Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hiroshima Memorial Park and Museum

P9060018 Of course when one hears the name "Hiroshima" today, the first thing that comes to mind is (unfortunately) the Atomic Bomb that was dropped on the city in August 1945, destroying a big part of the city and killing tens of thousands of people - overwhelmingly civilian - instantly. The city has of course been rebuilt in the sixty odd years that have passed but they have left an area that was close to the bomb's epicenter as a memorial park. The first place I visited in Hiroshima was this park which contains the Atomic Bomb Dome (原爆ドーム), Hiroshima Memorial Museum, the eternal flame that has been burning for roughly the last 60 years, and a lot of statues, each put there to remember people who died in the attack. Getting there is easy by tram (or streetcar as they prefer to call it) - the stop names are in English, Korean, and Chinese too.

P9060008 The moment I took a step into the park I felt a bit weird. After all, less than 60 years ago, the same place was literally hell on earth... After composing myself a bit I saw the building that has become almost a symbol of Hiroshima - the Atomic Bomb Dome. This building, constructed with much stronger materials than the houses people lived in, somehow survived the bomb blast - at least in terms of its general structure (save for the dome). Now it stands as a reminder of the sheer destruction that it witnessed, almost like a silent ghost of the past that lots its ability to speak that day.

P9060017 The memorial for the children that died in the explosion (and later because of the radiation) stands in the park. It is adorned by cranes, telling the story of little Sadako Sasaki, a little Japanese girl who was exposed to the bomb when she was 2 years old. It looked like she survived it and that she would have a normal life but she  was diagnosed with leukemia which ultimately claimed her life at 12. While she was in the hospital she started making paper cranes because she heard that if you make a thousand cranes your wish would come true. The museum has her pictures and the letters she wrote to her classmates while hospitalized. For me she is the best example of how the bomb took away so many innocents...

P9060033 The museum consists of three buildings, the middle building being the most shocking one. There are copies of letters written by the US Administration of the time to the military explaining why and how the bombing was decided. There are maps and pictures showing how the city looked before and after the bombing and most touching, there are clothes and items that belonged to the victims of the bomb, mostly children who were outside working on clearing fire lanes in case there was another bombing (during the time that the bomb was dropped Japan had little means of defending itself so bombing of mainland by the US was becoming pretty routine) or playing. Some middle schools lost more than 90% of their students to the bomb with the luckiest ones losing around 50%.

The experience may be haunting for some - it definitely was for me. I had a hard time holding back my tears after reading the letter Sadako wrote to her friends and seeing her picture... I am still glad I saw the memorial though. I think without doing so one can think one understands how terrible a nuclear weapon is but he/she could not be any more wrong. If you have the chance please go and see it.

Tomorrow something more cheery I promise...

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