Hiroshima

May it never happen again…

As you all know, when we arrived in Japan, we jumped on the first train that came along towards Hiroshima, to eat Okonomiyaki. This is probably the most famous meal of the city, but Hiroshima became famous in the world for a very different reason.

It was during the final stages of WWII that America dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 6th 1945 at 08:15, an atomic bomb detonated in the air above Hiroshima and Japan was never the same again. Around one third of the population of the city (about 75,000 people) died and a similar number were injured. Japanese officials claimed 69% of the city was destroyed.

photo3In Tokyo you are surrounded by tall buildings that block out the sunlight. Parks are hard to find and trees are scarce. In Hiroshima however, it’s very different. You can still feel the remnants of Hiroshima’s history nowadays. The city is still relatively flat and open.

I remember aged 18, I visited Hiroshima with my Japanese host family. They wanted to take me there to see what had happened, because the reason the Japanese government had sponsored my trip to Japan was my family history: my grandfather had been a Japanese Prisoner of War during WWII and the Japanese government was trying to bridge the gap between the UK and Japan, in effect, the Japanese government wanted to say sorry. My host family thought it was necessary for me to visit this city and see what had happened.

The A-Bomb Dome’s skeletal ruins. It was the building closest to the center of the nuclear bomb and still stands today.

I think it’s important for me to mention here the fact that Japanese people rarely show emotion. I have not seen many Japanese people cry or laugh loudly and openly. They are a reserved people and are very calm and quiet.

When I stepped into the museum over 12 years ago, I still remember how shocking it was to be walking around with Japanese people openly sobbing. Everyone was crying and passing tissues to each other. Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, children on a school trip, elderly people, foreigners. The atmosphere is very hard to explain. It’s almost hard to breathe and it would feel almost inappropriate not to be crying and welling up with emotion.

The image that stuck with me the most was a piece of pavement. On it, you could see a shadow of a person who had been sitting there when the blast went off. That person disappeared when the blast went off, like so many others.

photo5The museum is fascinating. It has received a lot of bad press with many accusing it of being very one-sided, basically showing all the horrors of the war that happened to Japan, without showing what atrocities Japan committed. However, I found the museum very interesting and thought-provoking.

I probably wouldn’t be here if the bombs hadn’t been dropped (my grandfather probably wouldn’t have survived the war much longer if Japan hadn’t surrendered at that time) and I would recommend a visit to the museum. I found the main theme of the museum was pushing the idea of peace onto the visitors. It was showing the evils of atom bombs and war. It was graphic. Dying people, dead bodies, masses of unknown people who will never be identified, blown to dust in an instant. It is impossible to see how acquiring these bombs can be necessary for anyone and any country. You leave the museum knowing that spreading peace is the only way us humans can live together. It seems that this is more necessary in today’s world than ever before.

On this visit, we didn’t visit the museum. We arrived in the evening, had dinner and then walked around the area where the bomb exploded. There is a beautiful park here. During the day, there is a constant flow of school children and visitors from all over Japan and the world. Basically, it’s crowded and this makes it hard to relax and understand what you are feeling inside.

photo1We walked around the Peace Park around ten pm for an hour and sat by the river. There was not a soul in sight. We had the whole place to ourselves. It was peaceful and quiet. There were no cars, no flashing neon signs, no mobile phones ringing every minute. Just silence. I think this is how we should experience this city and if you find yourself in Hiroshima I would recommend taking a walk here late at night. Let’s hope the peace that comes at this time of the evening is a peace that can spread around the world, as this must never ever happen again.

3 Comments

  1. This is amazing, and very sobering. You mentioned this in a comment to my Auschwitz post, and I see now what you mean. This type of memorial site is difficult to comprehend, I think, simply because of the sheer quantity of lives lost. One killing is easy to identify, but hundreds? Thousands? Almost inconceivable.

    Great post.

    • Thank you for the comment Steven. I think it’s important to visit places like this to try to understand how it happened and also to make sure it never does again. But I don’t think I would ever be able to visit the museum in Hiroshima again. Once was definitely enough. It took a long time for me to “recover” and I still remember it vividly now. I guess all we can hope for is peace, but it looks like the world has gone in the other direction :(

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