Hiroshima: Peace Park

“This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.”

On August 6th, 1945, Sadako Sasaki survived the blast of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima despite being only a mile away from ground zero at the time of detonation.  Ten years later she was diagnosed with leukemia.  While in the hospital a friend reminded her of the old Japanese story of making paper cranes.  The story goes that if you make 1,000 paper cranes you get to make a wish.  Weak, bed-ridden, and told she had less than a year to live, Sadako went about making the cranes.  According to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, she finished her goal by the end of August 1955.  It didn’t work and she passed away in October of that same year.

Sadako has since become a hero to Japanese children.  Her story embodies the Japanese spirit of fighting and always striving to do your best no matter the circumstances.  She has inspired people around the world too, many of whom make paper cranes and send them to the Hiroshima Peace Museum.  The cranes are collected and displayed next to a statue of Sadako in Hiroshima’s Peace Park.

Sadako’s story is one of many on display at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park.  Unfortunately on our visit, the museum was closed on account of New Years activities.  To help get in the right mindset, I bought John Hersey’s famous account of what happened that fateful August morning in 1945 and how the survivors were affected in the weeks, years, and decades afterwords.  It was a painful read.  Hersey did not spare the grotesque details regarding flash burns and radiation sickness and the psychological impact on the people who survived in the decades following the bomb’s detonation were equally haunting.

There were also touching, uplifting stories.  For instance, one of the survivors eventually became a nun.  In the days and weeks after the bombing this person watched hundreds if not thousands of people die in front of her.  She saw so much death that she was able to identify the individual needs of people as they were about to pass.  When she became a nun, she put this skill to practice by attending to people on their deathbeds and identifying their needs.  Often times this simply meant holding their hand in silence for days on end to reassure the patient that they would not die alone.

There are countless other stories you can read about in Hersey’s book or elsewhere.  I could write about many others, but I’ll refrain.

I felt mixed emotions during our trip to Hiroshima.  Although I never saw any tangible evidence of animosity towards Americans, I found myself wondering about it as we traveled around the city.  I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed and ashamed at times.  As we walked through the Peace Park and saw physical manifestations of the things Hersey wrote about, these feelings were intensified.  It was a difficult walk.

The Atomic Bomb Dome. This ghostly, skeletal ruin survived the blast despite being located a few hundred feet away from where the bomb was detonated. It has an ominous presence.

Remembering those who died.

In the mid-1950s, the United States tested a nuclear weapon on an island in the Pacific and accidentally incinerated a small Japanese fishing vessel and the people working inside of it.  This sparked more anger in Japan than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks and led to an anti-nuclear warfare peace movement.  As you may or may not recall, I had the privilege of meeting one of these peace activists back in October.  I found myself with a group of friends observing the fall leaves around Lake Towada and the Oirase Stream.  We ended up having a conversation with an older Japanese woman and her American husband.  From a previous blog entry:

She was in junior high during World War II and recalls drastic food shortages and fleeing to the mountains to escape bombings.  Her anger over the war led to an affiliation with a group that eventually started a peaceful international exchange program.  She met her future husband in the U.S., who we also met, and they continue to travel back to Japan from their home on the West Coast of the U.S. to visit friends and family.  It was an honor to meet them.

After touring through Peace Park and learning more about the events and resulting political environment, I feel especially privileged to have met those two profound symbols of peace.


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2 Responses to “Hiroshima: Peace Park”

  1. Osakajock Says:

    I had many similar feeling when I visited there a few years back. A few America friends and I made a promise to go there; it forever changed our lives and opinions about war.

    The most haunting memory for me was the sight of the glass displays filled with colourful cranes from many schools around the world.

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