Japan – Hiroshima
Japan has been, for a couple of first timer rtw travelers, a mix of general frustration with some funny and and certainly interesting adventures. And we even managed to make some fledgling new friendships with both locals and fellow travelers.
More on those later.
PJ- I think as part of this blog and some of the personal goals we have set for our trip it is important that the first post relates to our time in Hiroshima and in particular the Peace Memorial Museum and the Peace Park.
I have always been more than a bit apprehensive about the idea of visiting any site where nuclear radiation is an integral part of the place’s history and a reality of day to day life. My knowledge on the subject of radiation is based on the kind of general popular science that breaths both a fair bit of interest and not a small amount of fear. Basically, i had no desire to visit the place because, well, an atom bomb was used there. Is the water, food, air, anything really safe? I still have no idea, and frankly i don’t really care anymore. It is an important place to visit and i think we owe it to the people of Hiroshima, other radiation affected cities and the whole planet, to make an effort to make the pilgrimage to the city and visit the museum and do what you can to take as much of it in as possible.
We needed to go somewhere else other than Tokyo and Hiroshima was far enough away to offer some time to rest on the train. We had already been told plenty of times that we had to go see the Peace Museum (they were right) and so after stopping for the night at the hostel, that’s where we headed to the next day. We arrived hungry and went in to the cafe to grab some snacks (a couple of boiled eggs and a biscuit of sorts). We sat down next to an old man who had kindly gestured for us to seat next to him at the table and after a minute or two opened the conversation.
“Which country?” he said with an interested and warm grin. When we said Australia, he nodded and said with his hands in front of him “Aaah, koala and kangaroos.” We nodded unenthusiastically. Was he from Hiroshima or somewhere else in Japan, we asked. ‘Here.” he says with his fingers spread out in both hands, fingertips tapping the table. “Bomb went off here.” We obviously knew that but that’s not really what he meant, we think. So Lisa asked him how old he was when it happened. “17…” he says as he looks us in the eyes with a slight pause “Both parents dead!” He was fairly old so that was to be expected. Again, not what he meant. He was 17 when the first of the two A-Bombs dropped by the USA on Japan, detonated 600 metres above Hiroshima and killed 150,000 people (directly or through radiation, fires or some other way), his parents among them. That was our experience at the museum before we even went into the museum.
The museum shows what we felt was a fairly complete story of the town leading up to the historically tragic moment. It was an education centred (producing teachers) city that was turned into a military hub slowly but surely. The citizens celebrated certain campaigns in China by throwing lots of parties that brings to mind certain scenes we have recently seen in the news, from the Gaza strip. They were also subjected to very harsh austerity measures by the Japanese government, which put its citizens under a lot of hardship. Then it takes you through the history of the choices to use the bomb (as a giant ruler to test and justify the money spent in its research) and the days leading up to it, the day itself, the following days, weeks and months. Tells you some more focused stories of selected citizens, the physics behind the bomb and much much more. It is all there, very thorough and nothing flashy or fancy about the whole display. Just lots of photos and text on walls – and nobody in there with us wanted to skip a single bit of information.
The thing that struck me the most was this stark difference between the Peace Museum and the ANZAC War Memorial, back home. The War Memorial was impressive, with lots of displays and a lot of information. It deals with a much larger topic encompassing a myriad of aspects through a few years of horror and does it brilliantly if, in my humble opinion, you do not mind chest thumping and proud patriotism served to you, without any side dish of accountability on Australia’s part for some of the horrors committed, nor any attempt to question the motives of and benefits to the people making the decisions that lead to so many deaths.
In comparison the Peace Museum, while not making any attempt to go into details neither (details that i am sure would make most modern day Japanese cringe in shame, or so i would like to think) it does not shrink from the country’s guilt in the pain caused to a lot of people. It is clearly stated quite a few times. But while one celebrates the memories of those that fell in the service of their country (or the very least at the beckoning of those in charge) the other attempts to keep the flame alive in the hope it helps to lead the world to a more sensible, safer and kinder path. Every time a world power decides to do yet another nuclear test, the current mayor of Hiroshima, writes a personalised letter to said country, asking that it remembers what happened in Hiroshima and that it stops trying to go down that mad path and join instead the push to rid the world of all nuclear weapons.
There was one thing that struck me as very weird: Nagasaki is hardly mentioned at all, other than in a historical context in regards to the possible cities that could be used to test the bomb. I think they have their own Peace Museum that tells their story and i know that Nagasaki was bombed after Hiroshima but it was still strange, for some reason.
Regardless, this is nothing but my humble feelings and opinions, viewed from a very subjective point of view. -PJ
“Spirit of Hiroshima: enduring grief, transcending hatred, pursuing harmony and prosperity for all,and yearning for genuine lasting world peace.”
love and friendship – PJ and Lisa