“Free tour of Peace Memorial Park at 10 am – meet in the lobby.”
Hmm..I pondered the sign. I like free. I like tours too. Peace memorial park was on my list. Truth be told, it was the whole reason that I was in Hiroshima in the first place.
I asked the receptionist, “How long is the tour?”
“Three hours. You’ll want to bring lots of water – it’s hot out.”
Psh, don’t need to tell me twice! Japan, being an island, has been one big sauna everywhere except the miraculous Tokyo.
With a bubble of immediacy bursting inside of me, I signed up for the tour. I then headed up to bed. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
A tour of Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima
Arriving in the lobby at 10 am, I was questioning my choice to go on this tour. It was already hot out, and it had rained the day before. The sticky air was filling up the hostel, refusing to be pushed out by the air conditioners. My growing anxiety of three hours in this heat was already causing me to sweat.
In the lobby stood a funkily dressed woman (+10 points for her in my books) with a big smile. She introduced herself as my tour guide, Akemi, and explained which sites we’d be covering on the tour. To my pleasant surprise, no one else had signed up so this would be a private tour.
“Or was this a terrible idea and no one else signed up because of three hours walking around in the heat?”
I was committed now to following this tiny lady throughout the park. We left the hostel and headed for the train station, where we would be catching a bus to the park.
I asked her if she was a volunteer tour guide, to which she said yes. Hoping she wasn’t resentful that I was the only one who showed up, I prayed that she would find three hours in the heat with me worth her time. Inquiring further, I asked what she got out of this – why volunteer to walk people around in the heat?
Akemi told me that she really wants to become better at English. To me, her English was very good – better than most I’ve encountered in Japan. I could tell though she lacked confidence sometimes. I could relate to this as it’s how I feel when I squeak out a small “Sumimasen?” (I’m sorry / excuse me) when asking a Japanese person for their attention.
Arriving at the bus stop area, we board a hop-on hop-off style tourist bus (which I later used to catch Pokemon). Since money is running tight, I’m relieved to learn that as a Japanese Rail Pass holding individual, it’s free for me! We ride it one stop down to the location of the A-bomb Dome.
Taking a seat on a shaded bench, Akemi takes out a beautiful polka dotted fan and hands it to me as a gift – so sweet! Next, she brings out a binder filled with laminated papers. Contained within the binder was small presentation, complete with pictures, captions and though-provoking questions.
The A-Bomb Dome
I found this to be an exceptional way to learn about the history of the dome. It was constructed in 1915 by a Czech architect named Jan Letzel. The dome was located right below the atomic bomb when it detonated 600 meters above the ground. Akemi asked me what I thought the A Bomb dome was before the bomb. I took a stab – astronomy tower? The dome made me think of all the observatories I spent time in during my childhood. Akemi was very excited by this – it was a new word for her!
After writing down the new word, I learned the A Bomb dome was primarily used for arts and educational exhibitions before the bombing. Now, stands as a memorial of the events of August 6th, 1945.
Fun Fact: When deciding how to rebuild the city, there was much controversy over the A-Bomb Dome. Many people wanted it to be destroyed, as it was a painful reminder to them of those lost. Others lobbied for it to be kept as is as a memorial. Obviously we know what conclusion they came to.
During this time I also learned about the radiation that was caused by the atomic bomb, along the statistics on fatalities and survival rate.
Before my tour of Peace Memorial Park, I wasn’t familiar with the term “Hypocenter”.
Hypocenter: meaning ‘below the center’. Can refer to the point of origin of either an earthquake, or a subsurface nuclear explosion. In this case, I think we know which one we’re referring to.
The Hypocenter of Little Boy (the name of the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima), was identified after the drop by shadows created from the blast. This is where the majority of the destruction occurred, as depicted by local artists:
The Children’s Peace Monument
So this post is a little delayed from when I had the tour – sorry about that! I wasn’t sure what kind of angle I wanted to present it from. How much history did I want to go into? I wanted to find a balance between sharing the knowledge I learned, but without droning on. I’ve been pretty ruthless when it comes to spewing facts, figures and stories in this post.
That being said, there is one specific story I wanted to share with you – the one I think I’ll remember the most from my tour.
Within Peace Memorial Park is the Children’s peace Monument.
Little Boy caused Hiroshima to become incredibly radiated. In turn, hundreds of people became ill from the effects – many eventually dying. The Children’s peace monument, or the Tower of 1,000 cranes, is build in the memory of one girl – Sadako Sasaki.
Two years old when the bomb hit near her home, she was one of the few survivors. As she got older she developed leukemia, a result of long term radiation exposure. Before her death in 1955, she folded 1,000 paper cranes, which is what this monument represents.
An ancient belief in Japan is that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes, a wish will be granted by the Gods. This is often in the form of someone recovering from illness or injury. The crane is the symbol for peace, which was Sadako’s dream. Even now, people from all over the world have shipped hundreds of thousands of paper cranes to Japan in honor of her wish.
If you’d like to read more about Sadako and her journey of 1,000 cranes this book comes highly recommended! I’ll be getting a copy for myself!
Rationalizing war and violence?
During the tour, I wasn’t sure how I was feeling. When I visited the COPE museum in Laos, my feelings of shame about America’s actions were clear. While being thoroughly educated about the destruction of not only the country, but also the culture, of Japan I didn’t feel any shame.
Admittedly, it was a little awkward learning that there were so many fountains in the park because as the people burned to death they cried out for water – the fountain being an offering to them – but still no shame.
I wasn’t sure why my feelings about this were different. I thought “Well, we were at war with Japan. Helloooooo Pearl Harbor! That wasn’t exactly nice. In Laos, they were just a bystander, so that was definitely wrong. And, they are a super poor country, AND the damage is still ongoing! Japan has this nice pretty park and seems to be doing pretty well for themselves.”
Was I rationalizing this? Was I trying to justify why it was okay to kill hundreds of thousands in one situation, but not another? I was!
This made me start having some deep thoughts. I admit, up until this point I’ve been kind of ignoring all the shit in our world today. The terrorism attacks in France, the dynamic between police and black people, and the resulting retaliation against the cops. My tour within Peace Memorial Park really made me think.
With all of the violence and hate that seems to be flowing out of the world lately – is rationalization a culprit behind letting it continue? Is it okay to perform certain acts because you feel you are right and someone else is wrong? Do violent actions ever justify the means?
No, I don’t think they do.
I eventually mustered up the gall to ask how Japanese people feel towards Americans today. It had been mentioned several times throughout the tour that ‘painful memories’ still plague people. Akemi told me that the younger generations don’t care or seem to show much interest. In some of the older generations, they are still hurt but that they hate the war, not the people. Japan is now appealing continually for a world filled with peace – free of war, hatred, and nuclear destruction.
Moving forward, may we all remember to demonstrate compassion (free exercise here) and remember the golden rule. No matter our rationalizations, our personal beliefs compared to those of another, or how we feel about Donald Trump – let us treat others how we wish to be treated.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!
Live long and prosper,