Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hiroshima

We went to Hiroshima today, which is an amazing thing to see, not so much because of what happened there in 1945, but rather that there is so little trace of it now. Except that the buildings are entirely from the 50's and later, it looks a lot like what we've seen elsewhere: a bustling, sort of grimy, building laden city. In many ways, that's one of the coolest things about it. Despite the enormity of what happened here, people really moved on in a meaningful way.

The memorial Peace Park is also amazing, partly because it's not unlike visiting many Japanese parks. There's a nice walk and seating along the river, and there are Japanese tourists smiling and taking each other's pictures. It's just really strange that they're smiling in front of the "A-bomb Dome," the building which remained standing because it was right under the blast. In a certain sense, they're not treating it as anything other than another destination.

In other ways, they really are. The place feels very serious and deserving of absolute respect, despite it's being a very pleasant place. Mostly the place is blank concrete and grass. There is a cenotaph which lists the names of all of the victims (and is added to as more people die from secondary conditions) and an eternal flame.

(Oddly, we were attacked twice by pairs Jehovah's Witnesses who are on the prowl there in mass quantities, despite signs forbidding that kind of activity. I used the publication given to us by the first pair of Japanese ladies to ward off the second pair. There's a lesson in that: always bring bible literature with you to ward off other bible folks.)

The museum was pretty amazing, actually. The presentations were a combination of fact and advocacy for the end to nuclear weapons. They did a decent job of documenting the U.S.'s reasons for the attack, though they made a case for how arbitrary and pointless the bombing was. There was also much history of Hiroshima before the war, and of Japan's efforts to conquer the mainland during the Sino-Japanese wars. Interestingly, they took pains to mention both massacres in Nanking and also the large numbers of Korean slaves. Much of the historical information was about how their ow evil deeds, which I found interesting.

The exhibition about the blast itself was strange and moving and of course, upsetting. Nothing was really a surprise -- we've heard the stories and details many times, especially those of us growing up in the ultra-nuclear adverse 70s and 80s. However, I was deeply provoked by seeing actual melted glass and concrete pocked with shards of broken glass and being able to touch tiles that had been in the blast. A museum employee talked to us about the tiles and showed us how there was a part that had been covered which was smooth versus the part that had been blasted, which was bubbled from having melted.

There were videos of survivors describing what their experiences had been. They described a normal day until that moment. The ordinariness of the items and people's stories was really the most powerful part. These were just folks, this was just a watch, this was a pair of pants. And yet, this event happened to each of these people and things.

What remained with me is really how impressive the Japanese were after the war. After the bomb went off here, they were rebuilding within a fairly short period of time -- perhaps a year. What they dealt with in the aftermath of the war, not only from the atomic bombings, but also their own guilt over a lot of very significant evil, is worthy of much respect.

I'm really glad we came here.

Full window slideshow here.

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