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Published: March 18th 2014
Weekend in Hiroshima March 15-16
After a week of traveling, I stayed in Kure on Saturday and hung out with Ellen. In the evening, we went to Hiroshima to meet up with her friends at a place they call “Beyonce’s Bedroom.” The floor is covered in mattress and there are pillows everywhere, with the tabletop being directly on the soft floor. It was a bit feminine and after the other guy left before we had dinner, I was the only male left. It was a bit silly, but it was nice to meet more of her JET friends. Many of them are from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia as well as the United States.
The way Ellen made it sound, I thought we were going to be out all night because you either catch the last train before midnight or the first one in the next morning, around 5:00, to get back to Kure. After dinner, only two of them went out and we met up with two more. They started by saying that, since I was there, they had to show me a good time. We walked to a nearby pub but
it was packed. Then everyone gave up and went home. So, unfortunately, that’s the extent of my knowledge on Hiroshima nightlife.
On Sunday, we went back to Hiroshima. We had intended to go to Iwakuni, a historical destination reachable on the local lines, but given the distance and our plans to have Ellen’s neighbors over for dinner, we decided to go to Hiroshima instead and visit the Peace Park.
At the Peace Park there is a building that remains from the atomic bombing. Since the bomb detonated close to right above it, the skeleton of the dome remained in tact, although warped. There was a man speaking there. I think he was in-utero during the attack but his mother and him managed to survive while his father passed from radiation poisoning.
Nearby there was a monument to the many mobilized students who died in the attack and in responding in the aftermath, as well as a few other monuments to remember the victims and with the hopes that no nuclear attack will happen again. One of the most sobering was a gravesite where they cremated and buried many of the victims in the days following the attack.
I offered oshoko there with the incense they provided. Unlike many of the other places I have visited, it was very non-commercialized, which was very tasteful. The incense was free and the site was pretty much without donation boxes. Children played and people walked dogs, strolled, or sat on benches. It felt right that a monument like that was very public. There is a museum there, too, but we didn’t go. It was a very sad place already and Ellen understandably didn’t feel like a Holocaust museum experience.
I feel that in the United States, while most people agree it was a horrible event that shouldn’t happen again, the popular rhetoric was that it was a necessary military evil. It’s written to our history books and our popular mythology. The issue still comes up now and again. I think Obama recently refused to renew the executive’s rhetorical defense of the bombing. I think for Americans, this mentality needs review. We remain the only country in history to have used nuclear weapons on a civilian population. If our current efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation are to be earnest, how can we then defend they way we used them in the
I won’t go far on this topic, but I am reminded of an American War Propaganda video that I saw. At the end of the War Department movie, a slow panning shot of the barracks of a Japanese-American Internment Camp flickers on the screen as the narrator says that America’s “Christian decency” in the treatment of its prisoners should set an example to the enemy nations. The thing was that America’s prisoners were Americans. And their extensive use of fire-bombing even prior to the nuclear attacks was far from decent. The point is that WWII was not “America’s Last Just War,” as it is referred to by historians. The point should be that war is not just.
I have to say that the overall presentation of the Peace Park was very universal in its message and not nationalistic. It lamented the tragedy of war. There were a good number of foreign visitors as well, speaking a number of languages, and the site was accessible for them. The student memorial even seemed to be an apology from Japan for the lives of the youth that were lost. It did not seem at all to seek feelings of anger
or revenge towards the bombers. I write this because it is important in terms of what happened next.
Just a few blocks away, as we went to have lunch in the commercial district, we walked past a horrifying demonstration. Draped behind by Imperial Japan’s wartime flag carried by others in the demonstration, a man spoke through a sound system to the people on the street. It seemed that he was speaking about Chinese and Korean students in Japan, and it didn’t seem like he was saying nice things about them. I’m pretty sure it was Japan’s racist far right. It was a very upsetting sight, and it was a shock after a week of only seeing friendliness and people getting along.
But it didn’t seem like anyone was stopping to listen. They passed by without giving the demonstration attention. A nearby doorman for a shop yelled over the speaker, advertising some sale. Only one man videotaped the event, and he could have been part of the demonstration. I feel that very few people there had sympathy for the demonstrators. However, this seems a symptom of the larger problem of rising nationalism in the area that we experienced this
past year with territorial disputes over islands and fishing waters. It appears as if Japan is not without its own problems right now. And it’s not only the far right. Ellen has had a few issues at school, both from students and in the office, which have held her to a different standard for being Chinese-American. So while it’s nothing unique to Japan, it was sobering for me to witness.
However, from my travels so far, I have witnessed much more good than evil. Perhaps this next week, I will appreciate the good I see even more.
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