Monday, February 4, 2013

Hiroshima - Remembering the Past. Living in the Present.

For much of my life, Hiroshima has been synonyms with two things, the A-bomb and complete and utter destruction (so, essentially, the same thing really). I can't even begin to imagine what it was like to live in a city that was there one day and, then, simply gone the next - I don't think anyone who was not there for it can. That incomprehension alone put Hiroshima on my 'must-be' list for Japan, I couldn't think of any better way to try and understand it than to go and experience, nearly 70 years later, what Hiroshima has become. I have to say, I am so glad I went. Not only were the displays at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and  National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb victims phenomenally well put together, highly informative and devastatingly moving, it was absolutely incredible to see how well integrated all of this was into the happy, laid back and vibrant city filled with shopping arcades, shiny buildings, tram cars and river-side cafes that Hiroshima is today. Hiroshima was veritably pulsing with life-force. I loved it.

Looking across the river front the Peace Memorial park sits the Genbaku (or Atomic Bomb) Dome, still standing tall against the modern Hiroshima skyline. Due to it's cylindrical structure and location almost directly below the epicenter of the blast, the building was one of the very few to remain standing that day. While all of the others have since been torn down, the dome was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996 after much debate. It's a stark reminder of what occurred, especially as it sits alongside a busy street.

I had always wondered as a kid why such seemingly unimportant (to me at least) cities such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as the A-bomb targets. The Peace Museum does a wonderful job of setting the scene for this (Hiroshima was always an important military port and there were thought to be no American POWs in the area), mixing in the history with copies of correspondences between those central to the formation of the bomb and planning of the drop, dioramas depicting the city before and after, explanations of the science behind nuclear armaments and, most poignantly, the personal stories and effects of the victims, many of them children.

Artwork made from paper cranes, surround the Children's Peace Memorial. Paper crane tradition stems from the death of 11-year-old A-Bomb survivor Sadako form Leukemia in 1955. Long the Japanese symbol of health and longevity, Sadako hoped that folding 1000 paper cranes while in hospital would grant her wish to be cured. Her death before finishing mobilized her fellow students both to complete her project and to raise an awareness of the after effects of nuclear bombing around the world. Crane donations continue to pour in to this day.
While both the museum and memorial astonishingly manage to keep away from assigning blame (fully recognising the actions of Japan which contributed to the situation), they are very, very definitely focused on ensuring that something like this never, ever happens again.

The A-Bomb Dome at dusk. Inside the museum, there is a replica of the Bomb Dome. It is covered letters, each one a letter of protest written by the mayor of Hiroshima and sent to the Ambassador of a country whenever a new atomic weapon is tested. Sadly, the walls, both inside and out, are now full. 

I definitely recommend that anyone going to Japan visit Hiroshima - and not just for the Peace Park. While I might not have posted pictures of it (too busy enjoying) the modern city (and reconstructed old castle) was worth checking out. As, I'm sure, is the Mazda Museum with it's 7km long assembly line - sadly, I was in Horoshima over the weekend and, so, it was closed!

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