chapter  3
16 Pages

The most modern city in the world

Isamu Noguchi’s cenotaph controversy and Hiroshima’s city of peace
WithRan Zwigenberg

During a 1951 press conference upon his arrival in Hiroshima, the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi startled reporters with the comment, “Hiroshima is probably the most modern city in the world.” Noguchi’s statement expressed the ambivalence many in Japan and beyond felt toward Hiroshima in the aftermath of the bomb. Hiroshima was an expression of a modern nightmare, a failure of the enlightenment narrative of science and progress, but Hiroshima was also a tabula rasa, an urban space open for a complete reconstruction of the city, and “[for] clearing the blinders of convention to enable a bold modernity.” Indeed, the ambivalent and conflicting meanings of the bombing continued to plague the commemoration of the bombing and rebuilding of the stricken city. This chapter examines Hiroshima’s relation to nuclear modernity through a look at the controversy surrounding the rejection of Isamu Noguchi’s design for the Hiroshima cenotaph. During the debates sparkled by the design and its rejection, competing visions of Hiroshima’s identity and relation to the bomb were displayed and argued about as postwar Hiroshima tried to make peace with its modern past.