You may have heard on the news back at the beginning of August that this years marks the 70th anniversary since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
This anniversary played a huge part in Japan’s bid to host the 23rd World Scout Jamboree. This anniversary inspired the event’s theme of “WA”, or in English “the spirit of unity”, the wish that the memory of the horrific events of 1945 can encourage an international desire for peace and cooperation.
During my time in Japan I was given the opportunity to visit Hiroshima which I accepted, eager and curious to see first hand the place I had read so studied so much about.
We jumped on the bullet train from Yamaguchi and zoomed at a mild 200 miles an hour across Japan to Hiroshima and entered the memorial museum. As you enter you walk through what appears to be a building that has been hit by the bomb.
Then as you turn a corner you are confronted with wax works of people with burned skin and clothes with desperation etched on their faces. Rather a harrowing way to set the scene of a story full of pain, loss and destruction.
The first room contains a model of Hiroshima which demonstrates the geograhical radius of the bomb’s impact, a life size replica of the actual bomb and cases containing clothing which was salvaged from children that were killed.
The emphasis which is placed on the stories of individuals bring home the sobering reality of the lives that were ruined in the dropping of the atomic bomb, the sheer number of lives that were wasted in one act of violence.
And yet there is no semblance of blame. The information through the exhibition does not cover the events that had occurred in the years preceding; the war; the attack on Pearl Harbour. The tone is neutral, sticking to the facts of the attack itself – when it happened, the science behind the atomic bomb and its effects on the people and on the area.
I found this neutral tone interesting because it encourages the people visiting the museum to follow its example and also not speculate or blame but to accept the information presented to them at face value and to let that be enough. It helps you absorb the stories of the families devastated, the communities that were shattered and then leads you towards a message of hope.
The clear message of the museum is one of hope. After moving through the cases of shocking artefacts salvaged from the rubble of a fallen city, the museum guides you to a long corridor the walls of which are lined with an account of the work that Japan has been doing in recent years to promote international peace and the elimination of nuclear weapons.
From the windows of this corridor you can look out over the memorial gardens, which you walk out into upon leaving the museum. The centre piece of the park is a huge cenotaph inscribed with the names of those killed by the bomb. The saddle shaped structure standing over a concrete coffin represents shelter for the souls of the victims.
Behind the cenotaph is the Pond of Peace which leads back to the Peace Flame which will only be extinguished when there are no nuclear weapons left in existence.
Further into the park are huge glass cases full of peace cranes. Peace cranes have been adopted as the symbol of hope following the atomic bomb attacks. It comes from a story of a young girl called Sadako who contracted leukaemia as a result of the nuclear reaction. There is an old legend in Japanese culture which tells that if an individual folded a thousand peace cranes they would be granted a wish. When Sadako was admitted to a nursing home she began folding cranes in the hope that her wish would be granted and she would recover.
Sadako reached more than her goal of 1000 cranes before passing away at the age of 12. As a symbol of remembrance, every year visitors leave their own folded peace cranes to the park’s collection. The result is quite stunning.
Also included in the park is one building left standing as it was after the bomb struck Hiroshima. The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Hall was closest to the hypocenter of the nuclear bomb and is now listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Once you step outside the peace park your entire surroundings change. Hiroshima is incredibly metropolitan. Its packed with shops, gaming arcades, restaurants, bright lights and busy people. You could be in any city in Japan. This took me by surprise but then I took a moment to consider why this was.
After all, its been 70 years since the bomb attack. Why should the community have not regrown, rebuilt and moved on with its lives?
In fact, a parallel can be drawn between the line drawn around the memorial park and the line drawn under the bomb attack of 1945 by the memorial museum and in general by the people of Hiroshima. They all project the belief that the memory of the horrific devastation that the bomb brought this city should be remembered not to hold Japan in its past but as a lesson for the future – one of peace, cooperation and international community. A lesson that we would all do well to live by.