Everyone has bowed to us as we’ve gone into and out of hotels, restaurants, shops, temples and museums all over Japan, and random people have sometimes even bowed to us in the street. We’ve very much got into the habit of bowing back, and sometimes we now even find ourselves bowing to people who haven’t bowed to us. We think that this is likely to be a hard habit to break, and we wonder how people will react if we start bowing to them when we get back home. I’ve known some people who would think it was only fitting that we bow to them whenever we see them, preferably as low and as frequently as possible. Fortunately I haven’t known too many of these people.
I don’t think that many people could come to Hiroshima and not visit the sites associated with the atomic bomb blast.
We catch a tram to the Atomic Bomb Dome. Other than some structural work to make it stable, this has been left exactly as it was immediately after the bomb went off at 8.15am on 6 August 1945. The bomb exploded directly above it. This meant that the walls were better able
to withstand the blast, which is the only reason that it stayed standing. If the blast had come at it from side on it would have been destroyed like all the other buildings in the vicinity. Everyone inside the Dome was killed instantly. There was a lot of debate after the war about what should be done with the Dome. Some survivors wanted it pulled down to avoid it reminding them of the horrors of that day, but in the end the overwhelming sentiment amongst the local residents was that it should be retained as a symbol of the futility of war and as an ongoing commitment to peace. The city has committed to preserving the Dome in its present state forever.
It’s hard to be here and not be completely overwhelmed by the sadness of it all, and we’re both feeling very emotional. It is almost impossible to believe that such an horrific event occurred right here, and not all that long ago.
We walk across a bridge into the very large Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. We can hear some children singing and go to see where it’s coming from. There are thousands of school children in
the Park, and many of them are queued up in groups to sing in front of the Children’s Peace Monument. We assume that each group is singing its school song. The Monument is a tribute to a young girl, Sadako Sasaki, who was two when the bomb was dropped. She initially seemed to have escaped injury, but when she was ten she developed leukaemia and eventually died. As she fought her illness she made origami paper cranes every day. As her story became known, children from all over Japan, and then the rest of the world, started making paper cranes in all sizes and colours and sending them to Hiroshima, and the memorial statue is surrounded by colourful costumes and banners made out of these countless millions of paper cranes.
We move onto the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. This is also incredibly sad. We watch video testimonies of survivors, many of whom recount horrific stories of losing their entire families. One man was a primary school student who was at his school on the outskirts of Hiroshima on the day of the blast. Of his thirty seven classmates, only ten survived, and he puts his luck down to being
shielded by some desks. Photos of burns victims are particularly horrific. One shows the pattern of a lady’s kimono imprinted into her skin by the force of the blast. The most poignant stories are from parents who sent their children off to school that morning, and then went desperately searching for them afterwards, only to be told there was no chance that they had survived. All 350 children at one school close to ground zero were killed instantly. The estimated population of Hiroshima was 340,000 before the blast, and 140,000 of them were either killed instantly or died from their injuries by the end of that year. Many more died in the following years from cancers and other diseases directly attributable to the bomb. Exact numbers are impossible to determine, as all the city’s records were destroyed by the blast.
We move onto the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. The main room is circular and underground, and is lined with 140,000 tiles which have been formed into a mural of the scene from the main hospital immediately after the blast. The hospital was close to ground zero and was completely destroyed. There is also
a section of the hall where visitors can research victims by either their photos or names. In another section there are more incredibly sad video testimonies from survivors.
We both feel numb after we leave the Park, and it is quite a while before either of us feel able to resume normal conversation.
We retrieve our luggage from the hotel and catch a bullet train to Osaka and then a local train to Osaka’s Kansai Airport. The Airport is on an island connected to the mainland by a very long and impressive bridge, and our hotel is right inside the airport.
This has been a very emotional day, and we need to make sure that the sadness we have both felt today doesn’t cloud our memories of what has been a great couple of weeks in Japan. The respectfulness and helpfulness of the Japanese people has been an absolute highlight.
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