Saturday, April 6 rolled around and it was time to visit one of the cities I had been longing to see for years: Hiroshima. It is, perhaps, one of the most well-known cities in Japan primarily because it holds so much of the world’s history.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
After a quick lunch stop, we boarded the tour bus to head over to the much-anticipated Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park — located close to the epicenter of the 1945 atomic blast that destroyed the city and killed nearly 140,000 people. I was especially looking forward to learning about this side of the story since Pearl Harbor was all I’d ever known.
Rain started to come down as we exited the bus near a large, semi-destructed domed building. A hauntingly melancholy feeling that emanated from the building’s dark skeletal facade took me back to a bygone era of hardship and loss. Entranced by the eerie figure looming over me, I slowly neared a rain-sodden sign that indicated what this was: the Atomic Bomb Dome.
The A-Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome) is Hiroshima’s last standing structure after the atomic bomb dropped on August 6, 1945. Built in 1910, it was originally intended to promote industrial production as an exhibition hall, according to UNESCO. Despite controversy over whether it should be demolished after the bombing, it now serves as a powerful reminder of that fateful day as well as a symbol of world peace and the elimination of nuclear weapons.
The sound of rain tapping on umbrellas while we circled the broken building created a solemn mood among our group — quite fitting for the day’s subject nature.
Following the A-Bomb Dome was a tall and narrow monument with cranes scattered around it as well as angel figures and thousands of colorful origami (folded paper) cranes at its base. The Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students commemorates thousands of young students who died from the atomic bomb. It brought to mind the story of Sadako Sasaki and the thousand cranes that I learned about when I was younger.
For those who haven’t heard the story, Sadako was just a toddler when the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. She survived the bombing, but subsequently developed leukemia at 12 years old due to radiation exposure from the bomb. While hospitalized, a friend told her that based on an old Japanese legend, anyone who could manage to fold 1,000 origami cranes would be cured of his or her sickness. In hopes of regaining her health, Sadako started to fold the cranes but apparently fell short of her goal and passed away. Until today, her story continues to touch the lives of millions and represents an international symbol of the bomb’s impact on victims.
As we continued to walk through the park, the silhouette of a girl lifting a giant origami crane above her head came into view. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a statue of an immortalized version of the Sadako I knew about. Approaching the foot of the statue was a plaque that read “This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in the world.”
This message hit me like a ton of bricks. It made me think: what would the world really look like without weapons of mass destruction? Without war and terrorism? Where would we really be today without these things?
Behind Sadako’s statue were strings of vibrant origami cranes enclosed in glass cases, an area known as the Children’s Peace Monument. People from all over the world are free to donate their own paper cranes as peace offerings, and we were about to do just that.
Our tour group had folded paper cranes on the bus earlier, and Carol (our tour escort) put them on a “2013 Aloha World Spring Tokaido Odyssey Group No. 1” string. She asked the youngest member, an 18-year-old girl named Tiffany, to hang it up in one of the cases at the monument.
It was a gratifying feeling knowing, albeit a small contribution of a single paper crane, I was part of a larger movement of someday achieving world peace.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Trudging through the rain, we finally arrived at the museum. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum showcased everything from pre- and post-bombed Hiroshima city displays to artifacts of nuclear victims’ belongings.
The museum itself was very informative, but also left a bitter taste in my mouth. I couldn’t even begin to imagine putting myself in the victims’ shoes; to experience the bomb as it dropped on their homes and schools, and to live through the suffering and trauma that must’ve ensued. These innocent people were just going about their days the way you and I would.
Suddenly, all my worries seemed small and meaningless. It reminded me that life can change in the blink of an eye, or in this case in the drop of a bomb, so try not to take anything for granted.
It certainly was an emotional day, but one that gave me a renewed perspective on life and the world in general.