Association), over which the poet Sankichi Tohge presided.
In the initial stage of the tour in Western Japan (Northern Kyushu and San’in
regions) and the Tohoku region, the Marukis traveled by themselves with the panels,
only to find the tour not so successful. A turning point was the Comprehensive Atomic
Bomb Exhibition held in Marubutsu Department Store in Kyoto from July 14 to July 24,
1951. In the exhibit, organized by Kyoto University’s student council, experts and
students who majored in medicine, physics, law, or literature displayed photo panels
from a wide range of perspectives. The large number of students who visited the
exhibit helped appease people’s suspicion to it, which they had thought was led by
communists. No. 4 RAINBOW and No. 5 BOYS AND GIRLS were unveiled for the first
time and displayed along with other materials from Hiroshima.
The success of the Kyoto exhibition that had attracted nearly 30,000
spectators prompted similar comprehensive exhibitions at universities in Hokkaido,
Tokyo, Aichi, Shizuoka, Yamaguchi, and other cities. The tour in Hokkaido was so large
that exhibitions were organized in 30 venues from January through the beginning of
May 1951. In the summer of 1952, Tokyo Heiwa Kaigi (Tokyo Peace Congress) led a tour
in which the Hiroshima Panels and the other panels produced by students of the Tokyo
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Metropolitan University were displayed all over the Tokyo metropolitan area.
Furthermore, young people who lived in the Marukis’ studio, such as Yoshie Yoshida
and Tohru Nonoshita, voluntarily traveled with the Hiroshima Panels and organized
exhibitions in various places. At the same time, the Marukis made a reproduction of
the trilogy of the panels by themselves at the request of organizers of an exhibition in
the United States at the end of 1950. The reproduction was loaned, which made it
possible to organize multiple exhibitions concurrently.11
The tour was proudly described, to take one example, as follows: “The
exhibitions of the Hiroshima Panels held in 108 venues all over Japan attracted as many
as 1.02 million visitors coming from all the strata, ages, and gender (as of June 1952)”
(Maruki and Akamatsu 1952, 120). But the press code and the paucity of records – the
organizers consciously avoided having them for fear of oppression by the occupation
forces – prevent us from knowing the details of the tour. Okamura (2015) has recently
managed to estimate that at least more than 170 exhibitions were held for more than
600 days combined between February 1950 and the end of 1953.
The significance of the Hiroshima Panels as a social movement lies in the way
that they visualized the sufferings of nuclear disaster at the time when they were
concealed because of political pressure. The panels were meant to be not only a
reminder of the atrocities of a past war but also a means of resistance to violence
happening at the time and in future.
For example, in an exhibit in Tachikawa in Tokyo (where a US military base was
located) from August 15 to August 17, 1952, the spectators had the ongoing Korean
War in mind (Figure 4). A visitor stated in a report on the exhibit that “Even now, the
chilling roar [of US military planes] hovers over us, shaking our lives” (Tachikawa Heiwa
Kondankai 1952, 10). Young people who got together at the exhibition founded
Tachikawa Heiwa Kondankai (Tachikawa Peace Group), which became a core of the
local peace movement, for example by producing a gentou (film strip) titled “Base
Tachikawa” with profits earned from the exhibition of the Hiroshima Panels.
11 The reproduction is now owned by the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). It
was displayed with the original trilogy at the Maruki Gallery of the Hiroshima Panels from April to
June 2016 and at Hiroshima MOCA from September to November 2018.
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single political cause: an old woman in a rural village prayed in front of the panels with
her palms together; a temple held a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the
atomic bombing; and the president of a department store where an exhibition was
held got so excited to see his store packed with so many visitors that he distributed
monetary gifts to customers. A great achievement of the Hiroshima Panels nationwide
tour that peaked a few years after 1952 was that it constituted an exceptional case in
which artistic expression formed a network in society and spawned diverse imagination
over war.
When Japan (except Okinawa and Amami) was liberated from occupation
following the entry into force of its peace treaty with the Allied powers on April 28,
1952, it became possible to disclose photos on the atomic bombings without hindrance.
