Lantern Float honors survivors and victims of the atomic bomb

Photo by John Keller of the 2017 lantern float
Photo credit: John Keller | Used with permission

August 3, 2018 by Erin Chambers

Nobuko Tsukui was a child living in Tokyo when the United States Army Air Forces dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, killing more 200,000 people. Forever changed by her experience, she has dedicated her life to sharing the stories of the hibakusha—survivors of an atomic bomb. She moved to the United States in 1961 to pursue a master's degree in English at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, which she received in 1964. She  went on to earn her Ph.D. in English from the university in 1967, with a dissertation on Ezra Pound's engagements with Japanese Noh theatre. Since then, she has taught at George Mason University, published a book on Noh plays and translated several works of Japanese literature.

Tsukui’s scholarship and translation work focuses on genbaku bungaku, the atomic bomb literature of Japan. Through diaries, poems, works of fiction, and documentary accounts, writers like Shoda Shinoe have used literature to give voice to their experiences. Shoda, a poet injured during the raid on Hiroshima, turned her poetic lens to the trauma visited on the Japanese people and began writing genbaku bungaku in the form of traditional tanka poetry. Like so many others, Shoda struggled to get her writing published due to its subject matter. Thanks to her courage and persistence, her poems were finally published—and have since been translated into English by Tsukui in The Atomic Bomb Literature of Japan: An Introduction and Translations.

On Saturday, August 11, a lantern float and ceremony at Holmes Lake Park will commemorate the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nebraskans have gathered this way every year for the past 35 years, reflecting on the atrocities of the past, addressing the problems of the present, and committing to work toward a denuclearized future. This year’s event—sponsored by the Lincoln chapter of Nebraskans for Peace, the United Nations Association of Nebraska, and a number of Lincoln churches—will celebrate the power of art to create meaning out of the pain of nuclear holocaust and spur humanity toward change.

This year’s lantern float was organized by UNL Professor Emeritus of English Paul Olson, who remains a close friend of Tsukui’s since her time at the university. “Without my parents, I would not have been born,” says Tsukui. “Without Paul Olson, who I am now would not have existed.” Olson has organized the event for many years on behalf of Nebraskans for Peace, of which he is a former president and current at-large representative. Also involved in the event is UNL Professor Emeritus of English Bob Haller, who will be giving a reading to reflect on the present political climate and discourse about nuclear armament.

Nobuko Tsukui was a frequent speaker and participant at the annual event, even after her return to Tokyo in 2011, but she is unable to be present this year. In her stead, UNL Aaron Douglas Professor of English Stephen Buhler will read poems by Shoda Shinoe that were translated by Tsukui. 

Professors Buhler, Olson, and Haller invite you to join them for the 35th annual lantern float, which will be held on the northeast shore of Holmes Lake, Saturday, August 11, at 7:00 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. A full schedule, with information about the sponsoring organizations, is available online.