One might have expected the people of Hiroshima, on the second anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb, to convene in mourning for a tragedy still painfully fresh. But on Aug. 6, 1947, the people of that city gathered to send a message of hope and resilience to the world: The epicenter of the bombing was now, they declared, the epicenter of world peace.
LIFE Magazine, having assigned Cary Mydans to photograph the festival, described how the tone of that day seemed incongruous to those who read about it in the press:
A startled world read that Hiroshima, proclaiming itself the new world mecca for peace, had held a carnival. The people planted a camphor tree, which is a symbol of long life, and they prayed, too. But then they paraded through the streets, listened to speeches and had fun. Hiroshima seemed to have risen from the dead. The people were putting their city back on the map. The spirit was that of a U.S. boom town in the late 1800s. Their motto was: look at us and forego war.
In the years since the U.S. had dropped the bomb, the city’s population had recovered—not fully, but still rapidly. Of the 60,000 houses that had been destroyed, 23,000 had been rebuilt. Much of this rebuilding was done in the style of American architecture, as Western influence gained a new hold on Japan.
As people paraded through town in costume, sang songs and waved ribbons of peace, one U.S. Army colonel stationed there had a hard time believing the celebratory nature of the festival. “All we know is that something’s happened to these people,” he told LIFE. “They want peace, and they want to play a part in that peace.”
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.