We woke up to the sound of multiple alarms at 5.30am, hoping to get ready for an early breakfast ahead of our trip to Hiroshima. Breakfast was more of the same yummy croissants and waffles drenched with maple syrup, and the pineapples were still, as luck would have it, sweet. Breakfast also involved us trying to demystify a mystery fruit, which, we concluded after keen observations of random Chinese tourists’ breakfast trays, was some form of lychee. This, in itself, meant I’d have to try it for breakfast the next morning, since I love all things lychee ^^
As we left breakfast, it had started raining outside. We armed ourselves with umbrellas and headed off in a new direction exploring the streets of Osaka. This morning’s discovery was a dance studio across from our hotel, and a vending machine which sold Tully’s coffee. I’m beginning to imagine a business plan here – which involves Starbucks branching out into on the go vending machine products. Too many banal thoughts for a lovely rain splashed morning. The weather forecast for Hiroshima was looking ominous with warnings of potential thunderstorms so we packed our raincoats, a change of shoes and were all set to go.
We took a lovely walk under the cloudy skies to the Esaka station and bought tickets to board a train to the Shin Osaka station, only a few minutes away, from where we’d be boarding the Shinkansen taking us to Hiroshima. Our short train ride was filled with commuters, 99% of whom I can safely say had their faces buried in either their mobile or in a book, quite unlike the early morning zombies of Dubai metro, of which I had once been a member, all catching up on their sleep. How can we be in such close proximity to each other and yet be worlds apart? Separated by silence, mind-numbing mobile games, the allure of living vicariously through mangas and books and even sleep. What a treasure trove of opportunity lies wasted in our commutes- friendships undiscovered, stories unspoken and smiles unshared…
We headed to catch the Nozomi 7, past posters announcing Tanabata celebrations, and watched the Shinkansens glide in and glide out of the station until ours finally arrived. The Shinkansen ride takes less than 2 two hours, and was filled with scenic views of bright green, broken only by the darkness of tunnels. It was a good opportunity to catch up on sleep, but I was too excited- no, maybe apprehensive is a better word. It is one thing to experience the horrors sitting in the comfort of your living room, behind the safety of a television screen. It is quite another to set foot on the land that has felt the atrocities and experienced the suffering.
A bus was waiting for us at the station, which would take us to the site of the Atomic Bomb Dome in the Peace Memorial Park. Outside our windows, we saw life went on, trees towered, flowers blossomed and rivers flowed. It was a strong reminder that every moment in life is just that – a moment, a blip on the radar on the pathway to where you choose to go, or stay. There is nothing worse than staying trapped in and being overwhelmed by that moment. Hiroshima had had its darkest moment- and the people, the plants, the animals had collectively chosen to forge on. Kaoru せんせい gave us a brief history lesson on the events of World War II that had led to the one of the most, if not the most, horrific moments in human history – the intentional use of the A-bomb on a civilian population knowing full well the ramifications of such an action on both human life and to the earth. On a personal level, what really gets to me though are three things.
The first, how completely disproportionate the response to Pearl Harbour had been. An attack on a US military ship by the Japanese military, should never have led to a reciprocation by the US military on innocent Japanese civilians whose only fault was being Japanese. A retaliation so severe at a time where waiting it out would possibly have served as the best way to end the war with minimum loss of human life on either side, as Japan had already run out of supplies and had openly begun asking citizens to donate pots and pans to the cause because there was no longer any metal to use for their air fleets. Most people say the US military was under pressure to show results, to justify all the money that had been pumped into the program for developing the A-bomb. Justification of the creation of a WMD came at the cost of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. Is that justification, or is that eternal damnation?
The second thing that eats me up, when I think about it and the more I read about it, is how there was a complete media blackout in the US to ensure that the American population were kept in the dark about the holocaust that had been committed in their name. Not only did they ban the Japanese from filming the horrors, any films they found were confiscated, while the US went on documenting the misery only to keep it classified for decades to come. Even now, the public has not really witnessed the true of horrors of what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The third thing that I wrestle with is that despite the atrocities, despite the uncountable, unfathomable loss of human life, despite the massive mental and physical repercussions for not just the Japanese people, but even the US soldiers who were subject to nuclear radiation poisoning , there has never been any real move by the world to actively pursue nuclear disarmament, which should have, in my opinion, been started by the only country to have used to the weapons and experienced first hand the incontestable devastation. Instead, the world moves on, trapped in red tape and fear playing on a chess board which no one is brave enough to flip over to make a fresh start. The world moves on, washing its hands off its accountability, determined to make its children pay for its sins. And we, as the inheritors to this chaos, have not done enough to break free.
Nothing really prepares you for setting foot on the Aioi Bridge, across the Honkawa river, the original target of the A-bomb (and only recently rebuilt in the 80s) and walking toward the skeletal ruins of the building once an exhibition hall, now called the “Atomic Bomb Dome”, the sole survivor in a sea of fire fuelled by burning wooden buildings. Every step towards the building brings back pictures you’ve seen of the rubble that once was where you are now standing. It is disconcerting to think that the only thing that separates you from the people who lived and died there, is the accident of your birth. Life, meanwhile, has sprung through the cracks and covered the devastation with its beauty. It was always believed that nothing could grow at the site of the bombing for around 75 years at least, but by the end of the year, trees and shrubs were already making their way through the destruction and red flowers bloomed through the rubble.
We walked on, in reverent silence for the countless lives that had been lost there, across the Motoyasu bridge, past the Children’s Peace Monument towards the Flame of Peace, which burns continually with the hope of peace for the generations to come. I could not bring myself to go to the Children’s Peace Monument, behind which hang countless colourful senbazuru.
We made our way to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where Japanese people and foreigners alike shared a sombre silence as we relived the moments that led up to the fateful day – August 6, 1945. Even school children have been brought so they never forget and remember the words, “Never Again.” Not only could we see the pre and post images of the vibrant city of Hiroshima as it had once been, but we were also able to see well-preserved artefacts from the day of the bombing and the weeks to come. From glass bottles, fused by the heat released by the bomb, to the clothes worn by the women and children who had come to die. Most spectacularly preserved however, is a watch stuck in time at the moment of impact.
There is a small gallery, with some pictures showing the toll of the bomb on the human body – on men, women and children alike, and it was the one place I could not bring myself to go through. There were accounts given by children, some of which were never completed because the children tragically lost their lives. There we saw the popular story of Sadako who even a thousand paper cranes could not save, just one of the innocent child casualties of the war. I wonder how it will be when all these children ask for what crime they were killed. I wonder if thoughts of them ever haunted those who had been involved in the bombing. It’s a chilling thought.
We headed to the museum shop, where we found not just the commemorative coin, but also a copy of John Hersey’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Hiroshima” which I had once read.
“They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything”
John Hersey from Hiroshima
There are things that you read, people you meet and things you see that change your life. If this was not a call for “Never Again” then nothing else shall ever be, because it will be as though empathy had died and the world was again ready to sacrifice their children and their planet on the alter of fear.
Missed Day 2 in Kyoto?
Check out Day 3 Part 2- Adventures in Miyajima!