The August 1952 issue of the magazine Asahi Gurahu (The Asahi Picture News)
featured the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, marking the first time a Japanese
serial publication had done so and creating an unprecedented sensation. The
Hiroshima Panels were disseminated in the form of a pictorial book, film, gentou (film
strip), and symphony.14
The growing use of photos of the atomic bombing gradually changed the role
of the Hiroshima Panels as a medium. The incident of tuna boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru
(Lucky Dragon No.5), which sailed from Yaizu, Shizuoka, and was exposed to
radioactivity released by a US hydrogen bomb test, created a groundswell of opinion
and prompted a new movement against atomic and hydrogen bombs. But it is not easy
to trace exhibitions of the panels in those days through newspaper and magazine
3. World Tour
The decreasing interest in the Hiroshima Panels in Japan was partly caused by
the beginning of a world tour. The Hiroshima Panels was given the World Peace Award
by the World Peace Council in January 1953 for their contribution to the petition
campaign of the Stockholm Appeal. In June, Toshi was sent to the second World
Women’s Assembly held in Copenhagen, Denmark, as the vice leader of Japan’s
14 Images of the Hiroshima Panels became prevalent in the media through such works as Maruki
and Akamatsu (1952); the movie “Hiroshima Panels” (produced by Akira Iwasaki and directed by
Tadashi Imai and Michiharu Aoyama, Shinsei Eiga Sha, 1953); gentou “Hiroshima Panels” (presented
by Kinuta Yokoshine, distributed by Tokyo Studio, supervised by Nihon Bunkajin Kaigi [Japan
Intellectuals’ Congress] and produced by Yokohama Shinema Seisakusho [Yokohama Cinema
Production], 1953); and symphony No. 5 “Hiroshima” (composed by Masao Ohki, 1953).
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delegation and then participated in the World Peace Council in Budapest, Hungary. She
had the trilogy of the panels with her, so she asked the council to give her permission
to have them displayed. The council allowed her to do so, and she organized an
exhibition at the Budapest National Museum for five days from June 17. That was the
first time the Hiroshima panels were displayed in a foreign country.
The exhibition of the panels overseas was instrumental in exposing US war
crimes in the context of the Cold War. At the outset, some in the East were cautious
about giving permission to the exhibition for fear that the unimaginable atrocities
depicted in the panels would lower people’s morale. Toshi’s stay in Moscow was bitter,
since the Soviet Union refused to have an exhibition. In Beijing, the Chinese leaders
allowed an exhibit exclusively for intellectuals and experts because they did not want
to damage people’s morale in fighting the Korean War. (Nevertheless, it almost was
opened to the general public because of massive repercussions.)
The panels were then displayed at the corner of the National Museum of Art
of Romania on the sidelines of the World Festival of Youth and Students in Bucharest in
1953. Also, Danish peace activists made a four-day exhibition possible in Copenhagen.
Toshi entrusted the panels to European activists and returned home with Japan’s
delegates. The panels left by the painter then embarked on a European tour, which
began with a year-long tour in Denmark. The panels were sent to Britain in March 1955
and displayed in several cities.15 The World Peace Council coordinated an exhibition at
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in the Netherlands from November 27 to December 27,
1955. It seems that a tour was held in Italian cities such as Rome, Milan, and Turin from
March 1956 on, but the details are not available.
Toshi, after returning to Japan, designed a poster for the first World
Conference against A- and H-Bombs in 1955 and subsequently released with Iri No. 9
YAIZU (on the incident of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru) in 1955 and No. 10 PETITION (on
the petition campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs that had spread out from
Suginami ward, Tokyo) in 1956.
When ten paintings were completed, the trilogy on the European tour was
integrated with the other seven paintings. This led to the formation of the International
Exhibition Committee with a view to carrying out a larger world tour.16
15 St. Mary’s Hall in Coventry (March 3-18), the College of Preceptors (March 26-April 7), and South
London Art Gallery on Heckham Road (July 10-August 4), to name but a few (Maruki 1972, 247).
