5th of August, 2016
After a night of barely sleeping at all, maybe because of the heat, or simply because of the excitement about being in Japan, I wake up at six in order to go to Hiroshima City with the rest of the INU students and staff. We are staying in Higashi-Hiroshima, a small town located east of Hiroshima city and the bus ride takes about an hour. A lucky few are able to sleep almost the entire trip, while I tiredly stare out the window, allowing my gaze to scan all the mountains and forests that we pass on our way.
When we finally arrive in Hiroshima City, at the Peace Memorial Museum, it is a herd of tired and confused people trying to navigate the site in search of answers to where we are supposed to go. Someone who looks like they know what they are doing wave us in one direction, and we do as we are told, ending up at the entrance to the museum. Inside the museum we are handed leaflets and audio guides before we make our way to the exhibition.
Not quite knowing what to expect I enter the exhibition, and the first thing I see is a life-size model of three persons, all of them with loose skin hanging from their dirty bodies, clothes ripped, and all wearing an expression of extreme pain. Horrifying. Even though I have read a lot about the effects of the atomic bomb, and how the burns from the radiation heat would melt the skin of the human body, having it visualised in front of me makes everything I’ve read feel extremely real.
The museum is filled with stories from survivors and unfortunate victims of the bombing, personal belongings have been donated by survivors and relatives, and they are all accompanied by a description of the person who it belonged to, their full name, age, and occupation followed with what happened to them after the bombing. The statistics, 150 000 dead, become real and the numbers turn into individuals as I walk through the exhibition. People with lives just like ours. People who went to school or work on the morning of the bomb, people who never returned home, some who just disappeared on that day, never to be seen again, perished in the flames.
It’s overwhelming and shocking. There is a lot to process and all the small details of personal lives hit hard. One of the most heartbreaking displays is a collection of small paper cranes, folded by Sadako Sasaki, a girl who survived the atomic bombing at the age of two, but later suffered from leukaemia due to the radiation. She folded 1000 paper cranes, and, as per tradition, wished to be cured, but died in the hospital. She became the inspiration and model for The Children’s Peace Monument, a monument to commemorate the thousands of child victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We move on from the museum to a hall where we get to listen to Keiko Ogura, a survivor of the bombing, or Hibakusha as they are called in Japan. She was eight years old when the bomb fell and her stories about the fear, the bomb, the fire, and the cremation of often unidentified bodies is hard to listen to, but it is very important that it is heard. She doesn’t only talk about what happened in August 1945, but continues to talk about how it is today, what it means to have been a person who was in Hiroshima. How it is to feel like you need to hide who you are because people are scared that there is something wrong with you because of the radiation that spread all across Hiroshima on the day of the bombing.
And she talks about the silence. The silence that had somehow become the norm amongst survivors, to not talk about what happened because of the guilt. The guilt of having survived something so horrible while others suffered immensely before they died. The guilt of being alive while others perished in the flames of Hiroshima, of having lived all this time while others disappeared.
Despite the horrors faced by the Hibakusha, Keiko Ogura talks about the hope for the future, and about forgiveness. She asks us all to bring this story to our families and friends, share it, and help make sure that something similar will never happen again. That no one should have to suffer like they have, and that the most important aim to prevent this is to abolish the use and creation of nuclear weapons. Despite everything she has been through, she still believes in a future free from war and nuclear weapons, and if that isn’t one of the most inspiring acts of forgiveness and hope I don’t know what is.