In a flying weekend trip Trystan and I were able to visit Hiroshima – him via Shinkansen on his JR pass and me via overnight bus…
The experience of the city is difficult to put into words. Depressing doesn’t sit right, nor sobering or humbling or tragic…the events that transpired there were all of those things of course but the sheer scope of horror is impossible to truly imagine or describe. The Memorial Museum and the Peace Park were emotionally exhausting.
The park itself is quite lovely but the many memorials dotted throughout remind you with every step why it is there. It is difficult to feel at peace among the trees when you know you are metres away from a burial mound containing thousands of unidentified, cremated remains (that place made me uneasy even before I read the plaque and understood what it was). Beyond the park, across the river, the A-Bomb dome is a skeleton structure – one of the only structure left standing near the atomic bomb’s hypocentre.
When I was in primary school, our teacher read us the story of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes – Sadako was two when the A-Bomb was dropped, and she was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 11. She folded a thousand paper cranes because a Japanese legend said that if she did, she would be granted a wish. The book that we were read said that Sadako died before she finished and her task was completed by her classmates, but the museum claimed she folded well over a thousand paper cranes – it is this story that made the colourful origami cranes a symbol synonymous with hope for the future of the city and the will to continue. Perhaps it was too tragic for a children’s story for the heroine to fulfill her task and still die.
Despite the distressing recent history of the city, Hiroshima has not allowed itself to be defined by the tragedy, nor used it as an excuse to be bitter. There is nothing in the way that they tell their story that feels angry or hateful, as justified as that would be. The tone is not vengeful, but focused on ensuring that this inexplicably awful thing never happens again. In the lobby of the museum is a clock that tracks the number of days since the detonation of the bomb over Hiroshima, and the most recent nuclear tests conducted around the world. When we were there, the clock stood at 120 days since the last test (in North Korea). When a new test is conducted, it resets to 0 days.
Before going I was very wary of engaging in ‘tragedy tourism’ but the city has so much to offer beyond it’s sad story. It has a rich history before the dropping of the bomb, and plenty of great things to see and do (and eat) that are not related to that. Hiroshima is a beautiful city, well worth visiting in its own right, and it also left me with a lot to think about.