Friday, September 13

Hiroshima

I’m sure the people of Hiroshima would prefer their city’s fame had a different heritage. As every school student knows, Hiroshima was the world’s first atomic bomb target. On August 6, 1945, a bomber called Enola Gay, dropped a 4.4 tonne bomb called Fat Boy, on its unsuspecting citizens. Some 70,000–80,000 people, or some 30% of the population of Hiroshima, were killed by the blast and resultant firestorm, and another 70,000 injured. Thousands more died from its after effects in the months that followed.

Today, the surrounding metropolitan area is home to more than two million people. The city is bustling and filled with life, while reminders of its atomic devastation are now largely confined to Peace Memorial Park. The park is situated in the heart of the city on an island formed by two branches of the Ota River.

Access to the island is made from Aioi Bridge. The bridge’s distinctive T-shape was used as an aiming target by the Enola Gay, hence its location only 240 metres from the bomb’s epicenter. A red marble monument identifies the epicenter. It’s not easy to find, standing against the non-descript wall of building down a quiet side lane. It was the first place I took Mum on the day we toured Hiroshima.

I recall finding this spot back in 1998 on my first visit to Hiroshima. It was a chilling experience to reflect on the fact that had I stood on this same spot, 48 years earlier, I’d now be dead. The Peace Memorial Museum at the southern end of Peace Memorial Park continues to bring the bombing into stark reality.

Exhibit after exhibit tells the story of innocent school children and workers killed in an instant. Perhaps its most chilling artifacts are pocket watches whose hands are forever frozen at 8:15am. It’s difficult not to look at your own watch and consider how transient life can be. Mum and I spent almost two hours slowly making our way through the museum.

Our tour of the area also took in the city’s infamous A-Bomb Dome. This is the carefully preserved, twisted iron skeleton of the Industrial Promotion Hall, a building lying almost directly under the bomb’s fireball. Its remains have become the city’s enduring symbol of its atomic legacy. Nearby stands a memorial to school children killed by the blast.

Inside the Peace Memorial Park lie additional memorials. These include a cenotaph containing the names of all known victims of the bomb. It’s graceful arc frames the Flame of Peace, which will only be extinguished once the last remaining nuclear weapon has been dismantled. In distance, the A-Bomb Dome completes the scene.

Perhaps the park’s most poignant memorial is the Children’s Peace Memorial. Its simple curving form is capped by a child whose out-stretched arms are releasing a crane. The crane symbolizes longevity and happiness is Japan. The memorial was inspired by a young bomb survivors, Sadako, who developed leukaemia at the age of ten. She decided to fold 1,000 paper cranes, reflecting an ancient Japanese tradition that says the folder’s wishes will come true once they complete this task.

Sadako died before reaching her goal. However, the spirit of her endeavour lives on. Today, school children around Japan undertake paper-folding projects, the results of which are displayed in glass cases behind the memorial. On the morning that Mum and I were several school groups were visiting. We watched them gather in front of the memorial for a brief presentation before representatives were came forward to hang strings of paper cranes.

Our tour of the park finished with a visit to a large, grassy mound where the ashes and remains of more than 10,000 bomb victims have been laid to rest. As I noted to Mum, our tour began at the bomb’s epicenter and finished in front of the people it ultimately killed.

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