Ground Zero: Hiroshima

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

On August 6th 1945, a single atomic bomb was dropped at around 8:15 am, on the thriving city of Hiroshima. It was chosen as a means of slowing down Japan’s economy and displaying what atomic weapons can achieve. The bomb, ‘little boy’ was detonated at 600 meters above the city. It was the first time such a formidable weapon was used against a city and its residents. A large number of persons perished below the mushroom cloud and the ones who had survived the explosion would go on to suffer in unimaginable ways.

I was up at the crack of dawn in order to catch the first train out of Kyoto. It would take some time in transit from station to station so I made it my duty to be up as early as possible. At this point, my feet hurt and my body was sore from all the running around I had been doing. On arriving in Hiroshima, it was hard to believe that an atomic bomb had once devastated this city. There were no signs of hardship or destruction but for one building that was purposely left for the sake of memory. The Atomic Bomb Domb curiously maintained it’s skeletal structure even though it sat almost below the point of detonation.

Peace Memorial Park was designed as a means of remembering the victims that lost their lives on that tragic day. I must say, nothing is as I imagined it would be. The city was beautiful, quiet, peaceful and bordered by large rivers. The atmosphere was serene as an overwhelming silence and a sense of sadness loomed over the park. I tried to imagine what it was like when the bomb was dropped.

There were a number of shrines in place to give a brief history of what happened. Some shrines were constructed for the children who had died since there were thousands in the city volunteering at the time of the blast. The choice of words expressed woe and a great need for peace and comfort for their souls. In essence the park I suppose, also served as a great cemetery. Thousands of origami-paper cranes can be seen at the back of this Goddess in the photo. There is a saying that folding a thousand will grant you one wish. The cranes are then burnt so that the wishes can return to the source.

Peace Memorial Park also houses a museum. The museum is unlike any I have visited. It serves not only to exhibit a collection of materials such as melted iron, petrified glass, tattered clothes and other things that were twisted by the sheer heat but also as a way of telling people’s stories and sharing memories linked to the bombing. Being in that museum was like an emotional roller-coaster that evoked empathy by the choice of materials on display. You tend to realize that every individual affected had a unique story, whether it was a wallet in the showcase or a child’s lunchbox. Many such stories were on display for all to read. The experience can also be likened to visiting a horror-house at a theme park. Some walls were laden with photos of persons in agony with melted skin, eyes popping out and horrific things that I cannot forget. There were human shadows etched in stone, as bodies literally vaporized in the blast.

I know now that I did not posses the imagination to understand the various levels at which they were capable of suffering. The initial explosion was just the beginning of the despair for those who survived. Many people were forced to look at their loved ones suffer and ultimately die in agony, unable to help in any way. The burnt people cried for water and when it rained, many drank the black- radioactive water which caused a plethora of other diseases and complications. Many developed chronic ailments that seemed to be passed on to other generations. The A-bomb diseases only added another angle to the already starving, homeless, grieving persons. Many became depressed and lost their zeal to go on living after witnessing such horror. Another disturbing installation at the museum was the artwork created by people who survived the bombing. I could not believe my eyes. Some of those child-like drawings simply portrayed hell on earth.

Interestingly enough, the over arching theme that Hiroshima has come to represent from all that I read and witnessed; is the need for peace at all costs. I expected to see some signs of animosity towards the ones who dropped the bomb but there was no evidence of any finger pointing or hatred. This is what makes Hiroshima spectacular to me, the outlook of the people. The Japanese continue mourn the loss of its people every day as fresh flowers decorate the shrines and cenotaph. Every year on the 6th of August, Hiroshima celebrates with 1 minute’s silence at 8:15 am and continues to pray for and promote World Peace.