Sunday, July 25, 2010
Day three and day five of our trip we spent in Hiroshima. We arrived in the afternoon on the bullet train, stored our gear in lockers and headed out to the Peace Park. It was a perfect time to hit the park, all of the school groups had departed by the time we arrived, it was a beautiful day, clear skies, unseasonably cool weather – perfect for walking around the area.
It’s hard to describe my emotions as we made our way through the park. The skeletal remains of the A-dome are haunting. There was a movement at one point to tear the structure down, the thought from the citizens that they needed to move on, live in the present. I am so glad those that favored that idea did not win out – the remains of the building is a very graphic reminder of the power and destruction of war. It was incredibly moving to stand there and realize that more than 60 years ago our country and Japan were at war and our country wreaked havoc on this land. Now, here I am living in this beautiful, friendly country, our countries are allies and I’m thankful the human spirit can overcome the hatred of war.
Monument to the Mobilized Students
We moved on and only a few steps away there was a Monument to the Mobilized Students. During the war students age 13 to 15 were mobilized to demolish wooden houses for fire prevention – on August 6, 1945 6097 of these young people were killed by the atomic bombing while they were working. There are doves scattered throughout its five tiers and at the base is a beautiful Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) statue, with peace cranes surrounding her. While we were standing there, speechless and moved by the beauty of the monument, a single yellow crane falls from one of the 1000 cranes behind the Kannon – Wrenn stoops down and picks it up and gently places it in the Kannons hands … and me in my mommy moment have to bite my lip to keep the tears from flowing. At 12, she gets it …
Let all the souls here rest in peace: for we shall not repeat the evil.
This is the prayer that is inscribed at the Memorial Centograph. The Centograph is a tribute to all those that lost their lives on the day of the bombing and to those who died from its effects in the aftermath. The memorial is arch-shaped like that of an ancient Japanese home, symbolizing a shelter for the victims souls. Underneath the arch is a chest which contains the names of nearly a quarter of a million people who died.
Children’s Peace Monument
This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace on Earth.
This is a touching monument with the 1000 cranes in display cases and the memorial statue with the child holding up a peace crane. If you are not familiar with the story of Sadako, she was a young school girl who was exposed to the radiation from the bomb and developed cancer from the exposure. Her story is about courage and hope … she heard the Japanese story if you make a 1000 paper cranes good fortune will find you. In the hope that she would survive her battle with cancer she made 1000 paper cranes. Sadly, at age 12 she died from what her mom called the “A-bomb disease” but her legacy of peace and hope lives on with peace cranes sent to this site from all over the world.
Peace Memorial Museum
We probably arrived too late in the day to really give this museum our full attention – I’d say it needs a good 2 hours to visit and we had just over an hour. It is quite an extensive exhibit and I quickly reached information overload. The first half of the exhibit is pretty much void of the human element and is technical with the background and build up to the bombing on the 6th of August, 1945. Not realizing that there is a second half, the chime sounded indicating the museum would be closing in a 1/2 hour and I picked up my pace to discover the second half of the museum is where I should have spent 95% of my time – this side is a newer exhibit and touches on the impact of the bombing on the citizens of Hiroshima. Having been spoiled with visits to countless museums – most notably the Holocaust Museum in DC which deals with sensitive subject matter, working on some NPS museum projects and having lived in the DC area for 7+ years I was disappointed with the Peace Memorial Museum. It’s A LOT to take in and the flow of the overall exhibit seemed very disjointed to me … not that they’ll care what little ol’ me thinks but for those of you reading this and planning to visit, you might appreciate a heads up.
Bell of Peace
We dedicate this bell
As a symbol of Hiroshima Aspiration:
Let all nuclear arms and war be gone,
and the nations live in true peace!
May it ring to all corners of the earth
to meet the ear of every man.
for in it throb and palpitate
the hearts of its peace-loving donors.
So may you too, friends,
step forward, and toll this bell for peace!
We returned on the morning of day 5 of our Kyoto/Hiroshima adventure. The school groups were out in full force and we decided to hit a few of the spots in the memorial that we had missed on our visit Monday afternoon. We crossed over the Aioi-bahsi renraku-kyo Bridge that the Enola Gay used as the landmark for releasing the bomb and we made our way to the Peace Bell. On Wednesday as we walked through the Peace Park I could hear almost at a steady rhythm a deep resonant tolling of a bell. I thought it was some sort of mechanical tolling of a bell, but no it is created by the human touch – we arrived and waited our turn as each one of us stepped up and took our turn at ringing the bell of peace. The sound is deep and the vibrations, when you place your hand on the bell run through you to your soul. It was deeply moving.
On our way back to catch the streetcar, I was standing by the A-dome area waiting for the rest of the family to catch up with me when a Japanese lady armed with a notebook approached me and offered to guide us through the park. She is a Hiroshima city volunteer and I was so disappointed that we hadn’t run into her when we first arrived, it would have been great to have her as our guide. She does this for free in order to practice her English. We told her we were sorry but we were headed to the train station to catch our train but we spared 5 minutes so she could tell us a little about what happened in Hiroshima during/after the bomb. One interesting fact we learned was that in September, just 5 weeks after the bombing, Hiroshima was hit by Makurazaki Typhoon which led to 3000 more deaths and further destruction, but the silver lining in this natural disaster is that it washed away at least some of the radioactivity. Scientists had thought that no trees would grow, no plants would reemerge for decades – instead within a year they started to see re-growth, as we saw with the Phoenix Trees in the Peace Park. The other interesting story was about the sole survivor of the area. Prior to WWII the area where the Peace Park stands was a thriving community full of shops and homes. A worker was in the basement of his shop when the bomb exploded which destroyed the area, he survived the impact because he just happened to go to the basement at the right moment. How does someone recover from that? It’s hard to wrap your head around something like that – how does someone emerge from utter destruction and then move on? But clearly, the people of Hiroshima have moved on, the city is quite nice and what struck me most is the space. Unlike the other cities I’ve been to here in Japan this one has breathing space. The streets are wide, there are lots and lots of trees, with a number of rivers running through the city there are many bridges adding to the scenery.
So that’s it … 5 days jampacked with history, world heritage sites and beautiful scenery. It was a great trip, our kids were at a perfect age to absorb it all – hard to believe it’s been a month and a half since we toured Kyoto, Mija Jima and Hiroshima. Hardly a day passes without someone talking about our experiences. It was a great trip and I hope we can find our way back down to that part of Japan before our time here ends. Especially in Kyoto, where I feel we only scratched the surface – there’s so much more waiting for us to explore. Till next time, sayonara.
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