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Aug 06 2008

An AJA's Reflection on Hiroshima

Written by Nippon Sekai   
Wednesday, 06 August 2008

As an American of Japanese Ancestry (AJA), the significance of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) at times hits close to home especially as it relates to Hiroshima. On this 63rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, I decided to share some thoughts which I've usually kept to myself or have written in bits and pieces in the dialogue notebooks at the Peace Museum.

There are some interesting and ironic ties which makes visiting Hiroshima a sobering experience for me (and I'm usually not affected by things like this). I never encountered this same level of impact when visiting the Arizona Memorial for example. However, I do strongly feel a connection to the past and present at the Hiroshima Peace Site. Part of my ancestral roots originates from Iwakuni which is relatively close to Hiroshima (who knows if there were distant relatives in the area at the time). My father was just a young boy during the 1941 attack and vividly remembers the sounds, the smoke, and the stray shrapnel as they lived just on western edge of Pearl Harbor. Years after the war, Honolulu and Hiroshima became sister cities in 1959 as they are forever linked by the events of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which brought the US into WWII and then by the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which forced the surrender of the Japanese which brought WWII to a close. I was born and raised in Honolulu around 10km from Pearl Harbor.

Seeing the Genbaku (Atomic) Dome in pictures and videos never really had much of an impact. However, personally walking past the partially destroyed building on one side with the serene Motoyasu-gawa on the other did. The contrasts are stark where time has stood still on one side while time has passed and healed (at least the visible scars) on the other. Throughout this site, I mention that Japan is a land of contrasts. This one brings that point home but in a completely different way. It may sound like an overused cliché but there really is no way else to say it, war is hell.

Near the A-bomb Dome is the Children's Peace Monument which is a statue dedicated to the memory of Sadako Sasaki. She was just two years old at the time of the bombing and exposed to the radiation. She was later diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 11. Everyone knows her courageous story of hope where she attempted to fold a thousand paper cranes (senbazuru) so that she could be granted her wish of getting well. 9 months later, Sadako passed away at the age of 12 but she never gave up hope and continued folding the cranes until she died. After Sadako passed away, her inspired classmates had a dream of erecting a monument in Sadako and all other children killed by the A-bomb. In 1958 after enough money had been collected from all over Japan and abroad, the Sadako Statue was erected. It features a girl holding a crane over her head. Thousands of paper cranes are brought and sent daily by people all over the world and placed next to the statue. Inscribed at the bottom of the statue: "This is our cry, This is our prayer, Peace in the world". The paper crane itself has since become a symbol of the anti nuclear campaign.

Walking through the tranquil Peace Memorial Park always brings about visions of those oft-showed black and white imagery of the destructive aftermath. The Memorial Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Dome Victims is an arch shaped structure (designed by Kenzo Tange) which represents the clay figure of an ancient A-framed thatched roof house; it is meant to keep the souls of those who perished out of the rain in perpetuity. The stone coffin contains a book registering the names of all who died in the explosion or lost their life as a result of the after-effects. Given that it has been said over 230,000 have since died, the registry must be closing in on a quarter of a million names. The inscription on the stone at base of the arch says: "Let all the souls here rest in peace; For we shall not repeat the evil". While this inscription brought about arguments in the past, it currently is considered the people's commitment to peace. When people stand before the cenotaph, they are commiting themselves as a human being to never repeat nuclear war.

The nearby Flame of Peace will only be extinguished when the world is free from nuclear weapons (which means it may likely be burning forever). Viewing the A-Bomb Dome through the arch of the Memorial Cenotaph along with the Peace Flame provided another stark contrast of the past and present. The effect is always startling because it is like looking through a portal back in time. I cannot imagine the sort of strong emotions and feelings that actual hibakusha (survivors) must have from the physical and emotional scars. Volunteer guides who were survivors often say the lingering effects and pain will never go away. If anything, I hope the constant flow of visitors from all over the world at least provides some therapeutic effect.

Finally, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum provides another sobering experience. To say it is depressing is an understatement. For some visitors, it may be downright disturbing. But to not experience the museum would mean missing the point of the Peace Park and being able to fully reflect on what horrors actually occurred. Most just silently shuffle around watching the films, looking at the photos and numerous exhibits and artifacts. Some have tears in their eyes in a sad realization that humans can do this to each other. One of the most vivid exhibits which ought to be placed out front and center (something the museum is looking at doing with the most horrific exhibits) was the burnt in shadow of a vaporized person who had been sitting on the steps to a bank waiting for it to open. While I had been photographing the majority of the exhibits within the museum, this is one which I have yet to take a photo of. The image of that display is forever seared into my memory that I do not need a digital recording of it. Placing these displays and exhibits earlier in the tour will have a better impact for visitors; not some sanitized version which glosses over the reality or gets easily passed over because you will have no choice but to see them.

Upon leaving the museum, I leave the same short message in the signature book that I've left on prior visits, "never repeat, never forget, peace" while leaving bits and pieces of reflective thoughts in the dialogue notebook. I realize there are people out there who primarily dwell on the past and continue on their quest looking for fault and blame. I believe that is totally missing the point on something that is of this scale. The clock cannot be turned back on the events that occurred. The key is to move forward while remembering what took place and to not forget what happened. This is integral to the learning process because those who forget will only tend to repeat those same mistakes over and over again and regress backwards. The museum displayed the results of a weapon that is magnitudes less powerful than the nuclear arsenal of today. That should give people pause when you extrapolate the sort of destruction and devastation those would do.













This is a short raw video from a recent visit. If the above does not work, view the video from the gallery.


3.26 Copyright (C) 2008 / Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."

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