The Original Ground Zero
To visit Hiroshima and not make the pilgrimage to the Atomic Peace Memorial Park is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, or going to Sydney and not seeing the Opera House. The only difference is, whenever I’m in Hiroshima, I feel the draw go going to the park is one out of obligation as a human being.
Finding the park is easy enough, even if you have no Japanese skill at all. If you get on the tram, and look for the station with the word “dome” in it, that’s the one you need. The full name is Genbaku Dome-mae Station, for those wondering. You’ll be able to tell you’re there because the Atomic Dome is right behind the trees.
I’ve been to the Peace Memorial Park twice now, and every time I go there, I feel my breath taken away with the rush of thoughts and feelings that take over. Perhaps it’s because I studied modern history through university, or maybe it’s because I am a bit of a bleeding heart, but I always feel choked up when I stand there. Looking at the skeleton of what was once a great building, and remembering that it was no natural disaster, no earthquake or tsunami or storm that caused this, but humans that caused this destruction… I can’t help but feel ashamed.
Last time I went to the Peace Memorial park, I had a good hike around the area, and took in all of the sites. It was a bit overwhelming, reading all of the signs, and simply imagining the devastation. Knowing that every building in the city was gone, and that as far as the mountains on the horizon, everything was flattened… It’s hard to think about. But to not think about it might be worse.
This time, I went to two of the main places close to the tram station: The A-dome, and the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students. I find this memorial to be one of the most interesting simply because it took me a while to understand exactly who it was honouring. After a bit of research, I realized that what happened was that the Japanese government had enlisted all middle and high school students to work in factories and do labour that would help the Japanese army. During the Hiroshima blast, over 6000 of the students who were mobilized students were killed in the blast, but thousands of others died in other cities because of attacks. The Japanese government said they would enshrine the names of the students who were killed directly from the atomic bomb in Yasukuni Shrine, where all those who died on behalf of the Emperor of Japan are honoured, however students not killed directly would not be in the shrine. In response the families created a fund to build this monument for the students who lost their lives for their country. I find it a very sad story, because the students could have had such bright futures, but it was lost.
I also went wandering around the side streets of Hiroshima, knowing that there were little memorials all over the place. Close to the dome is a small statue left over from the Jizoson temple, and if you look at the statue, you can see the shadow burnt into the rock at the base. I found a graveyard that some how survived the blast, only a few feet away from the dome as well. There are schools that are rebuilt, each containing their own museum of what happened there, and the students that died or survived that day.
The thing that seems to stand out in my mind the most when I visit the Peace Memorial Park are the Senbazuru that are all over the place. Senbazuru are sets of a thousand origami cranes. The story is, if someone were to fold a thousand cranes, a miracle would happen, and their wish would come true. The paper crane has become a sign of peace after the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who had leukemia because of the radiation from the atomic bomb, and tried to fold a thousand cranes to be cured. Sadly, she only reached 644 before she passed away, so her friends finished folding the thousand and she was buried with them. To this day, students and classes take on the project of folding a thousand cranes and sending them to Hiroshima with the wish that nobody should ever have to deal with the destruction that happened in Hiroshima again.
I didn’t stay too long at the park, but as I watched the sun set over the mountains behind the A-dome, I went through every emotion imaginable, eventually ending on a strong sense of hope that radiates from the memorial. I want to believe that Hiroshima can be a living example of why atomic weapons should never be used, and that the rest of the world can learn from the example they try to show and live every day.