My generation were the first to grow up in the shadow of nuclear war, and images of the devastation of the Japanese city Hiroshima were printed on our youthful imaginations.
It’s perhaps understandable, though regrettable, that Hiroshima, destroyed by atomic bomb on August 6th 1945, has always gained attention in precedence over the port-city of Nagaski, which was attacked four days later.
When I was offered to opportunity to attend a conference in Tokyo in 2016, I asked for my return date to be deferred so that I could see something of Japan, and my first priority outside the capital was to travel to Hiroshima, now once again a thriving city with a present-day population of over a million.
The Atomic Bomb Dome [Genbaku Dōmu], which I’ve always wanted to see, is surprisingly modest, a three-storey exhibition hall and office building that survived because it was almost directly below the hypocentre, so that the walls withstood the downward blast. Everyone in the building was, of course, vaporised.
What was a densely populated suburb is now a formally landscaped, very beautiful park, with a river channel running through it. There are more individual memorials than it’s comfortable to take in. I was particularly taken by the Peace Bell, a modernist cupola containing a Japanese bell which you’re invited to ring, and which resonates for well over a minute, proclaiming the hope of peace in the world.
I could hardly get near the Children’s Peace Monument, which commemorates Sadasko Sasaki, a schoolgirl survivor who succumbed to leukaemia, attributed to the bomb, at the age of twelve in 1955. She was convinced that if she made a thousand origami cranes she would be cured. In fact, she carried on making more than a thousand until she was too weak to continue, and the paper crane has become a symbol of the prayer for peace. This and other monuments in the park are constantly embellished with coloured strings of cranes, some of them sent from all over the world.
The Peace Memorial Museum [http://hpmmuseum.jp/?lang=eng] disappointed me, entirely because it was impossibly crowded. The exhibits and the information are, as you would expect, difficult to take in by their nature, but the scrum of school parties and adult tourists, many with children and pushchairs, some taking flash photographs, made me wish I could be there on a rainy November Monday afternoon to appreciate more sensitively the power of the place and the memory of the victims.
I gather the Museum is to be greatly expanded, which might resolve this difficulty. It’s a place that should be openly accessible to present and future generations, comparable to the better-managed 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City.