16 The members of the committee included Robert Giron (Director of the Palais des beaux-arts,
Brussels), Thomas Grochowiak (Director of the Städtische museen, Recklinghausen),
A.M.Hammacher (Director of the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo), Bartlett Hayes (Director of
the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover), Sir Philip Hendy (Director of the National Gallery,
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The first overseas exhibition of the ten paintings was held in Beijing, starting
on August 4, 1956 (Figure 5). In September, the tour moved to cities in Asian
communist countries including Pyongyang and Ulaanbaatar. Skipping the Soviet Union
because of concerns that holding exhibitions there at first would make it difficult to
hold additional ones in Western Europe later, the tour then went to Rotterdam,
Schiedam, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands and then to Brussels from January to
May 1957. The panels subsequently were displayed in Switzerland in May, Sri Lanka in
September, and then in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. But no records of
these exhibitions have been discovered.
Figure 5: Beijing, China, 1956
In 1958, an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney met a harsh response and was
forced to be canceled after only three days: people’s memory of Japan’s ill treatment of
Australian prisoners of war (POWs) at Changi Prison in Singapore was still fresh. The
panels caused a public debate. While a letter to call for cooperation to abolish nuclear
weapons was published in a local newspaper, people’s reaction was largely chilly. So
the organizers decided to send the panels to Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth in
Southwestern Australia, where anti-Japanese sentiment was weak. Since the exhibits
were regarded positively on the western coast,17 some in Sydney began to question
the organizer’s decision to end the display in the city after only three days. This made
London), René Huyghe (Professor, Collège de France, Paris), Franz Meyer (Director of the Kunsthalle,
Bern), Arnold Rudliger (Director of the Kunsthalle, Basel), Lionello Vonturi (Professor, Rome),A.B. de
Vries (Director of The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis), and E.L.L. de Wilde (Director of the
Abbe-museum, Eindhoven). It is said that there were changes of members later, but the details are
unknown. For the world tour, see Bijutsu Undo 55: 1, 17-19 (April 1958).
17 For example, about 15,000 people went to see the panels at Perth Museum in a day.
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possible the return of the panels to Sydney in July; they were then accepted favorably
with 80,000 visitors.18 Then the panels moved to New Zealand, where they were
displayed in Auckland Art Gallery from September 26 to October 17. Here again, the
panels sparked public debates over Japan’s responsibility for the war. The exhibition
had a lasting impact on the antinuclear movement and on art and music in the country
(Sawada 2018).
The tour then went to Leningrad, Kiev, Stalingrad, and Novosibirsk in the USSR,
to Náprstek Museum in Prague in 1960, and back again to Moscow via Hungary.
Because the details of and reactions to the world tour have not been chronicled very
well, it is not easy to evaluate the effects of the tour. At a minimum, the role of the tour
as a pioneer should be recognized. The panels, in the form of paintings that were easily
understandable beyond the boundaries of language, prevented the memories of pain
of humans and life from fading into oblivion in foreign countries where people did not
have much information about the realities of the atomic bombing in the age of the
fierce US-Soviet nuclear arms race.
But even such a large-scale tour had to come to an end. In 1964, Japan’s
antinuclear movement was sharply divided over the Partial Test Ban Treaty.19 The
Marukis submitted an opinion letter to the Japanese Communist Party with other
artists including Setsu Asakura, Churyo Sato, and Shin Hongo, which led the party to
oust the couple from it in 1964. It was in this year that the Hiroshima Panels finally
returned to Japan after a ten-year journey.
4. The late Hiroshima Panels and diversification of subject matter
The next item on the Marukis’ agenda following the world tour was to
construct a museum to preserve and display the panels permanently. After the Marukis’
initial plan to have the museum in Hiroshima had stalled, they finally opened the
Maruki Gallery of the Hiroshima Panels on their own in a piece of land next to their
home in May 1967.
Even after the panels got their permanent home, they were often sent
overseas for exhibitions. These activities gave the couple opportunities to reflect on
the essence of war and violence from multiple perspectives that transcend national
18 Maruki (1972, 11-17) recalls the tour in Australia in detail. According to her, the tour eventually
led Australians to send a 20-member delegation to the World Congress Against A- and H-Bombs the
following year.
19 Generally, Japanese communists considered nuclear tests of the Soviet Union as peaceful, while
other left-wing forces opposed to all the tests.
