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Vietnamese empathy moves Japan to tears

Update: June, 22/2014 - 16:56

Peace envoy: Huynh Ngoc Van talks about the photos by Bunyo Ishikawa at the opening ceremony of the exhibition 50 Years of War and Peace, Viet Nam in Tokyo on May 21. — Photo Bunyo Ishikawa

by Nguyen Khanh Chi

Huynh Ngoc Van has travelled to Japan many times, spoken on the war and the effects of Agent Orange in Viet Nam, but this time she faced questions not related to her trip.

Japanese, especially the young, raised a mountain of inquiries about the current developments in the East Sea.

As the director of the HCM City-based War Remnants Museum, she had been invited to present a photo collection by renowned Japanese photographer Bunyo Ishikawa, featuring Viet Nam during war and peace time.

The display 50 Years of War and Peace, Viet Nam featuring 60 photos Ishikawa took in the country marks the 50th anniversary of his arrival in South Viet Nam in 1964 for the first time.

The eight-day trip late last month took Van to four cities - Tokyo, Okinawa, Nagano, and Fukushima.

Hectic days of working did not tire her at all because, for her, it is a journey of love, sharing and understanding.

Before and after

"Ishikawa's photos provide a deeply moving account of life in war and peace time. They help change the way of thinking of many Japanese, both old and young, about war," said Van.

"The exhibition is particularly welcome and admired because the number of war reporters alive is just a few, so as the number of valuable photos. He is the only Japanese, but international war reporter, who recorded the war both in the south and north of Viet Nam, which makes his collection unique.

"Also, he was the one to return to the country during peace time and travel to the places he had set foot on, to see how and where his subjects are living and what they are doing," she said.

Born in 1938 in a poverty-stricken family, Ishikawa did not receive general education, let alone professional training in photography. He began working as a war photographer in Viet Nam in 1964. In 1998, he presented 260 photos to Van's museum. Two-thirds of them have been exhibited regularly since then.

Ishikawa said he would gift Van another 150 photos, including the current exhibits to be displayed next year to celebrate the 40 years of Viet Nam's reunification and 40th anniversary of the museum. Till then, the 50 Years of War and Peace, Viet Nam will be displayed around Japan until the year end.

"What I found most striking from his photos was that he did not only capture the soldiers' operations, but highlighted the pain, fear and loss of the Vietnamese people in the war, especially farmers, women and children," the museum's director said.

‘Many people cried'

Apart from the three cities which will hold the mobile exhibitions, Van set foot in Fukushima. She arrived here for a display of paintings by Vietnamese children who expressed their sentiments and encouragement towards victims of the deadly tsunami that hit Fukushima Prefecture in 2011 and those who are suffering from the radiation exposure from nuclear plants in the region. The display went along with a workshop on Vietnamese donations to Japanese.

"I told them the story of disabled children and Agent Orange victims making and selling cherry blossoms so they could gift the money to the people of Fukushima. Many people cried," said Van.

She also told them a story about a drawing contest for children launched in HCM City some time back then, without any particular theme.

"To our surprise, most of entries submitted drew noodle packs, shirts, trousers, etc such a little things with the hope to send to Japan," Van told the audience attending the painting display in Fukushima.

"Many even wrote the text using the term 'Japanese fellow-citizens', which shows that they see Japanese as their countrymen, and their love knows no boundaries," Van went on.

Common cause:Huynh Ngoc Van (centre) poses for a photo with Bunyo Ishikawa in front of his house in Nagano City on May 27. — Photo coutersy of Huynh Ngoc Van

The stories could not stop many Japanese from shedding tears.

Van also brought a set of ten poem-inscribed conical hats, gifts from a teacher in the formal royal city of Hue, to put next to the paintings.

"On my explaining the meaning of the Viet Nam's typical style of the hat and together with paintings of the children as a message and gift from Viet Nam, the Japanese there found it extremely romantic and moving."

Van not only told the Japanese stories about Viet Nam, she also heard some from the Japanese.

When the city's trade union chairman told her that the number of volunteers working inside nuclear plants had increased from 4,000 to 6,000, she was almost speechless, "as more Japanese dare to risk their lives to quickly overcome the aftermath".

When he asked her to send the volunteers a message, Van was quick-witted to perform a Vietnamese folk song Hat Hoi Trang Ram (Mid-Autumn festival singing) whilst dancing with the conical hat.

"There was no background music but I did my best, so they could understand the heart of Vietnamese," she said.

Love knows no bounds

Van couldn't find words to describe the faithful sentiments of Japanese towards Vietnamese people in the war, after the war and right now in front of the Chinese illegal deployment of an oil rig in the Vietnamese waters in the East Sea.

"They warmly welcomed me like a compatriot returning home after a long trip overseas. I was quite moved," Van said.

Wherever she went, the Japanese asked her about the incident. They showed real concern and wanted to know how Viet Nam was dealing with the situation.

During a talk about the photo exhibition in Okinawa, Ishikawa's birthplace, among the many questions about the aftermaths of bombings and the education of young generations, were those about the East Sea.

A young Japanese man, tightly holding a small- red flag with a gold star, rushed to Van, hugging her and saying that he loved Viet Nam so much and worried a lot for Viet Nam, after having asked her various questions.

"Viet Nam always looks for peace. The tension in the East Sea is what Viet Nam never expected because it is a peace-loving nation. We are a small and developing country, we need peace to construct our country. We are pacifists," she told Japanese friends.

"With what is happening, we have shown restraint to maintain peace in the region. I even calmed them down by saying that Viet Nam had thousands year of experience in fighting for national independence, so you could feel secure."

Continuous applause followed as Van told the audience in a meeting hall in Okinawa, "We look forward to your support." — VNS

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