I’m sorry for my absence. Let me say before I begin that we are looking at another two-parter here as there was simply too much to contain in one blog. Next week will include my visit to Miyajima.
I had earned some free air miles from my trip back to the States over the summer and when I found out that Veteran’s Day was a three day weekend, I started putting together a little get away trip.
I decided on Hiroshima, as I have been a student of history in general and World War II in particular. Like many Americans, my focus was primarily on the European Theatre, but being here, I am able to learn much more about the war in the Pacific at first hand.
I set about finding an inexpensive hotel or hostel (since my last experience was a good one). I discovered the Santiago Guesthouse, right in downtown Hiroshima, centrally located within walking distance to Peace Park. I am fascinated with capsule hotels, but there was no availability for a women’s capsule hotel so I went with the hostel. To my delight, the women’s dorm looked and felt like what I imagine a capsule hotel to be. It was awesome..I was reminded of my childhood tree forts except this had a little lamp, a tiny shelf and an outlet to charge my goodies.
So, I checked in and looked up a good okinomiyaki restaurant. I can hear you saying some form of what the heck is that? Okay, I’ll tell you. There are two dishes that Hiroshima is known for: okinomiyaki and winter oysters. Okinomiyaki is deliciousness and wonderfulness and all good things, made on a crepe with my favorite…cabbage! Also, meats and ramen or udon, you choose, green onion and an egg. They put some savory sauce on it and push it toward you on a grill. You have your own little spatula to pick up the pieces and put it on your plate. I was going to go to Okino-maru since it is recommended all over the place, but the young lady at the hostel steered me here, to Koshida. If you go, I guarantee a pleasant experience at this place.
So after dinner I left the restaurant to the drunken salarymen as they were lined up outside and laughing loudly, filling the streets with their chatter. I’ve mentioned it before, I’ll mention it again, it is unbelievable to me how safe it is here and on Mainland Japan. There is never the feeling of having to look over your shoulder, except when you cross the road, you’d better do it then! What a lovely place to be.
I decided since I wasn’t tired to go take a look at the Peace Park. It was a little bit of a hike from where I was, so I dropped off my backpack at the hotel and set off with my camera and my trusty bottle of Ayataka green tea.
I am not an overly emotional person, let’s just set the record straight. Many of my childhood friends remember my obsession with Star Trek and Mr. Spock in particular. He was, and is still, a role model.
Upon entering the park at night, it felt good and safe, and quiet, but there is a gravity there. I have never been to Gettysburg or Antietam, but I’ve heard people talking of the imprint that is left in the land from violence. I felt that I was in a place that retained a memory like that. It just felt as if I should be very still, and as I was thinking that, I noticed I was holding my breath for a moment.
I was virtually alone in the park with a runner passing by or someone quietly observing the space or just pausing in their own thoughts. I put several of the photos below that I took that night. It was a good feeling. I was impacted, I guess is the word, at the Children’s Memorial and the reason behind it. A girl who lived through the day but died ten years later of leukemia is memorialized here, by other students who went to school with her. Children from all over Japan worked and contributed to this memorial. It was the place I kept being drawn back to.
I sat on a park bench for a while and just took in the moment. I also called my Mom because it was a time when I could catch her, and let’s be honest, how many times to you get to call someone and tell them you are in Peace Park in Hiroshima? Also, I needed someone to share it with who would understand what the moment meant to me.
I headed back to my little cave of a bed and set the alarm so I could spend a day of reflection and understanding.
About a block from the Peace Park is the Shinto shrine Shirakami, meaning ‘white god’. It was built around the late 1500s and was destroyed in the atom bomb blast. But it is reconstructed and active now. I heard some noise as I approached it at 6:30 a.m….then I got closer…it was coming from the shrine!
I was contemplating going in, saying a prayer and throwing some money to the god, but I wanted to catch sunrise at the park. As I crossed over the bridge and into the park, I was greeted by the fountain water rising into the air. There was a crane sitting by the river, and understanding the symbolism of the crane, longevity and good luck, I felt that some of the spirits were accompanying me on my journey. A bronze statue in front depicts the horror of a mother attempting to shield her children during the blast.
So here is where the emotional overwhelm began for me. I am not an emotional person, I am not easily affected by things. I walked into the park, again, very few people there and it felt as if someone squeezed my heart. It was an actual physical pain in my heart and I started crying and couldn’t stop throughout my time there. I was affected during the day by a sharp and cutting feeling. It’s hard to describe, but there was a weight there and it was palpable. The reality of what happened on that August morning in 1945 hit me in a way that reading about it in a book never could.
As I was making my way to the Children’s Memorial, an older man, maybe in his 60s or 70s saw me walking alone and made a point to make eye contact with me. He slowed his bike and said very clearly, ‘good morning’ and then as I nodded, he said softly, ‘welcome’. I felt love and shame and wonder at the resiliency of the human spirit. That this man could welcome a person from the country that was an enemy, was humbling to me. I spoke with a colleague at work who said she kept feeling guilty the whole time she was here and I understood that feeling.
I went over to the hypocenter of the explosion, which is about a block away from the park, with a 7-Eleven on the corner and next to the Hondori Street Markets. It’s just a marker on the spot.
At 8:15, I had returned and was walking under the shadow of the Performance Hall when the bells began chiming in acknowledgment of the time when the bomb was dropped. I looked up to the top of the building and in the blasted remains of the dome, two cranes alighted. Again, that feeling of having sentinels watching over us.
I made my way back to the museum and there are signs there that ask you not to feed the birds. This was my light moment, in many ways, of the day. I saw this man standing in the morning sun and the birds are flying all around him, he was feeding them. I raised my camera in a question, and he nodded, it was okay to take the picture. So here it is. I hear the words of my English teacher, Mrs. Faoro, who once explained the purpose of Yorick, in Hamlet. She said there is too much drama, there is too much tension, so Shakespeare inserted a little gallows humor to break up the intensity of the moment. I felt like this man was my Yorick, he eased my tension and brought a smile to my face.
I went to the museum because I needed to, but I had a difficult time being there. People were absolutely silent although the room was crowded. I have never experienced a museum and this feeling at a museum before. There was no soft chatter, just silence.
As you leave the rooms, it takes you to a hallway that looks out onto the park. Here are all the impressions by people, the audio library of the accounts of the people that day, it has sunlight coming in and designed in a way to leave you, I think with a sense of hope.
I left and went to the gift shop where you can purchase paper made of folded cranes, where you can fold cranes or bizarrely enough, buy a t-shirt. I just wandered back out and left it for later.
I returned that evening and spent a few hours, as I was leaving the park, under the bridge I heard a sound…young people gathering and making music. I thought it great!
I went again this morning before I left. I think I will not return here, but it was the most impactful and maybe important thing I have seen here.
I hope everyone has a good week and is able to look past all the chaos. Remember the lessons that history keeps trying to teach us. Even if we do not like a situation, creating violence will not resolve it, it will only leave scars. Remember that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have and that you do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.