Today (Sunday) was a day of opposites: our last day in Kyoto and our first in Hiroshima, the day started frenzied, became somber, and ended with an exciting bang.
Our day started off with a delicious early breakfast in our hotel in Kyoto after the last time we would use the communal bathrooms to get ready. From there we went to Kyoto Station, and as we waited for the Shinkansen (bullet train) that would take us to Hiroshima, we worked ferociously toward our goal of folding 1000 cranes to hang in the Hiroshima Peace Park. While we worked, more curious Japanese students watched us apparently fascinating Americans, some of whom erupted into applause after they asked Jeffery to flex and he obliged. Once on the train, everyone stuck their headphones in and focused intently on folding cranes. I think some of us may have underestimated how difficult it would be to fold 1000, but we’re looking forward to achieving our goal and leaving a piece of our group in the park.
After arriving and checking into our Hiroshima hotel-which includes private bathrooms!-we prepared ourselves for a more serious subject and headed over to the Hiroshima Peace Park, in memorial of the victims of the atomic bombing. The first thing we saw was a series of stone arches engraved with the word “peace” written over and over again in various languages, ranging from Japanese to English to Russian to Hebrew and many more. We then entered the main museum, which proved to be an extremely powerful and thought provoking experience. Models such as one which depicted the Peace Park land directly before and after the explosion of the a-bomb helped us visually wrap our brains around the destruction experienced by the city that now appears to be thriving. There was also helpful information about the effects of the heat and radiation emitted from the blast, how radiation works, and specifics about different immediate,acute effects on humans as well as those which didn’t appear until years after the event. However, I think the most moving aspect of the museum for most of us was the personal stories. Seeing extremely realistic wax depictions of victims, sometimes graphic photographs of victims, and drawings sent in by survivors illustrating their personal experience in the bombing literally took my breath away. For example, there were many displays of charred, ripped clothing that children, close to our own age, had been wearing when they were exposed to the bomb, and had died in some time over the following days. Although one sees pictures and hears stories about the effects of this event, it feels almost abstract until you really see its specific impact and read personal accounts; then it suddenly feels much more real. The story of a young girl Sadako particularly struck a chord with me. To sum it up, Sadako was exposed to the bomb at the age of 2and appeared to experience no effects, until 10 years later when she discovered she had leukemia. Hearing that 1000 cranes would grant a wish, Sadako folded cranes in the hospital, believing that they would help her get better, but unfortunately she passed away at the age of 12. Her death and memory led to the construction of the Children’s Memorial in the Peace Park, and inspired visitors to bring 1000 cranes to leave as a sign of peace, which is what we plan to do. A 45 minute long video about the effects of the atomic bombing on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed our time in the museum and helped to sum up the experience and provide even more personal stories. We then walked around the park at our own pace, visiting the centigraph with victims’ names on it, the Children’s Memorial, the hypocenter of the bomb, and the atomic dome. We noticed that, although it was built in the memory of a tragedy of war, the park itself was very peaceful and hopeful. We sat and talked about our experience throughout the afternoon, and for many of us, it seemed to be an interesting mix of feelings, understanding how to be patriotic and appreciate the devastation and tragedy surrounding this world event at the same time.
After leaving the peace park, our somber moods were lifted into excitement. We had planned to observe a kimono parade, so everyone quickly grabbed a nice dinner at a shopping arcade and met up. However, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that Hiroshima seemed to be having some kind of carnival, with rows of booths selling food, toys, and games to play lining the streets. Although we had already eaten, everyone suddenly realized they were starving, and we meandered our way through the stalls sampling everything from traditional Japanese desserts to some of our favorites from home, like french fries and snow cones. Once we were finally full, we arrived in a square, where a woman donning a kimono was signing and providing great live music in a tower. We stopped and listened for awhile, and then decided to get the locals involved in some of our fun. There were some boys standing near by, so we approached them asking if they wanted to dance, and soon we had a Congo line going with at least 20 of the bystanders. After a couple of lively dances, we had to head home and get some rest for an early morning, but everyone was reenergized by the unexpected burst of energy into the day.