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borders and ethnicities.
The most striking turning point was a US tour from the end of 1970 through
the next year that began with an exhibition at the New School Art Center in New York
(Figure 6) and went to eight venues (Maruki 1972, 53-54).20 The tour, however, got an
unfavorable reception as is evident in the following article carried by the New York
Times on October 22, 1971: “The panels are perfectly dreadful. Combining Eastern and
Western styles disharmoniously, they are not even effective as designs. But they are
worse than bad art.” A mother who lost her son in Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor
rushed to a venue in protest. Toshi told the American woman that US POWs had also
been killed in Hiroshima, and that atomic bomb should therefore be a common
problem for humanity. Toshi recalled later that she had had a mutual understanding
with the woman. Back in Japan, Toshi conducted a fact-finding tour in Hiroshima to
make a drawing about the POWs.
Figure 6: New York, the United States, 1970 (From left: Iri Maruki, Paul Mocsanyi
[Director of New School Art Center], Toshi Maruki, an unidentified woman, and political
scientist Rinjiro Sodei)
During their visit to Hiroshima, the Marukis met ex-soldiers and others who
20 Amid a growing movement against the Vietnam War, Quakers in the United States helped
arrange the exhibition. The tour went to the New School Art Center in New York (October
14-December 15, 1970); Wilmington University in Wilmington, Ohio (February 14-March 6, 1971);
the Unitarian Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota (March 21-April 10); the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena, California (May 5-26); the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock, Arkansas
(June 9-30); Oakland Museum in California (planned to be held July 21-August 11, but held only for
three days around August 6 due to the “renovation of the venue”); the Ringling Museum in
Sarasota, Florida (October 6-27); and Wichita Art Museum in Wichita, Kansas (planned to be held
on November 10-December 1, but canceled due to the “renovation of the venue”).
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came to see the couple thanks to the solicitation of local newspaper Chigoku Shimbun
and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. According to their eyewitness account, a
US POW whose hands were tied together in a street after the bombing was hit to death
with a bar. 21
The couple had planned to expose the threat of the atomic bomb, which does
not distinguish enemies from friends by robbing all of them of their lives. The painters
soon noticed that the realities of the atomic bombing could not be well captured in
victim/perpetrator dichotomy. This recognition led the couple to work on what would
later become No. 13 DEATH OF AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR, which depicted
residents of Hiroshima silently walking to frightened US soldiers (Figure 7).22 Tow a rd
the completion of the painting, the couple was in anguish. They were not sure if it was
appropriate to depict Japan’s atrocities. Perhaps because of his distress, Iri even went
out of his house for a while without telling where he was going. But they finally made
up their mind – without addressing Japan’s atrocities, their painting would not be
perfect as something to depict war.
Figure 7: The Hiroshima Panels No. 13 DEATH OF AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR, 1971
More than a quarter of a century after the Asia-Pacific War ended, the sense
of victimization among Japanese – often couched in the phrase “the only nation that
suffered the atomic bombing” – had gradually been eroded. Included in those who
were killed by the bombs are not only Japanese, but also forced laborers under the
colonial rule of Japan and non-Japanese people such as international students and
POWs. In the 1970s, growing attention was paid to lawsuits to seek support for
21 The Chugoku Shimbun and the Saitama Shimbun reported on February 12 and February 17, 1971,
respectively, that the Marukis had an interview with the head of a special cooperation unit of the
Japan Army’s Military Police Headquarters and an ex-soldier who belonged to an Army infantry
supplementary unit and took care of the US prisoners of war.
22 For details, see Maruki (1972, 56-78). Thanks to an investigation by Shigeaki Mori, the facts that
are different from those found in Marukis’ investigation have been established with regard to the
number of POWs in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing, and their sex.
