A Visit to the Peace Memorial Museum In Hiroshima

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.

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The A-Bomb Dome

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.

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The Children’s Peace Monument

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.

A view of Hiroshima City

A view of Hiroshima City

/ Kajsa

An Eventful and Memorable first day of the Seminar

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

– Sarah

 

Mr Matsushima surrounded by INU students

Mr Matsushima surrounded by INU students

Teaching the new generation about the destruction caused by war - the Dome can be seen in the background.

Teaching the new generation about the destruction caused by war – the Dome can be seen in the background.

Another image from the museum of the totally flattened city

Another image from the museum of the totally flattened city