Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Power Sightseeing Part III: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum

Last week we had a day off from baseball in Hiroshima, so our JapanBall tour did some power sightseeing. The third stop was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum.

A friend of mine asked me last year if I felt weird going to a museum that recounted the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He thought it was strange for Americans to visit such a place, fearing that we would feel self-conscious. My response was that I neither dropped the bomb nor had anything to do with the decision to do so. My presence in Hiroshima is no stranger than Japanese visiting Pearl Harbor or Germans visiting Winston Churchill's World War II bunker. In fact, I wish every American could visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum.

The most recognizable building in Hiroshima is the A-bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome). Originally named the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall, it was later named the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It is located 490 feet (150 meters) from the hypocenter of the atomic bomb, and it is the only structure in the area to survive the explosion. The building appears as it did immediately after the bombing. Keeping the building intact was the source of controversy among the residents of Hiroshima; some wanted the building demolished while others wanted it to remain standing as a reminder of what nuclear weapons are capable of doing. The A-bomb Dome was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996.

To the left of the A-bomb Dome is the Aioi Bridge. The T-shaped bridge was the original target for the dropping of the bomb. The boys in the Enola Gay missed the bridge, but they weren't off by much.

Looking down the Motoyasu River, it's hard to believe that this tranquil spot was filled with chaos on August 6, 1945. The river was filled with corpses in the aftermath of the explosion.

The Motoyasu Bridge spans the Motoyasu River. Scientific studies have shown that the A-bomb exploded directly above the Motoyasu Bridge, based on the damaged the bridge sustained.

The Children's Peace Monument is dedicated to the memory of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako survived the atomic bombing in 1945, when she was two years old; however, she developed leukemia ten years later. While in the hospital receiving treatment, Sadako was inspired by a friend to fold paper cranes based on a Japanese legend that says if one folds a thousand paper cranes, that person will be granted a wish. Although Sadako did fold a thousand paper cranes, her wish of survival was not granted. She died on October 25, 1955, at the age of twelve.

Sadako's friends and classmates raised money for a memorial to Sadako and to all children who died from the effects of the atomic bomb. The Children's Peace Memorial was unveiled in 1958.

Sadako's story has inspired books - the most recognizable being Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr - and even other monuments, and the City of Hiroshima established a Paper Crane Database. People from all over the world send in folded paper cranes and their personal messages of peace, which are added to the database for posterity.

The placement of the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims allows us to see directly to the A-bomb Dome. The Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims was designed by Kenzo Tange, who was a professor at the University of Tokyo in the early 1950s and is now a leading architect. The monument covers a chest that contains the names of the people who died as a result of exposure to the atomic bomb. A flame is lit in the hopes that it will be extinguished when the world is rid of all nuclear weapons. The memorial's inscription reads "Let all the souls rest here, for we shall not repeat the evil."

This view of the cenotaph shows the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in the background. This year marked the third time I visited the museum, and the experience is intense. The museum presents the facts about the day of the bombing, as well as the months leading up to it, in a fair and matter-of-fact fashion. One of the things that impresses me the most is that the city clearly does not feel sorry for itself. The museum freely admits Japan's role in making itself the target of such a severe act of war, giving step-by-step accounts of Japan's colonialism and her contribution to the escalation of World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is not a place for the faint of heart: The stories are brutally honest; the pictures are astonishingly raw.

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. That event sealed the city's fate; it will forever be associated with that horrific act of war. Hundreds of thousands of people died from the blast or side effects from it, and the city was reduced to rubble. Yet Hiroshima is proof that a vibrant city can literally rise out of the ashes of a difficult history, and reminds us all that this must never, ever happen again.

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