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.

And on a sadder note…

March 19, 2010

It’s sad..Alex Chilton died. I have to admit, I found out about Big Star through the covers by This Mortal Coil and Jeff Buckley. Kangaroo is such a beautiful song. Anyway, he really did make some gorgeous songs, they make me feel like I’m in some imaginary hazy seventies America falling in love and driving around in cars feeling sad but excited.

Bask in the faded seventies sunshine and loveliness.

This is just awesome. I love how he starts laughing, I love how scratchy and sulky/menacing his voice sounds.

Here’s a link to a piece in the Guardian about him, it’s quite touching:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2010/mar/18/big-star-alex-chilton

Keep an Eye on the Sky

Pinball, 1973

March 11, 2010

So I just finished reading Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami. I’ d been waiting to read it for years. It didn’t used to be available. It was part of the same Kodansha English Library series as Hear The Wind Sing (ie. intended for Japanese speakers learning English) and although Hear The Wind Sing was made available again (in Japan) a little while ago I never saw Pinball, 1973 onthe shelf next to it. Until me and Danny popped into Tower Records in Shibuya last month and suddenly it was there! We both noticed it seperately so it ended up being a birthday present. (I guess if you really hate spoilers then don’t read the quotes in this post but..honestly…it wouldn’t matter, this isn’t really a plot driven book and the quotes don’t really give much of anything away).

Even when Murakami is writing about nothing it affects me. Tiny things are heartbreaking. And it’s not because he describes them in exhaustive detail or anything. It’s as if he chooses exactly the right things to mention and exactly the right order to mention them in for maximum impact. Maximum because the things he writes about aren’t necessarily sad. Somehow the things he writes about make me feel sad for his characters and sad for myself and for what I’ve lost over the years. Not huge things but tiny things, moments, brief thoughts, that kind of thing. Series of things his characters do, like coming home, having a coffee, washing the cup, pouring out a glass of beer, lighting a cigarette and putting a record on seem sort of important somehow. It’s all nothing but I’ll sit there and read it almost in tears.

‘A friend of mine and I leased a condominium on the slope from Shibuya to Nampeidai and opened a small translation service. My friend’s father put up the funds, which is not to say that it took any astounding sum of money-just the deposit on the place, and the money for three steel desks, some ten dictionaries, a telephone, and a half-dozen bottles of bourbon. We thought up a suitable name, and with the rest of the money had it engraved on a metal sign and hung it out front, then put an ad in the newspaper. After that we waited for customers. The two of us, with our four feet propped up on the desks, drinking whiskey. It was the spring of ’72’ (Murakami, Haruki Pinball, 1973 p.31)

Sometimes upsetting things are mentioned in passing and never mentioned again:

‘On the train ride back, I told myself over and over again, it’s all over with now, you got it out of your system, forget it. You got what you came for, didn’t you? Yet I couldn’t get it out of mind, that place. Nor the fact that I loved Naoko. Nor that she was dead. After all that, I still hadn’t closed the book on anything.’ (p.23)

And the idleness! His characters frequently do nothing. They just drink coffee and sit and stare and fall asleep. They listen to classical or jazz records and tapes that have no meaning to me but hearing the names of the composers and their albums (Handel, Bix Beiderbecke, Woody Herman) still feels comforting. I can’t write about smoking and listening to classical music. Not convincingly anyway. The only classical albums I might possibly own would be ones I found in the backroom at Oxfam (I used to volunteer in one of their book/record shops) and only bought because they had silly names and covers or pretty covers. Attachment to album covers, there’s another thing I don’t quite understand. I often buy albums just because I like the covers. In fact, I think I’ll take some pictures of ones I’ve bought in Japan and post them here!

Since I don’t know how to finish here’s one last quote:

‘Occasionally, though, tiny ripples of emotion would be set off, as if to remind him. At times like that, the Rat simply closed his eyes, sealed off his mind, and sat tight until the ripples subsided. By then it would already be getting a little dark, toward early evening. The ripples gone, that same hushed tranquility would come over him again, as if nothing had happened.’ (p. 45)