My visit to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Over the 2016 Christmas break I visited Japan for the first time with my girlfriend. There are many places to visit in Japan, since it is an old civilization with rich history, but there was one place I wanted to visit above all to learn more about an important event in world history. Hiroshima. Growing up in Canada I vaguely recall making paper cranes for Hiroshima in elementary school and discussing atomic weapon’s in Mr. Venier’s Grade 10 history class. Other than these two moments in my life, Hiroshima was only an answer to a trivia question. After visiting it I now see it as a place for a peace pilgrimage.
We began our day by getting off the tram by the iconic Atomic Dome. It is the closest surviving building to the hypocentre, the place above the ground where Little Boy was detonated. The building is fenced off but within the structure you can see bricks that have likely not been moved for seven decades.
We then visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and requested a volunteer tour guide, which I highly recommend. The photo below was taken by a journalist named Yoshito Matsushige, who took only five photographs on the day of the bombing. Yoshito walked around for about 20 minutes before he could find the courage to take his first picture. He felt the most dignified photograph he could capture was facing the backs of the surviving atomic bomb victims, or hibaksha as they are known in Japan. His account of the day is quite moving. The museum has artifacts and pictures from Damage by the Heat Rays, Damage by the Blast, and Damage by Radiation. One famous picture you have probably seen on the Internet is the cast shadow on the steps of a bank, which was donated to the museum but has been fading over the years. Overlooking Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, you reach the end of the museum where you can listen to testimonies from the hibaksha and see pictures of past famous visitors. It was here that our tour guide spoke about her fear for the recent wave of intolerant populism and asked that we spread the message of peace. I found her message to have a child-like innocence that would have resonated with a younger version of myself.
As we explored the park we came across the the Peace Bell. The bell has the world map etched on it without any borders and Socrates’ “know thyself” quotation. I felt as if I was making a statement for peace for the world to hear by ringing the bell, but my feeble attempt couldn’t be heard outside of the park. Walking away from the bell I could hear the gong reverberate throughout the park as other Peace Pilgrims also made their statements.
In the evening I made my way back to the Atomic Dome to witness the night lights. There was some recent controversy about whether it was respectful to have the night lights, which some saw the city making the Atomic Dome as a tourist attraction rather than a place of mourning. Decades ago there was even a debate as to whether the ruins of the Atomic Domb should be kept or torn down. The reason being that it was and is a reminder of the suffering the city endured. Personally, I am glad that the citizens of Hiroshima kept it. My feeling is that the Atomic Domb is the first hibakusha, and it will be the last hibakusha.
After the atomic bomb was dropped there was a belief among the Japanese that nothing would grow in Hiroshima for 75 years. If it were not for the memorials or museums I would not be able to recognize Hiroshima’s tragic past as it seemed to be a regular mid-size city, and it had only been 71 years since the bombing when I visited. If they were wrong about the atomic bomb’s effect on making the city uninhabitable, maybe I can be wrong about the prospect for peace.
Halfway around the world in Canada I can still hear the Peace Bell echo because I know there are Peace Pilgrims ringing the bell for the same reason I did when I was there.