Hiroshima

by: John Hersey

Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto

A thoughtful and kind Methodist pastor, Mr. Tanimoto works endlessly to help bring many of the nameless dying and wounded to safety. He is unhurt by the bomb and feels ashamed to be healthy while surrounded by so much human misery; so he spends more time and energy than any other character helping the wounded. He is later affected by radiation sickness and he loses much of his vitality and energy. After the war, he travels to America to give speeches and raise money for a peace center in Japan. He lavishes praise on the American people and government, calling them generous and “the greatest civilization in human history.” His newfound popularity ends up backfiring, as many in both Japan and America consider him a publicity seeker. Ironically, because of all the time he spends in the U.S., he ends up missing out on the development of a grassroots Japanese peace movement in which he does not get to play any part.

Of the six people profiled in Hiroshima, Mr. Tanimoto comes across as the most complex and difficult to understand. With his dedicated hard work in the days after the bombing, he seems to embody the personal humility and group-consciousness characteristic of Japanese culture. Yet at the same time, his actions seem very self-conscious because he, of all the characters, feels the strongest ties to America, ties that he knows cause suspicion. The pressure he feels to prove his loyalty to Japan reveals an important cultural dynamic at the time: Japanese citizens with foreign ties were even more suspect than actual foreigners such as Father Kleinsorge. As a Japanese man with ties to America, Mr. Tanimoto feels a constant guilt and drive to prove his loyalty. Despite all his hard work, however, Mr. Tanimoto fails to achieve the respect he craves from the Japanese, and his sycophantic praise of the Americans not only seems insincere, but also causes governmental suspicion.

Of all the characters, Mr. Tanimoto undergoes the most drastic postwar lifestyle changes, constantly traveling around the U.S., appearing on television, and trying to start his peace center. Hersey spends more time writing about him than about anyone else, and he ends the narrative with a description of an aging Mr. Tanimoto in his comfortable, modern home. Mr. Tanimoto’s life could serve as a twentieth-century political allegory of what happens when good intentions are coupled with miscalculated methods and an exaggerated need to please.