I took one of my summer holidays for an extended weekend (coincidentally also Labor Day weekend at home). A friend and I decided to take a trip to Hiroshima, to finally get out of the prefecture for the first time since Tokyo and explore a town that wasn’t too far away (a 2 hour train ride). Since I live relatively close to Hiroshima City, combined with my interest in World War II, it was on the top of my list of places to see.
After the long train ride we arrived in a very rainy Hiroshima city. Our first stop was to try some Okonomiyaki, a Hiroshima specialty. We waited at one of the supposedly best places to go, Okonomimura in the downtown area. Fortunately I didn’t have breakfast that morning because it was massive!
Don’t worry, I finished the whole thing (barely) and only waddled for a little while afterwards. It was delicious, but definitely something you only treat yourself to once in a great while. After some light shopping we headed over to the Peace Park.
From downtown, you walk into the park and are faced with the A-bomb dome and the park placard.
The A-bomb dome is the only building still standing to this day that was left standing after the city of Hiroshima was completely annihilated by the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945 at 8:15am. Immediately you feel the weight of just what all that means. There is a pervasive sadness that overcomes you when you’re faced with such a significant human tragedy. We walked slowly along, trying to take it all in, to make sense of what now seems senseless, and attempting to cope with how profound of a place it truly is.
Even now, days after being on site, I still can’t seem to find words to capture the feelings of being there. No amount of books or articles or documentaries could prepare me for the power of being there. It felt harder to be there as an American, yet I am inspired and grateful that Japan has welcomed me, and many Americans before me, as it has in spite of what once was. After viewing the many memorials outside, we made our way to the museum. On the way to the museum is a flame that will burn until the last nuclear weapon on earth is abolished.
I didn’t take many pictures in the museum. It didn’t feel right to. While I was torn between my desire to capture the powerful images inside for those friends and family members who may never have a chance to visit Hiroshima, and to remember them as best I could, I couldn’t help but feel that pictures wouldn’t do it justice, and I don’t doubt that what I saw there will remain in my mind for many years to come. One of the first and most startling things in the museum is mannequins that are made to replicate the melted and burned flesh of the a-bomb victims (Hibakusha). It is startling to say the least, and one of the first thoughts I had was “why would they make that?!” But I quickly realized that was the point. It’s not pleasant. It was horrific. And we should have some fraction of an idea of just how terrible it was. The museum is filled with school children’s burned clothes, hair, trinkets lost. It also shows the pictures of the burned, warped flesh and distorted fingernails that resulted from the radiation. There is a full sized replica of “Little Boy”, the name of the atomic bomb that was dropped along with maps and charts that show its reach and impact. And of course there is Sadako, the famous girl among many who suffered the effects of the bomb long after that fateful day. Some of her cranes were displayed there. Beautiful, small and delicate cranes, some so small she used needles to fold them; some pieces of paper in the beginning folds that she never was able to finish.
The museum has a small shop at the end of it, and by “small shop” I mean literally the size of short aisle at a small library. There was nothing commercialized about that place, and I was impressed and in awe of much it is about remembering what happened and peace for the future rather than profiting from the tragedy. It was vastly different from any memorial I’d ever been to, and rightfully so.
We left the memorial feeling completely exhausted, although we had done virtually no other site seeing that day. I know that I cannot possibly capture the feeling of being there with words or anything else. What was remarkable though was just how much the city has recovered. If you didn’t know where you were, you’d never think this was the first city to ever come under nuclear attack. Although with a heavy heart, I left hoping for peace, for Hiroshima.