Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Hiroshima Global Peace Monitor Clock

Reading Japanese news—or trying to, I should say—is my main method of learning Japanese these days. As I watched the usual flurry of kanji in Japanese news feeds last week and many words whiz by without being recognized, one small news item that went under the radar caught my eye. The Mainichi news article itself was as short as a blip. The article's title is:

『原爆資料館:「平和監視時計」19回目のリセット 』

Translated to English, it reads:

"Atomic Bomb Museum: 'Peace Monitor Clock' reset for 19th time"

(Note that 原爆資料館 translates to Atomic Bomb Museum, but it is also called the Peace Memorial Museum. A Japanese vocabulary list is available at the end of this blog post. A similar article in English is available on the Hiroshima Peace Media Center website.)

The Global Peace Monitor Clock in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum consists of a large analog clock on top (Japan's own Seiko brand), and two digital counters below it. The first digital counter displays the number of days since the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Below it, the second digital counter indicates the number of days since the date of the last nuclear weapons test conducted in the world. Here are the Japanese inscriptions on the clock tower:

(Number of days since atomic bombing of Hiroshima
Since August 8, 1945)

(Number of days since last nuclear weapons test)

According to the article, on August 21, 2013, the second digital counter was turned back from 190 days to 98 days. This was brought about by the museum's confirmation that the US government conducted a test for a new kind of nuclear weapon on May 15, 2013. So 98 is the number of days between that test date and the day the digital counter was reset. The number would have incremented by a few days while I write this. The confirmation apparently came after the US National Nuclear Security Administration published the approximate time frame of the test on their website. The Chugoku Shimbun confirmed the date of the test with the US agency. The amount of time which elapsed between the date of the test and its confirmation is notable. It brings to mind that there is a finite probablity that some tests go unreported.

This most recent reset was the 19th since the clock was installed on August 6, 2001. Nineteen resets in 12 years averages to 1.6 confirmed nuclear weapons tests per year. At this rate, there have been probably few times, if any, when the second counter exceeded 365 days.

The previous number, 190, indicated the number of days from February 12, 2013, the date when North Korea conducted nuclear weapons testing earlier this year. In that case, the counter was reset from 69 to 0 the day North Korea made the announcement about the test. The Hiroshima Peace Media Center, owned by the Chugoku Shimbun, has an article which includes a photo of the clock counter after it was reset to 0. You can also see a large photo of the clock in this link, taken one day after the North Korea nuclear weapons test in February.

The head of the Peace Memorial Museum, Kenji Shiga, was naturally disappointed by the news, saying that the museum's mission of disseminating information about the effects of radiation from atomic bombs has not been achieved.

A clock with a contrasting and ominous name but similar underlying concept is the Doomsday Clock, which is maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Unlike the the Peace Monitor Clock, which measures physical time, the Doomsday Clock measures the metaphorical time of how closely humanity has approached global disaster. And, unlike the Hiroshima clock, which is triggered by nuclear weapons testing, the Doomsday Clock does not have a hard trigger, but instead takes into account various factors, such as nuclear weapons proliferation and testing, global climate change, and threats from emerging biotechnologies and cybertechnology. Both clocks, however, are report cards of a kind. By the Doomsday Clock, it is currently 5 minutes to midnight.

The simple design of the Hiroshima Peace Monitor Clock is ingenious. The counter for the number of days since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was at 24852 days as of August 21. The juxtaposition of this large number with the much smaller number indicating the recency of nuclear weapons testing serves as a reminder of the general state of humanity's collective memory. The people who conceptualized the clock were perhaps hoping that the second counter would eventually catch up with the first in the coming decades—catch up in the sense that the ratio of the two clocks would approach unity asymptotically with the balm of time. But perhaps it is more likely that they knew certain truths about governments and national interests—truths which apply just as well to other events as to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Hiroshima Peace Monitor Clock measures how quickly events can become historical, and how slowly change can come about, and even regress. By the Hiroshima clock, these measures of time currently differ in proportion by two orders of magnitude—that's already the length of several irreplaceable generations—and ticking.


Japanese vocabulary

Here is a Japanese vocabulary list relevant to the Mainichi news article:

原爆 [げんばく] atomic bomb; A-bomb
資料館 [しりょうかん] museum; reference library; archive; record office
平和 [へいわ] peace; harmony
監視 [かんし] observation; guarding; inspection; surveillance
時計 [とけい] watch; clock; timepiece
回目 [かいめ] -Nth time around
リセット reset
最後 [さいご] last; end; conclusion; latest; most recent
核実験 [かくじっけん] nuclear weapons test
日数 [にっすう] a number of days
地球 [ちきゅう] the earth; the globe
広島 [ひろしま] Hiroshima (city)
米国 [べいこく] America; USA
新型 [しんがた] new type; new style; new model; new strain (e.g. infectious disease)
実施 [じっし] enforcement; implementation; putting into practice (practise); carrying out; operation; working (e.g. working parameters); enactment
受ける [うける] to sustain (damage); to incur (a loss); to suffer (an injury); to feel (influence)
直前 [ちょくぜん] just before
示す [しめす] to denote; to show; to point out; to indicate; to exemplify
数字 [すうじ] {math} numeral; figure; digit; numeric character
戻す [もどす] to restore; to put back; to return; to give back
設置 [せっち] (1) establishment; institution; (2) installation (of a machine or equipment)
北朝鮮 [きたちょうせん] North Korea
以来 [いらい] since; henceforth
確認 [かくにん] affirmation; confirmation; validation
志賀 [しが] (proper noun) Shiga
賢治 [けんじ] (proper noun) Kenji
館長 [かんちょう] superintendent; director; curator; chief librarian
残念 [ざんねん] deplorable; bad luck; regret; disappointment
複雑 [ふくざつ] complex; complicated
心境 [しんきょう] mental state
被爆 [ひばく] (1) being bombed; (2) being A-bombed; being nuked; being exposed to radiation (from an atomic blast)
実相 [じっそう] reality; real state of affairs; true state of affairs
伝える [つたえる] to convey; to report; to transmit; to communicate; to tell; to impart; to propagate; to teach; to bequeath
使命 [しめい] mission; errand; message
きちんと precisely; accurately; neatly
伝わる [つたわる] to be handed down; to be introduced; to be transmitted; to be circulated; to go along; to walk along
述べる [のべる] to state; to express; to mention
団体 [だんたい] organization; organisation; association
つくる to organize; to organise; to establish; to found
核兵器 [かくへいき] nuclear weapons
廃絶 [はいぜつ] extinction; abolition
連洛会議 [れんらくかいぎ] a liaison conference
慰霊 [いれい] comfort the spirit (of the dead)
碑 [ひ] stone monument bearing an inscription (esp. memorial for future generations)
抗議 [こうぎ] protest; objection
座り込み [すわりこみ] sit-in (i.e. in protest)


If this article has been useful, informative, or interesting, please consider subscribing to this blog by email or RSS using the forms on the sidebar, or through other means of following. Your support will help this blog grow and provide motivation for continuing to create well-written, informative, and interesting content. Thank you for visiting!

No comments:

Post a Comment