May 23, 2013
J-Hoppers Hiroshima Traditional Guesthouse
Hiroshima is a city steeped in world history, it’s best known as the first city in history to be targeted by an atomic bomb. To say I was looking forward to seeing Hiroshima isn’t quite right. I wanted to see Hiroshima, I wanted to learn more about what happened that day and what’s happened since, but I was also dreading what I knew was going to be a difficult experience.
After arriving by shinkansen (bullet train) and checking into our hostel we took a walk to the Peace Memorial Park to see the Peace Memorial Museum, the Atomic Bomb Dome and some of the various statues on the grounds. The first statue we came across was the Monument of the A-bombed Teachers and Students of National Elementary Schools – quite the mouthful. The statue itself was simple, a women running, bent over the child she’s carrying. Surrounding the statue was paper cranes, a symbol for peace and something we would learn more about later.
The museum starts with a brief video about the bombing and then a series of photos show how Hiroshima grew as a city and the role it played in wars leading up to WWII. I found each exhibit very unbiased, especially as it went into the role Japan played in the bombing of Pearl Harbour and how Hiroshima was chosen by the US as the target city. There were 2 models that showed Hiroshima before and right after the bombing, it was essentially decimated in a matter of seconds. I took one picture throughout the entire museum, a watch that stopped at the moment of the bombing, 8:15 in the morning.
It wasn’t that there weren’t things worthy of being photographed, it was that I didn’t feel it was necessary. The museum was meant to be experienced and felt, not documented. I don’t think I could do the victims justice and I didn’t want to try. I spent my time there walking through each section, with my arms crossed over my chest, reminding myself to keep breathing. It was hard, no doubt about it, but it was supposed to be hard.
Back outside we made our way towards the Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome) and got a view of it through the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims.
The Dome was the only building left standing in Hiroshima, a miracle considering how close it was to the site where the bomb was dropped. During the rebuilding many people wanted it torn down so it wouldn’t be a constant reminder of what happened, but through the efforts of many people it has been preserved in the same state as immediately after the bombing. The remains are skeletal and delicate, a symbol for the destructive power of mankind, but also for it’s resiliency to keep fighting for peace.
Seeing the Dome against the skyline of Hiroshima was a reminder of just how new this city is. Unlike other cities in Japan, which are full of temples and shrines, Hiroshima is pretty much new, having to completely rebuild after the bombing. One note in the Museum stated that they were able to get some of their streetcar system up and running only 3 days after the attack.
Sadako Sasaki was only two years old when the bomb was dropped and she was exposed to the radiation. Though she was initially fine, 10 years later her symptoms developed and she was diagnosed with leukemia. While in the hospital, Sadako began a mission of folding 1000 paper cranes, believing the ancient Japanese story that promised a wish to anyone able to complete the task. Even after completing her mission (and folding several hundred more), Sadako died at the age of 12. Her classmates raised money for a memorial to her and all of the children who had died from the effects of the atomic bomb, the Children’s Peace Monument.
It’s hard accepting what mankind is capable of, especially when acts of violence are presented so honestly and clearly. It broke my heart to see some of those images today and to hear the survivor’s stories, but I think it’s necessary and important for people to learn about those moments and to experience them.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana