I’ve thought a lot before sitting down to write this entry. It’s been a few days now and I think I can write about it as objectively as I possibly can.
The day started out as so many this last week have: an early rise followed by a lot of time on the Shinkansen. Though the weather forecast has been for partly sunny and warmer, a steady and cold rain had begun to fall when we arrived in Hiroshima. We opted for the half hour walk to the park instead of taking a tram or bus, as it was just a general foggy mist at that point, and set out from the station.
Looking around town, you would have absolutely no idea that it had been leveled in one of the most devastating attacks in history just 64 years ago. It is a bustling city, full of the same imagery and pace we’ve seen in other Japanese cities. Tall buildings reach out for the sky everywhere, and the downtown area has a few lovely rivers that break the concrete monotony. Signs every-so-often pointed us in the direction of the Peace Park and Museum, and we followed.
Many Japanese cities ran on streetcars before the subway became the de-facto transport in major cities. As the trams were put out of service, Hiroshima took them. As one of the last bastions of streetcars in the country, it gathered quite the fleet and now boasts quite the variety of tram from all years and points of origin. It makes for quite a patchwork public transport system, but hey, it works.
When we arrived at the park, the first thing we saw was the iconic A-Bomb Dome. Originally built as an exhibition hall, it was one of the few buildings left after the atomic bombing in 1945. It was kept as Hiroshima Peace Memorial and is arguably the most visually well-known piece of the entire park. It was sobering to see this building as if it’d been torn down by centuries of erosion, like Angkor Wat or any of the other ancient temples we’ve seen, knowing it was human hands that had done this…and in an instant.
We separated and walked around the park as a whole for awhile. There are many various statues and memorials, for students, families, and the ongoing fight for the abolition of nuclear weapons. After some reflection time, and the onset of a decent rain, we went into the museum proper. What ensued was a wrenching trip through time to the pre-bombing city of Hiroshima, a tutorial on nuclear weapons, and the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing. There were many artifacts, timepieces being particularly treasured, and the infamous set of steps with a human shadow burned into it. I did alright emotionally until near the end, where there was a small display that talked about Sadako Sasaki. Sadako was a little girl about a mile from the bomb and developed leukemia as a direct result. When she was hospitalized, she started folding tiny paper cranes in accordance with the old Japanese belief that if you fold 1,000 of them you will be granted a wish. The plaque said she didn’t make it to her goal before she passed in October of 1945, but her story is famous in Japan and abroad. Over 9 tons of paper cranes are delivered in Hiroshima annually, and their colorful contributions can be seen all over the park.
There were quite a few Caucasians going through the exhibit, as well as many Japanese. Some old, some young. Several of the foreigners were being interviewed by school children about their feelings and experience at the museum. The Japanese hold no ill will towards Americans or any other nationality for wartime damages. The general feeling is, “War is bad, bad things happen.” End of Discussion. This also holds true for many of the Japanese atrocities inflicted upon the Chinese and other Asian countries during the same time. As I was going through the museum, I had a nearly overwhelming urge to approach someone, anyone from Japan and apologize. Instead, I sequestered myself in the bathroom for a few minutes and wept.
Once we had finished our visit, we hopped aboard a tram and headed back to the station. The ride back was mostly quiet, but there was a little planning ahead: I’d loaded a few Miyazaki films on my iPhone to watch in preparation for our visit to the Studio Ghibli Museum in Tokyo the next day. That is a much happier day, and I’ll write about it soon.