Critiques on Kenzo Tange’s Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima

Being made possible by the “Hiroshima Peace City Construction Law,” the construction of the Peace Memorial Park has granted a special status to Hiroshima, dubbing it a Mecca of world peace. When this law was passed in August 1949, the mayor of Hiroshima, Shinzō Hamai, addressed the city’s reconstruction, defining its civic ambitions as such: “the people of Hiroshima decided definitely to stand for peace and wanted to demonstrate it to the world by molding their ruined community into a monument of permanent peace.” From this effort, it can be seen that the U.S. occupation force and the Japanese government share some common interests. It was the former’s wish to separate the American military use of the atomic bomb from Hiroshima’s disaster, whereas the latter would like to create the impression that there was not necessarily a causal relationship between the bomb and Japanese aggression in its colonies across Asia. Some scholars also asserted that this peace narrative was in favor of the ‘starting over’ ideology, which demanded removal of the traumas of war, pertaining to both Hiroshima as well as Japan’s colonies, from the collective consciousness of the public.

Moreover, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial park was based on symmetrical configuration and axial composition, and was designed in a similar fashion with that of the commemorative monument in Tange’s wartime proposal.  Referring to these parallels, critics have claimed that Tange’s vision for a majestic monument for Greater East Asia was realized at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, even though it was on a much smaller scale (Figure 1). Among these critics was Shōichi Inoue, who initiated the ignition of the highly debated reexamination of wartime architecture in the 1980s. Pursuant to this disputable assertion, the similarity between Tange’s wartime and postwar designs that has been neglected for a long time has come into the spotlight. Since then, Tange’s smooth transformation from an agent of propaganda for imperial Japan to a renowned memorialist of a nation that upholds peace and democracy has been viewed in a different light, and is considered to be symptomatic of the public ceasing to commit its lasting imperial legacy to memory.

Tange’s design of the Peace Memorial Park represented a new direction for post-war architecture in Japan and united the citizens in the process of promoting peace, which helped to rebuild Hiroshima from the destructive atomic bomb.

Figure 1. Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere Memorial Hall Competition in 1942

Bibliography

Carola, H. (2003). Rebuilding Urban Japan after 1945. Palgrave Macmillan, Pg 87.

Lin, Z. (2006). City as Process: Tange Kenzo and the Japanese Urban Utopias, 1959-70. Tange’s Postwar Transition and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Pg 69-73.

Cho, H. (2011). Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Making of Japanese Postwar Architecture.

1 Comment on “Critiques on Kenzo Tange’s Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima

  1. Hi Charmain, your analysis on true peace is an insightful one. If you’re interested to research further, you could take a step back and look at Japanese architecture more broadly.

    Japan’s history has been plagued by both natural and man-made disasters, which led to what Koolhaas called “an obsession to tabula rasa”. From earthquakes to war expansion of territory, one could say that the pursuit of peace for postwar Japan would appear to be another opportunity for architects like Tange to explore utopian ideas of city reconstruction. This, in turn, built the foundation for the rise of Metabolism in the late 1950s.

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