Japan Trip: Hiroshima

The majority of photos from the trip are still not sorted, let alone edited. Some of the sets go quietly into the album. This one has a story I needed to tell.

On my way to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park I wondered, not for the first time, if visiting Peace Park would be a mostly intellectual experience. The two young Brits seated next to me had been talking for most of the 15 minute streetcar trip. We were on the only section most tourists use of the extensive tram system, the part between the bullet train station and the Atomic Dome at the northern end of the park. One Brit wondered why, of all the Japanese cities they’d visited, they hadn’t seen any old buildings. While thinking that’s because the fire destroyed what the blast didn’t level, the Dome came into sight. A solemn wave washed my thoughts away, answering the earlier uncertainty.

First stop was the Children’s Memorial. Groups of school children, sometimes one right after the other, preformed similar ceremonies. The group stood in orderly rows. Individuals took turns addressing their group. Strings of origami cranes, undoubtedly in multiples of 1000, were presented to (someone), who hung them with the others. Some tourists paused at the monument then continued. Many stayed through at least one group’s entire ceremony. Their expressions seemed to mirror my feelings, gratefully acknowledging the luck that placed me here with groups of school children.

The meaning of paper cranes and of stringing together a 1000 changed after a 10 year old girl, Sadako Sasaki, began making 1000 cranes in a hospital while dying of leukemia, probably caused when she was 2 years old by being 1.2km from ground zero when the bomb exploded. One version of the story says she never finished, that her string was completed by others. The figures of Sadako and a crane are atop the monument.

Next stop was the East Building of the Peace Memorial Museum. It tells the story of Hiroshima from the late 1800’s until the months after the bomb. Small artifacts, drawings, maps and models showed the change of the city as a whole and it’s role as a military base. It was impersonal, obviously by design.

The obvious path through the oval main room followed the outer wall. The last exhibit before exiting was somewhat out of the flow of people. Naturally, that drew my attention. It was just another pockmarked piece of concrete until I read the card. This slab was removed from a hospital prior to it being demolished decades after the war. The building was far enough from the epicenter to be repaired but close enough so the blast blew out the glass wall opposite the concrete slab, sending shards into concrete with enough force to gouge deep holes. The second solemn wave washed over me.

Finding a place to sit and rest my legs was next, fortunately a few steps away. I played with the focus on my new camera. While pointed at a group of girls jammed into a cubicle where short films played on a loop, one of the girls made a sound I can’t describe. I reacted with a shutter press. Took a second picture seconds later, then put the camera down. It just seemed wrong to keep shooting.

The West Building covers 6 August, 1945. Having previously seen small exhibits of such subject matter, I knew what to expect. Didn’t see any point in reliving the experience.


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