Reflections on visiting Hiroshima

August 6, 1945 –  an atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima City in Japan and exploded at 8:15am.

August 9, 1945 – a second atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki City in Japan and exploded at 11:02am.

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A few months after Hitoshi and I met, we watched a TV drama about Hiroshima. My tears quietly dripped from my chin and soaked the carpet before I was sobbing and asking, “Why?” I had not learned detailed history about the bombings. Watching the show was the first step in discovering, as an adult, what was and continues to be a tremendously important marker in Japan’s more recent history.

The second step was watching the televised August ceremonies to commemorate the atomic bombs the following year. Like the TV drama, the ceremonies were primarily in Japanese. Despite my limited understanding, the impact was profound. Both experiences were heartbreaking, solemn and a plea for peace and removal of nuclear arms.

The next year, I visited the atomic bomb commemorative displays at Adachi city hall. There were photographs and drawings by survivors. I remember a drawing of a square fountain. The people were sack-like outlines with scraggly hair, mouths gaping and tears of blood. Some bodies collapsed on the ground; others draped over the lip of the fountain desperate for water, while more floated in the fountain. I wanted to spend more time but struggled with the overwhelming sadness I felt as I tried to look at another drawing. I decided then that it was my duty to visit Hiroshima even though I was anxious of what I might experience.

I fulfilled my decision less than a year later when Hitoshi and I returned to Japan for a visit after moving to Canada. Hiroshima was the main draw for exploring west of Tokyo. I was eager but my stomach was a blizzard when we finally arrived in the city.

We awoke to a heavy sky and kept our decision to walk the 30 minutes from our hotel along the boulevard connected to the memorial site. Within minutes, torrential rain slammed down on us but we continued to slosh our way to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

We took our time in the museum and spent most of it in silence. The presentations were brilliant, presenting facts with little dramatization. The most shocking and sickening point was that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were essentially experiments. Hiroshima was not bombed before so that the atomic bomb could show its power.

I read “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” as a child and loved the story but did not strongly connect it to the atomic bomb. A small section of the museum featured Sadako and the experience felt that much more powerful seeing photographs of her and reading more of her life story.

Sadako Sasaki Memorial

Sadako Sasaki Memorial

The second part of the museum was focused on peace and the removal of nuclear arms, which somewhat countered the earlier displays. It was still surprising to learn how many countries currently produce or test nuclear arms.

After the museum, we went outside to explore the Peace Park. Survivors wanted water most and this notion appeared in many memorials. The most striking was The Hall of Remembrance. The mosaic inside showed the view of Hiroshima from the hypocentre. 140,000 tiles represented every person that had died by the end of 1945.

Hall of Remembrance fountain

fountain above the Hall of Remembrance, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

We saved the Atomic Bomb Dome for the end of our tour. The building originally held products produced by the prefecture. I was thankful that the skeleton still stood for it was an earnest reminder. Hitoshi felt that the site was remarkably peaceful after what we had seen and I felt a sense of fullness.

Atomic Bomb Dome, Japan

Atomic Bomb Dome near the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Museum

To finish the day, we went to a nearby department store for a snack. I noticed a man sit down at a nearby table. I happened to say something in Japanese and Hitoshi replied in English. This confused the man enough that he tried to chat with us and the introductory exchange turned into a thirty-minute conversation. He told us that he regularly went to the Peace Park to eavesdrop on conversations to learn English. He even pulled out a little notebook from his suit jacket to show us his notes! He planned to visit an English-speaking country for a holiday with his wife and his daughter was learning English. Far too soon, the man excused himself to meet his wife. He had retired years ago and joked that his wife was sick of him being at home so she got a job.

The circumstances of the conversation seemed odd and the man’s habits seemed almost unbelievable. I also had missed most of the details until Hitoshi filled me in later. It was then that I realized the luck of our connection. I had just spoken with someone who had lived through the bombing.

Earlier in the day, I felt disgusted by the decisions made so many years ago. I was angry with people I did not know and could not comprehend the reasons given for the actions carried out. These feelings were still close to the surface but tempered. Some people had survived, grown old and were happy to chat with strangers over ice cream. Intentional or not, simply interacting with another human prompted peace.

1000 paper cranes picture

picture for peace made by students from one school out of 1000 paper cranes, below the Sadako Sasaki memorial

Notes:

The TV drama was “Hadashi no gen”. Keiji Nakazawa’s cartoon, prompted by his experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, inspired the drama.

An exceptional but heartbreaking movie based on the same period is, “Hotaru no Haka” or “Grave of the Fireflies”.

Have you visited Hiroshima or do you want to? What have been your experiences or what do you expect to see?

Links are current as of May 2014.

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