Today was the first day of the Student Seminar on Global Citizenship and Peace for us undergrad students. We started this week off with a special emphasis on peace, spending two days commemorating the tragedy of the destruction of Hiroshima caused by the atomic bomb on August 6th 1945. I write my first blog post with a certain blend of awe and exhaustion.
As part of our reading assignment, we had to read Hiroshima by John Hersey, which was published in the New Yorker one year after the bombing; a whole edition dedicated to the documented story. Naturally, I had started to read this a few weeks ago, but in a certain sense I didn’t quite feel properly prepared for it. I was mentally occupied with work, planning the practical details for this trip and I felt like I needed to give this piece of literature the respect and time it deserved. Therefore I read the rest when I took the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hiroshima yesterday. As I sat in the airplane-like seat, facing no one and sitting side by side with my fellow passengers, I couldn’t help shaking with muffled sobs. As anyone would, I imagine. First of all with the intense feeling of the human suffering that occurred. Which is unfathomable in its seemingly unending horror. But then, also this other dimension: of unity in the most trying of times, the strength of the people of Hiroshima and the power of reconciliation. It felt eerie to be taking this superhuman train into what was once a nightmare scenario for so many people, now an international symbol of world peace. I just felt purely overwhelmed that I was not only going to attend the Memorial Ceremony, but also to be in the presence of a Hibakusha, a survivor and direct eye witness of the destruction in 1945 and blessed with the privilege of hearing his account. Although I’d been imagining this for a few months, I just still couldn’t believe the reality of it.
So today, after a brief introduction to our course and a Japanese language session for the most essential phrases taught by a very passionate language student, we met inour Country Groups to get acquainted. We then took off to the Chamber of Commerce where we heard the personal account of Mr. Matsushima who was only 16 years old on that fateful day. Despite having told his stories many times in the spirit of remembrance and sharing, he still spoke with clarity, humour and compassion. His English was very impressive, which I was told he had taught himself so that he could also be able to share his experience directly with foreigners. He kept repeating how lucky he was to have survived, as many near him, essentially meters away, unfortunately didn’t.
Afterwards, we walked through the Peace Memorial Park, where the Atomic Bomb Dome mysteriously and symbolically still stands tall despite being very close to the epicentre of the explosion. It was a crowded area and animated with music from across the river. It was strange to imagine how close to the epicentre this area was and I spoke with many students who were equally touched. Farther along we entered the Peace Memorial Museum alongside students of all ages from all over Japan. There was loads of information on the history of the war, the technicalities of nuclear energy, the details of the destruction. This was enhanced by items found in the ruins. I think that a lot of visitors saw one or two things that they will personally never forget. It got to me when I saw the completely burned, disfigured and rusted little tricycle that belonged to a 3-year-old boy who apparently always biked around. He died as a result of his burns, and was buried with this beloved tricycle, until it was dug out about 40 years later and given asa donation to the museum.
In this sense, it was an intense day for all of us. Walking the ground that once burned 3000´C, retracing history with the help of Mr. Matsushima, shaken with images of human suffering. And at the same time, it was also the first day of our seminar and we were eager to get to know each other. All day was spent talking to new people. I listened eagerly to many stories; of how women are treated in Japan, how WWII is taught in American High Schools, and what it’s like to work and live in Cambodia.
I’m sure everyone else felt overcome with emotion and information just like me, because when we came back to our area around 8 pm and went shopping in our local 7/11 for a quick dinner, all the other students I met were also sort of staggering around. Now I sit here on my bed exhausted and worried whether I’ll miss my alarm tomorrow. In order to be at the Peace Memorial Ceremony, we are all meeting up outside at 5.50. I better drift off before I get too excited.
PS: I should perhaps add that I highly recommend anyone to read Hiroshima, if they haven’t had the chance already. The full text is available online.
10 PM, August 5th 2013