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overseas atomic bomb survivors, and the issue of Korean drafted laborers was
“discovered.” Michiko Ishimure was the first writer to pick up the issue in her report
“Chrysanthemum and Nagasaki: The remains of Korean atomic victims in silence”
(Ishimure 1968). The image presented by the writer – a crow was pecking the corpse of
a Korean who had been abandoned due to discrimination that lasted even after death
– stimulated the Marukis to produce No. 14 CROWS in 1972 (Figure 8).23
Figure 8: The Hiroshima Panels No. 14 CROWS, 1972
As for the American POWs and Korean victims, not many primary sources have
been preserved. The memories are still subject to public debates over their
authenticity. Nobody can prove their pain and anguish. But the Marukis successfully
collected the ignored voices of the dead as if they were a type of folklore of the 20th
century and, through their imagination, gave form to them in paintings.
Over the course of the 1970s and the 1980s, the Hiroshima Panels made
another tour, which is remarkable in that it was supported by various local groups and
that No. 14 CROW was displayed in the most venues along with the early works. The
panels produced during this period stimulated imagination among viewers of the
panels to prevent Japanese from repeating the atrocities.
Thanks to the opening of Sanyo Shinkansen (bullet train) in 1975 and a
proposal of Tamotsu Eguchi, a junior high school teacher in Katsushika, Tokyo, there
was an increasing number of Japanese high school and junior high schools that visited
Hiroshima on school excursions to listen to the stories of atomic-bomb survivors. This
created growing opportunities for the schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area to visit
the Maruki Gallery to prepare for the excursion. Surrounded by students, Toshi often
talked about the atrocities of war from the perspectives both of victims and of
perpetrators in front of THE RAPE OF NANKING in which Japanese soldiers cruelly
raped and slaughtered Chinese people.
23 For details of the production, see Maruki (1972, 277-290). For the authenticity of the event that
Ishimure depicted, see Kurokawa (2015).
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In 1975, the Marukis visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland for
the first time. Two years later, after a long preparation, the couple finally completed a
large-scale AUSCHWITZ with a width of 16 meters. Numerous images of the oppression
of Jews were illustrated as if they swirled in a screen: an iron gate with the slogan
Arbeit macht frei”; a procession of people who were ousted from their town; a
punishment of hanging and shooting as a warning to other detainees; barbed wire with
high-voltage electricity; the striped uniform of detainees; a pile of cut hair; and naked
women who groaned in a gas chamber. Although Toshi used photos and resources for
her reference, she confessed that “the interior of the gas chamber was an exception. I
drew it only through my imagination.24 There is no one who survived the gas killing to
tell us about it. Whether it is Nanking, Auschwitz, or Hiroshima, people who knew what
happened on the very spot are nonexistent.
In the summer of 1978, the panels toured ten cities in France.25 The young
people who helped arrange the tour belonged to the groups that were concerned
about the nuclear issue from an environmental point of view. Prompted by the
question about pollution in Minamata in Kumamoto prefecture that French
participants raised, the Marukis visited the city for the first time in November 1979.26
Guided by people including Michiko Ishimure, they met victims of organic mercury
pollution – an extremely shocking journey for them. In MINAMATA, a large-scale
painting with a width of 15 meters, they depicted people and animals who groaned in
paralysis, drains discharging mercury, and fishing boats floating on the Shiranui Sea in
an unfettered fashion with no distinction between sky and land, thus creating a world
of chaos. The Marukis stated that “Minamata disease is a delayed atomic bomb.27
Furthermore, the Marukis visited Okinawa for the first time in 1978 to hold an
exhibition of the Hiroshima Panels. In the island, they listened to the voices of people
who had gone through fierce ground battles involving civilians. One thing that
astounded the couple was the tragic story of mass suicide.28
24 Chugoku Shimbun, February 17, 1977.
25 Cherbourg (May 13-17, 1978), Molay (May 19-21), Nantes (May 22-24), Bayonne (May 27-June
6), Millau (June 5-11), Chambéry (June 21-25), Haguenau (June 29-July 2), Metz (July 4-6),
Haguenau for the second time, and Paris (dates unknown).
26 A pollution caused by methylmercury discharged from a chemical factory to the sea in the south
of Kumamoto prefecture. This caused paralysis and disorders in the central nerves of local residents,
and even killed some people.
27 Director Noriaki Tsuchimoto produced a film called “The Minamata Murals” in 1981. Michiko
Ishimure read out her own poem, and composer Tohru Takemitsu offered music for the film. The
film was highly praised and won the 23rd Mainichi Geijutsu Sho (Mainichi Art Prize).
