Bonsai Tree Survived Hiroshima, Now in D.C.

White pine now at National Arboretum

At 8:15 on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Col. Paul Tibbets dropped a bomb called “Little Boy” from a B-29 known as the Enola Gay onto the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The world’s first atomic bombing immediately killed about 80,000 people; at least 50,000 more would die due to injury or radiation by the close of that year.

Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. A week after that, Emperor Hirohito announced the unconditional surrender of Japan, bringing the Second World War to an end.

Sixty-five years later, a debate persists about the ethics and appropriateness of the U.S. action. Was the use of nuclear weaponry against a largely civilian target justified? Was President Harry Truman right in asserting that his responsibility was to minimize U.S. casualties by any means necessary?

That debate will never be resolved.

The Enola Gay is now housed at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum for visitors to see. But another reminder of Aug. 6, 1945, is also in the Washington area, in a quiet corner of the U.S. National Arboretum.

In 1976, Japanese bonsai master Masaru Yamaki donated a pine tree to the arboretum’s National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. The white pine is nearly four centuries old, the oldest specimen in the museum’s Japanese Bonsai Collection. That alone makes it exceptional.

Even more incredible is the fact that the tiny pine tree survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

“Little Boy” exploded less than two miles from the Yamaki family home. The blast blew out all the glass windows in the house, and flying shards injured everyone inside. But no one suffered permanent injury. Yamaki’s bonsai trees, protected by a high wall, were amazingly undamaged.

By 1976, Japan and the U.S. had been allied and at peace for three decades. Yamaki made the bonsai part of his nation’s gift to the United States on the occasion of the American bicentennial.

As the National Arboretum says, “The Yamaki pine is truly a testament to peace and beauty, and we are fortunate to realize the miracle of its survival in 1945.”

People in the D.C. region can visit the tree at the Arboretum.  Click here for more information.

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