Hiroshima

February 18, 2011

We went to Hiroshima last weekend and I just thought I’d post some photos and write down some thoughts. I’ll split the trip into two posts, one about the Peace Memorial and one about Miyajima.

So, the Peace Memorial Park. Here are some pictures:

Of course you know you’re probably going to feel sad when you go there. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. I’ve been to a lot of war museums and sites of battles and things and I think in the West it’s the war cemeteries that always seem to upset me the most. You know, all those lines of identical pale grey concrete stones. All those ages, so many eighteen year olds and nineteen year olds.

Anyway, when you get off the streetcar at the A-bomb Dome stop you turn around and the dome is right there next to the road. Just right there in your face. It is eerie. Lots of people around taking photos. I really felt it would be weird to do the whole posing and doing peace signs thing (although lots of people were…odd, right?) so I just took lots of pictures of the building.

We walked over to the hypocentre, directly beneath where the bomb actually went off. It’s just this tiny plaque on the side of the road surrounded by garages. Very weird. Looked up, saw an apartment block, streetlights and wires. Impossible to imagine an explosion in this sky.

The layout of the park is beautiful. As you stand between the cenotaph and the museum and look through the arch you see the flame and the dome, all perfectly aligned. The museum itself is very calm and sort of unsensational. There are graphic images but  not many, it really doesn’t need to show much in order to shock. The model of Hiroshima before and after pretty much speaks for itself:  Model one shows a busy town full of buildings , model two: a wasteland with a few scattered concrete shells.

It’s upstairs that it gets very upsetting. This is where they exhibit objects damaged by the bomb. There are girders and wall sections and so on and then there are items of clothing and lunchboxes and rucksacks and hats. Most of the items belonged to children who were out working, demolishing buildings for firelanes. There were no air raid warnings that morning so  there were far more children outside than there would normally have been. The repetitiveness of the stories was just so sad. Despite horrific burns, so many of them somehow made it home after the blast only to die hours or days afterwards. So many parents rushed to the site hoping to find their children but instead finding their children’s bodies, or bits of clothing or nothing at all. The museum doesn’t hold back from explaining the gruesome physical symptoms people suffered from and there are graphic pictures of burns and very detailed descriptions of what the explosion did to people’s bodies at the moment of the blast and in the aftermath.

For some reason though, the story that really got me was of a woman whose husband was killed in the blast. She rushed to his office and found nothing but collapsed filing cabinets and some bones, next to his lunchbox and pipe.

After the museum we went to the National Peace Memorial Hall and sat down there for a while. There was no one else around and it was very peaceful. Outside there was a slideshow of victims faces and a scrolling list of their names. One girl, wearing a junior high school uniform, grabbed my attention. She looked so cool, she looked like she should be a singer in a sixties girl band, not dead in an atomic bomb explosion.

There are lots of resources at the memorial hall, a library, databases where you can access information about victims and their lives and about what happened that day. There’s such a big focus, not only on nuclear disarmament but also on eliminating war. I know it may seem futile but there is still something in that quiet persistence, in the idea that if we just keep calmly repeating how tragic this was and how tragic all war is then maybe someday, somehow peace will be a reality.

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