28 In the battles, Japanese soldiers induced, forced or even ordered many Okinawans to kill
themselves. Indoctrinated with the belief that being held captive by the enemy was shame of the
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In 1982, the Marukis released No. 15 NAGASAKI (Figure 9). Although they had
already drawn small pieces such as MITSUBISHI STEEL WORKS and REMAINS OF THE
CATHEDRAL in 1953, this was the first opportunity for them to address the issue of
Nagasaki in the series of the Hiroshima Panels. For the couple who witnessed the
barbarities in Hiroshima, what happened in Nagasaki was remote. They might have
begun to feel compelled to draw the event in Nagasaki, the other city devastated by
the atomic bomb, through their encounters with Nanking, Auschwitz, and Minamata,
as they did not have firsthand experience with any of those. NAGASAKI eventually
became the last in the series of the Hiroshima Panels.
Figure 9: The Hiroshima Panels No. 15 NAGASAKI, 1982
After 1982, the Marukis visited Okinawa almost every year. In Okinawa the
essence of war – that the military does not defend civilians – was clearly visible. The
Marukis considered that drawing the Battle of Okinawa was the best way to portray
war in general. Listening to the survivors inspired the Marukis to hold a paintbrush.
Eventually, they produced a series of 14 paintings on the Battle of Okinawa. In
1983, there was a series of eight: KUMEJIMA ISLAND MASSACRE I, KUMEJIMA ISLAND
OKINAWA. In 1986, they produced CAPE KYAN and THE CAVE, and in 1987, a series of
three paintings on Yomitan village: CHIBICHIRI CAVE, SHIMUKU CAVE, and ZANPA
OJISHI. 29 In the Marukis’ collaboration, the number of paintings on Okinawa was
surpassed only by the 15 Hiroshima Panels. In the Okinawa series, they drew a wide
range of scenes, such as massacre of civilians by Japanese soldiers, people who killed
highest order, many people “voluntarily chose” to take their lives by themselves. Toshi wrote that
“In Okinawa, I was told to draw war in Okinawa. If I can draw the Battle of Okinawa, the true
perpetrators will come out” (Maruki 1978, 11).
29 In the village, more than half of about 140 residents who ran into Chibichiri cave were forced to
kill themselves. In contrast, nearly 1,000 people in Shimuku cave surrendered to the US forces and
survived. The Marukis depicted the contrast in a series of three paintings.
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themselves in a cave, and female students who were killed while caring for injured
soldiers. In particular, THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA was a masterpiece that had a
long-lasting impact on viewers: The painting, a large-scale work with a height of 4
meters and a width of 8.5 meters, portrayed various memories of the battle in a single
screen with a contrast of black Chinese ink with a white blank in the bottom right (this
might be a blank of memory), and with an eye-catching blue of sea and vermillion of
flames (Figure 10).
Figure 10: THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA, 1984
At the outset, THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA was displayed in the Maruki Gallery,
but moved to Sakima Museum, which opened in 1994, for permanent display. To build
the museum, which he heads, Michio Sakima, after a long negotiation, reclaimed his
ancestors’ land that the United States had expropriated to construct Marine Corps Air
Station Futenma (Sakima 2014). Currently, Okinawa is still roiled by the issue of military
base, as is shown in the construction of a new base in the Henoko district of Nago in
northern Okinawa. The significance of THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA stands out in this
context. It not only tells the memories of war, but also connects the ongoing problem
with past history in a museum that is located next to a US base. The role played by the
painting may be analogous to the one played by the Hiroshima Panels in the 1950s.
5. Conclusion
The collaboration of the Marukis that began with the Hiroshima Panels is
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startling in its radical shift in, and the breadth of its subjects. But a close look at their
paintings reveals their steadfast preoccupation with history from the perspectives of
the most seriously affected. Also invariable throughout their life is their way of
producing paintings: they tried to listen to others’ voices and pour numerous
memories into a painting in multilayered expressions, rather than relying on their own
firsthand experiences. American historian John W. Dower also noted that “historical
memory is fickle and the influence of powerful visual images is incalculable. Much of
what the Marukis have painted might well be nearly forgotten already if they had not
given us such strong images to hold on to” (Dower 1990, 205).
