6th August 1945 at 8:15 in the morning. That’s when it happened. About 600 meters above the Hiroshima Cultural and Arts centre, American bomber plane Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb, the first ever nuclear atomic bomb to be used against human beings in the history of warfare.
We all know this date, we know the atomic bomb happened because we learn about it at school from our history books. We learn dates, and place names, the names of the people in power, the politics. But coming here to Hiroshima, to the very site where the bomb was dropped, seeing for myself the place where all those innocent people were blown apart, sorry to use such a graphic expression, is something I couldn’t have learned from any history book.
On a sunny Friday afternoon, I exited the south side of Hiroshima station and looked for the sign for what is now called The Atomic Bomb Dome. I could have taken the public streetcar for 10 stations, but I wanted to walk. I could have used a map, but I didn’t want the distraction. Instead I just followed the street signs. Without the distraction of a map, my phone or the hustle and bustle of getting public transport, I just walked silently, clearing my thoughts. At certain stages there were signs indicating the distance from the A-Bomb Dome: 1.5km, 1km, 500m. As I was getting closer, I could sense a resistance in my body and I walked even slower. The heat was sweltering.
Eventually, after about a 40 minute walk under the strong summer sun, I came to it. The Atomic Bomb Dome, as it’s now called, previously the Hiroshima Culture and Arts Centre, the building 600 metres above which the atomic bomb was dropped, instantly killing everyone inside and thousands nearby. Over 140,000 people were killed by the atomic bomb, about 70,000 directly from the blast and another 70,000 from injuries and radiation illnesses. The original target of the bomb is said to have been the nearby Aioi bridge, easily recognizable from the sky because of its T-shape. The original Culture and Arts Centre building was known for its dome at the top, which was green, the shape of which you can still see. The remains of the building are now preserved and protected by a security fence preventing entry. There was an argument to demolish the building because of the painful memories, but it was decided to preserve it, as a memory of the atrocity that happened, as a memorial to the people who were killed and as a symbol of Hiroshima’s everlasting commitment to peace, and an end to nuclear warfare now and forever.
When I got to the A-Bomb Dome, I stopped outside, went to my knees and said a prayer for the repose of the souls of those people that were killed, many of whom were mobilized children, who had been recruited to work in factories due to labour shortages during the war. It was a busy Friday afternoon so there were lots of people around. When I got up, a smiling couple asked me to take their picture in front of the Dome. `Sorry` I said. I wasn’t exactly in a smiley ‘picture-taking’ mood. Lots of school kids were also milling around, taking notes and chatting with each other.
After spending a while here, I went on to the Peace Memorial Park, a large and beautiful park containing the Peace Memorial Hall. As I entered the hall, I followed a path surrounded by high grey walls going in a circular direction. It felt quite claustrophobic in here. It led to a room where the walls are tiled, one small tile for each person who was killed. In this room there are also individual photos of each person who was killed and a searchable database to look for people. I stayed a while and looked at many of the faces. Then I went to the Peace Memorial Museum and watched videos of survivors telling their stories, many of them parents telling about their children who were killed. They described vivid and frightening scenes of bodies floating in the river, eyes bulging out, people screaming and calling for each other, the smell of hair and skin burning. I won’t forget them. I cried and prayed for the people who were killed. And for the people who experienced it but survived, left behind with horrific memories.
When I got back to the guesthouse, I was still in a very quiet mood, having not really talked to anyone. My host Yasuko san, a kind woman of about 50 or so was there and asked me how my day was. I told her about going to the A-bomb dome and my sadness must have been very obvious. Yasuko-san however took a different perspective. She told me she is thankful that so many people from other countries come to pay their respects, but she doesn’t want people to dwell on being sad. She wants us to celebrate the survivors who rebuilt the city into what it is today, a city that is fiercely dedicated to peace and love. Everywhere you go in Hiroshima there are signs of peace and love. It’s written on buses and buildings. Streets, parks and shops are named after peace. There’s a Peace Bell, a Peace Boulevard, a Flame of Peace. There’s a Peace Clock Tower that chimes at 8:15am every morning, the time that bomb hit. She said she is proud to be from Hiroshima, born and bred here. She said we should never forget what happened, but rather than feel sad, we should feel grateful to the survivors, her parents’ and grandparents’ generation, who with a fighting spirit did not wallow in their pain. They took courage in each other, in peace and in love and rebuilt the city. It’s an amazing spirit. The spirit with which they also fiercely support The Carp baseball team! Go on the Carp!
Of course she had family who died as a result of the A-bomb. And while talking about this she burst into heavy tears. She said it’s hard to talk about it, that many people couldn’t really talk about it, can’t really talk about it. Instead they just move on relentlessly. But we should talk about it, by talking we face our emotions and free them. By talking we pass on history, her-story, who’s story? The real stories of the people who died and survived the atomic bomb.
Claire, a girl who has lived in Hiroshima for 13 years, whom I met and chatted a while with, told me that there are times when elderly men and women sit around the a-bomb dome area in the evening and talk to anyone who will listen. Maybe they are trapped in their memories and cannot move on. It was only 74 years ago that this happened. There are still people alive who directly experienced the a-bomb. But as time goes on, there are less and less people still alive who were directly affected by the bomb. As new generations come up, we can only understand what happened by stories. And we should listen to these stories.
We should listen to these stories and remember the horror of the a-bomb, so that it never happens again. We should use the memory of the a-bomb to remind us to live peacefully, to remind us to love each other, to fight against war, but to fight with with love and peace. The only thing that can beat hate and war is love and peace. Along with the people of Hiroshima, I commit to this.