Hiroshima & Himeji

The main point of my visit to Hiroshima was to witness firsthand the sadness and destruction wrought on August 6, 1945 by the detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb. It is something I’ve always read about, thought about, thought I understood—but I had to see it in person and from another point of view. One of the difficult things about history is that you always see it through a variety of “lenses”—your own culture, your time frame, your prejudices, your misinformation, your rationalization.

It was extremely powerful stepping off the streetcar and immediately seeing the Genbaku Domu (A-Bomb Dome)—the partially obliterated former Industrial Promotion Hall that has been left standing just as it was following the bombing. I didn’t know what to think or feel yet—I was just kind of stunned, slightly numb. The nice thing that helped me snap out of it was seeing all the families and children there seeing the sight with me. There to remember, but very much alive and happy in today’s world.

The A-Bomb Museum was another story. The parks and monuments were thought provoking and beautiful, but the museum which told the story of the bombing—the political, scientific, military and other reasons—was fascinating and absolutely packed with visitors. I broke my usual disdain for such things and rented one of those audio guide thingies so I could get the narration along with the exhibits. Some of the things I saw I was prepared for, some I understood, many I’d never thought of before. It was well worth my trip.

But the one part of the museum where I totally lost it was in the West wing which is devoted to the people who died—or survived—that terrible ordeal. The display cases were filled with artifacts—a tattered junior high school girl’s uniform; the melted eyeglasses of a grandmother; the lunch tin of a husband, the contents charred into coal—each with a story of the life lost and the family which grieved. The one that finally broke me apart was the twisted, rusted remains of a tricycle that 3-year-old Shinichi Tetsutani loved to ride and was playing on in his front yard that morning. His father—too sad to bury his son in a lonely grave far from home—buried his young son along with the tricycle and his own army helmet in the backyard. Years later, the remains were properly reburied and the tricycle is now displayed. I had to step aside and lean against the wall as the tears flowed and I struggled to regain my composure—I couldn’t bear to take a photo, though now I wish I had.

On the way out was a display of drawings and paintings by elderly survivors recalling August 6th. They too were extremely moving and you could feel how much those experiences burned themselves into their lives. Like the one gentleman recalling how dozens of his Junior High School classmates were stacked up like firewood in the school’s flower beds—they seemed to look just fine, they’d just died of the radiation fallout. He’d drawn them laid out in a circle, their heads still wearing their schoolboy caps all pointing in towards the center.

After I survived that museum, my last stop before leaving town was the Peace Memorial Hall, which is more of a contemplative place and monument to those who perished. After you exit the main hall, you see a display of large video monitors constantly flashing the photos and names of those who died. You can also use terminals to find people by name and read about them. I’ve always been fascinated by old photographs and enjoy imagining what may have happened to those people—where their lives lead, what they did while on this earth. The weird thing about these photos, though, was that I knew exactly what happened to them: they all ended in 1945. Like this happy baby picture of Isamu Sumiyoshi, who died aged 13 on the day of the bombing. A young man who would never live out his life.

Not that I want this journal entry to be a downer. Not that I’m one of those “peace at all costs” type of people. There were reasons for what happened—there always are—and maybe they were good ones. The one thing that always happens, however, is there’s a human cost to people who were just like you and me. So if decisions have to be made that lead to tragedies like this, it had better be worth it…

SO then—off to my final destination before returning to Kyoto: Himeji Castle. It was awesome! Himeji-jo is probably Japan’s most famous castle mostly because it’s one of the few left that is still in its original state and still made out of wood. The grounds were absolutely beautiful and getting up to the main keep itself was like going through a maze of paths, stairways and gates. You can check out the Photos page for a separate album. Suffice it to say that seeing it firsthand was something that was truly exciting and gave me more insight into Japanese military history and a greater appreciation of the Samurai.

After two full days of excitement, travel and emotion (not to mention the ever-present sweltering heat and humidity), I returned home to the dorms in Kyoto for almost the last time.

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