History is shaped by an accumulation of people’s memories. But the
perspectives of the vulnerable are all too often neglected and forgotten as time passes.
How thoroughly can we listen to the memories of individuals that are often left
unnoticed in the records based on the grand narrative of history? How can we
construct our own ideas from these memories? These are the questions that the
paintings of the Marukis have posed.
It was inevitable that the Marukis, having started with the issue of the
Hiroshima bombing, came to fundamentally question the meaning of violence through
their exchanges in exhibitions all over Japan and the world. Violence has existed at all
times and in every single society. The atomic bomb is only part of it. It can even be said
that the world is sustained by structural violence such as pollution, poverty,
discrimination, and military bases. Young people who live in today’s complex society
might be victimized even without war. Nevertheless, it is not as easy for us to feel
others’ pain as to feel our own. While suffering that takes place in one’s own country is
discernible under a stream of information in education and the media, the pain of
people in other countries is easily forgotten both consciously and unconsciously. This is
where imagination is called for.
By extending our imagination over the dead in the past and imbuing them
with a renewed life, we can build a bulwark to prevent similar atrocities from being
perpetrated. Passing down the memories of pain may also invigorate people who are
suffering in different contexts. Violence tears people’s minds apart and threatens their
lives. But imagining the pain of others can eventually be life-saving by preventing
further violence from being repeated.
We are always facing problems in life. Behind the paintings that the Marukis
have left stand the memories of countless numbers of people who have suffered and
died. It is imperative for us to listen to the voices of the voiceless dead and try to
understand the “memories” that we have not experienced, as a torch in our survival in
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this world full of hardships.
Dower, J. W. 1990. “War, Peace, and Beauty: The Art of Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki.” In
Genbaku no Zu [The Hiroshima Panels], edited by Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki,
133-156. Tokyo: Komine Shoten.
Ishimure, M. 1968. “Kiku to Nagasaki: Hibaku Chosenjin no Ikotsu wa Mokushite
Katarazu” [Chrysanthemum and Nagasaki: The remains of Korean atomic victims
in silence], Asahi Jaanaru, August 11.
Jesty, J. 2018. Art and Engagement in Early Postwar Japan. Ithaca, NY: Cornell
Kozawa, S. 2002. Genbaku no Zu: Egakareta “Kioku”, Katarareta “Kaiga” [The Hiroshima
Panels: Drawn “Memories” and Told “Paintings”]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
Kurokawa, I. 2015. “Hibaku Taikenki ni Egakareta Chosenjin Hibakusha no Sugata: 1970
Nendai made” [Korean atomic-bomb victims in hibakushas’ memoirs until the
1970s], Genbaku Bungaku Kenkyu 14: 251-263.
Maruki, I. 1988. Ruru Henreki [The Course of My Life]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
Maruki, T. 1958. Seisei Ruten [Everything Changes]. Tokyo: Jitsugyo no Nihonsha.
Maruki, T. 1972. Yurei: Genbaku no Zu Sekai Junrei [The Ghost: A World Pilgrimage of
the Hiroshima Panels]. Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha.
Maruki, T. 1978. “Okinawa wo Hajimete Tazunete: Minshu to Senso no Mondai wo Do
Toraeruka” [Visiting Okinawa for the first time: How do we understand the issue of
people and war?], Nicchu 88: 6-11
Maruki, I., and T. Akamatsu. 1952. Genbaku no Zu [The Hiroshima Panels] Tokyo: Aoki
Mori, S. 2008. Genbaku de Shinda Beihei Hishi [A Secret History of US Soldiers Who
Were Killed by the Atomic Bomb]. Tokyo: Kojinsha.
Okamura, Y. 2015. Gembaku no Zu Zenkoku Junkai [A Nationwide Tour of the Hiroshima
Panels]. Tokyo: Shinjuku Shobo.
Sakima, M. 2014. Aato de Heiwa wo Tsukuru: Okinawa Sakima Bijutsukan no Kiseki
[Creating Peace through Art: A Path of the Sakima Museum in Okinawa]. Tokyo:
Iwanami Shoten.
