Hiroshima, “Exceptionally Moving”

Now that I am feeling refreshed from a trip alone back to Akihabara which ended in a fantastic afternoon tea, I feel I am ready to put into writing my reaction to our visit to the city of Hiroshima, target city of the first nuclear weapon used in human history. As the Shinkansen came to a slow crawl outside of Hiroshima station late Wednesday evening I could immediately tell something was different about this city. There were no sketch back alleys, no fallen down buildings or rusted tin roof lean-tos, or even a conglomerate of apartment complexes each with its own unique identity–the city was new, clean, and fairly western. I sat processing the look of this city in comparison to Tokyo and Kyoto, and reminded myself of why the city was build up in this manner; on August 6th 1945 this city and around 200,000 people were wiped off the face of the earth in a flash. Even on the drive into the city we were beginning to feel the weight in the history of a place like Hiroshima. The readings for our “class” all revolved around Atomic Bomb Literature for the last few days. Personally, I took the time on the train to read Hara Tamiki’s Summer Flowers which recounted the author’s experience on the day the bomb fell as well as the days immediately following the disaster. Tamiki’s graphic descriptions followed me like a shadow as we left for Peace Park Thursday morning.

Immediately off of the cable car we were left standing in front of a massive stone (what is left of it anyway) structure known as the A-Bomb Dome. The dome, formally known as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, was destroyed as the first atomic bomb in human history detonated approximately 160 meters southeast and 600 meters above the buildind. All that remains of the once elegant structure is the recognizable metal dome frame on the top of the last standing tower which is where the building now gets its name.

August 6, 8:14 AM

August 6, 8:14 AM

August 6, 8:15AM August 6, 8:15 AM

Since I already had my head in the books for the past few days regarding the Hiroshima disaster, I found it interesting that the other war story, The Catch that I had recently read makes a light reference to the destruction of this building when the main character notes that a delay in a prefecture decision was due to the building being destroyed in “some bombing,” I realized later that he must have been referring to the A-Bomb Dome and its former purpose.  The immediate impression that hit me, and one that kept replaying in my head throughout my several hours in the park was, “Wow, look what we did…”

I made my way from the dome, after taking a copious number of pictures, to a large stone monument known as the Monument to World Peace. Draped on the structure were multiple chains of paper cranes, each strand contained 25 strings of 40 cranes for a total of 1000. Additional info on this tradition can be found here, but in the interest of space, I will be moving on. The highlight of the outdoor monuments for our entire group, and easily the most emotionally moving event of the day came as we crossed the river and came upon the Children’s Peace Monument. Standing atop a rounded bell tower-like structure stood a young girl thrusting a giant paper crane into the air as two more statues of a girl and boy danced around the tower’s smooth sides. The center of the tower housed a large bell under which swung a golden, paper crane shape connected to a long chain that allowed visitors to ring the bell. School children in uniform lined up and bowed towards the structure as we approached, and we all knew something was about to happen. After some speaking by what I could judge as a teacher and a few students, a young girl, about high school age at the oldest, stepped forward from the crowd with a completed set of 1000 cranes. These children had created their own set of cranes and were now about to present them to the monument’s collection to commemorate the children who died as the bomb fell that day–and we were there to witness it. Several of us teared up, one cried, others were less visibly shaken by what we were seeing as the children entered one of the translucent rooms that surrounded the monument, all completely packed to bursting with sets of cranes, and hung their offering up in the last room to have space in it.

Paper cranes being presented at the Children's Peace Monument

Paper cranes being presented at the Children's Peace Monument

After the cranes were hung, a long moment of silence set on the crowd who had gathered to watch the event, and as we all bowed our heads for what seemed like an eternity, the painful feeling of sorrow and guilt for what human beings are capable of washed over all of us. To show my respects, I managed to find myself a piece of scrap paper lying about the area, and went about folding what was not my best crane by any means, but certainly my most important; I said a short prayer and gently rested the plane white crane in a sea of colored birds that hung in the open room, eyes tearing up from the gravity of my action.

At least it stuck out

At least it stuck out

I have one last thing I wanted to tell you about, and it relates once again to the reading we had been doing before arriving in Hiroshima. Summer Flowers describes in horrific detail the death and destruction Hara sees around him as he struggles to get away from the fires left in the bombs aftermath. His description of the bodies, horribly mutilated, burnt, and disfigured were especially captivating. I was horrified yet grateful that the museum that accompanied Peace Park held within it an exhibit that I felt did Hara’s description justice. I turned the corner of a mock version of a destroyed street corridor when I was confronted with this image. (It is graphic, just a warning)

Yes, that is their flesh literally dripping off of their bodies

Yes, that is their flesh literally dripping off of their bodies

What hurt the most is that after walking through all of this history, tragety, and monumental structures all devoted to the abolision of nuclear weapons and honoring the victims of this unspeakable event, I reached the last part of the museum which held documens relating to international policy on nuclear disarmament. The international agreement to greatly reduce the number of functional nuclear weapons was signed by every involved country with the exception of two, one of which was the U.S. Again the words replayed in my head as I thought of this fact the same it had that whole day, “Look what we did…”


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