Sawada, H. J. 2018. “The Hiroshima Panels: Their Reverberations in the Arts of
Nuclear-Free New Zealand, The Journal of the Japan Society for New Zealand
Studies 25: 14-23.
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Tachikawa Heiwa Kondankai. 1952. Heiwa no Tame ni [For Peace]. Tokyo: Tachikawa.
Yoneyama, L. 2015. “Maruki Iri to Maruki Toshi: ‘Kaku’ wo Egaku to Iukoto” [Iri Maruki
and Toshi Maruki: Drawing ‘nuclear’], In Hitobito no Seishinshi 2: Chosen no Senso
– 1950 Nendai [A History of People’s Thoughts, Vol.2: The Korean War in the
1950s], edited by Tessa Morris-Suzuki, 133-156, Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
Yoshida, Y. 1996. Maruki Iri Toshi no Jikuu [The Time and Space of Iri and Toshi Maruki].
Tokyo: Aoki Shoten.
In Japan, there were continuities between wartime image production and early post-war images of the devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The artist Akamatsu Toshiko (later known as Maruki Toshi), illustrated patriotic children’s books during the war but would go on to produce what became known as the Hiroshima panels with her husband Maruki Iri. The Marukis were able to avoid the censorship that had been imposed on film footage and photographs of what occurred at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their mural-sized paintings, begun in the late 1940s, toured throughout Japan. The Hiroshima panels formed the core of exhibitions that sought to address the use of the atomic bomb and to educate the Japanese public about the dangers and possibilities opened up by the atomic age.
Seisei Ruten [Everything Changes
  • T Maruki
Maruki, T. 1958. Seisei Ruten [Everything Changes]. Tokyo: Jitsugyo no Nihonsha.
Aato de Heiwa wo Tsukuru: Okinawa Sakima Bijutsukan no Kiseki [Creating Peace through Art: A Path of the Sakima Museum in Okinawa
  • M Sakima
Sakima, M. 2014. Aato de Heiwa wo Tsukuru: Okinawa Sakima Bijutsukan no Kiseki [Creating Peace through Art: A Path of the Sakima Museum in Okinawa]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
The Hiroshima Panels: Their Reverberations in the Arts of Nuclear-Free New Zealand
  • H J Sawada
Sawada, H. J. 2018. "The Hiroshima Panels: Their Reverberations in the Arts of Nuclear-Free New Zealand," The Journal of the Japan Society for New Zealand Studies 25: 14-23.
Hibaku Taikenki ni Egakareta Chosenjin Hibakusha no Sugata: 1970 Nendai made
  • I Kurokawa
Kurokawa, I. 2015. "Hibaku Taikenki ni Egakareta Chosenjin Hibakusha no Sugata: 1970 Nendai made" [Korean atomic-bomb victims in hibakushas' memoirs until the 1970s], Genbaku Bungaku Kenkyu 14: 251-263.
Ruru Henreki [The Course of My Life
  • I Maruki
Maruki, I. 1988. Ruru Henreki [The Course of My Life]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
Genbaku no Zu [The Hiroshima Panels] Tokyo: Aoki Shoten
  • I Maruki
  • T Akamatsu
Heiwa no Tame ni [For Peace
  • Kondankai Tachikawa Heiwa
War, Peace, and Beauty: The Art of Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki
  • J W Dower
Dower, J. W. 1990. "War, Peace, and Beauty: The Art of Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki." In Genbaku no Zu [The Hiroshima Panels], edited by Iri Maruki and Toshi Maruki, 133-156. Tokyo: Komine Shoten.
Kiku to Nagasaki: Hibaku Chosenjin no Ikotsu wa Mokushite Katarazu" [Chrysanthemum and Nagasaki: The remains of Korean atomic victims in silence
  • M Ishimure
Ishimure, M. 1968. "Kiku to Nagasaki: Hibaku Chosenjin no Ikotsu wa Mokushite Katarazu" [Chrysanthemum and Nagasaki: The remains of Korean atomic victims in silence], Asahi Jaanaru, August 11.