Sunday, March 02, 2008

Weekend Trip

Hiroshima in the background behind the o-torii of the Itsukushima shrine (from above the town of Miyajima).

For whatever reason, I didn't expect to find myself deeply affected by seeing the A-bomb dome and Peace Park at Hiroshima. I was wrong.

I found my way to the epicenter area from the tram line. There are signs in English, so it's not hard. And along the way to the park, you come first to the A-bomb dome. The dome is what's left of a commerce exhibit building.

I don't know how to describe my feelings; there's something about knowing what happened here, even abstractly, but I was overwhelmed and nearly in tears as I walked closer to the dome. I understand concrete grief, grieving for someone I've known. But this feeling is different; I've come closest to it seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but I expected to feel overwhelmed by that, since I know people who served and wore a POW/MIA bracelet for several years.

One of the faculty here arranges this trip for students in hir class, and allows others to go if there's room; I had to make my own travel arrangements, but I did get to join the class to see and hear a speaker, a Hiroshima a-bomb survivor (Hibakusha). She was a superb speaker, and told her story compellingly; I don't know how to explain, but she was, she said, deeply bitter, and yet she seemed not angry. (It wasn't just the bomb, of course; from what she said, the Japanese government didn't start helping the Hibakusha for some years, and didn't really acknowledge the Korean and other non-Japanese Hibakusha, much less help them, until the 70s.)

In the museum was a display of narratives and art by survivors remembering the people left behind when they fled (from the fires which engulfed much of the area) because they couldn't get them out of buildings or help them escape. I can only imagine how that would feel; the survivor who spoke to us talked about her friend Michiko, who she found and tried to escape with, and had to leave behind because Michiko couldn't walk any further.

There are also displays of items donated by survivors or their families; for some reason, the blond Shirley Temple doll remains in my mind's eye.

Late in the afternoon, overwhelmed and tired, I walked through the grounds of the Hiroshima Castle; now there's only a rebuilt tower, but the grounds are beautiful, inside a restored moat where I saw some ducks (Common Polchard and Tufted Duck, since you asked). There's a Eucalyptus tree there that survived the bomb (as well as some nearer the epicenter in the Peace Park which are marked as well).

And today I went to Miyajima, and spent a beautiful day wandering around temples and shrines, walking quiet walks to and from parks, visiting a historical museum, and mostly being quiet with myself. I needed a quiet day.

And now I'm home again, tired. I don't know how to say this, but I have no desire to go back to Hiroshima again, and yet I'm not glad, but let's say I have a sense of obligation that I went.


  1. Anonymous5:16 AM

    I felt the same way when I was there -- a feeling, incidentally, that I did *not* get from Nagasaki, for various reasons.

    Lucky you, getting to hear the talk by the Hibakusha. When I was there, a great deal of shame was still attached to being a survivor, and people would lie about it.

    Have you read *Letters from Hiroshima*, by Sam Yamashita? Very striking. (He's a friend and colleague, so consider me biased.)

    Next time you take the shinkansen south, definitely go see Himeji Castle! It's a whole different experience than Hiroshima Castle.

  2. I felt the same way upon visiting Dauchau, which, from what I hear, is the most "prettified" of the concentration camps, and since it was built later, iirc, it wasn't even in its day the kind of death camp that some of the others were. But still. And there was something even more horrifying and soul-exhausting about the day I saw it, which was the prettiest Bavarian summer day you can imagine.

  3. I cannot imagine how it must feel to actually be there. I saw a photo exhibit on Hiroshima some years ago, and the photos made it all so real.

    War is a horrible, horrible thing.

  4. Wow: thanks for writing about your impressions.

  5. Like Dr. V, I felt similarly when I visited Dauchau. I wouldn't say that I was glad that I went, but am content that it was the right thing to do at that time.

  6. Meg, Thanks for commenting; she talked a little about the discrimination in Japan against the Hibakusha, and how that has affected her life in hurtful ways. (I've been told to visit Himeji castle! It's on my list!)

    Dr. V, I've heard that Dachau and other concentration camps have that effect as well. I don't know whether to try to go; it's almost unbearable to think and yet almost an obligation.

    TBTAM, I agree.

    Susan, Thanks for commenting.

    Cam, I think "content that it was the right thing to do" is an excellent way to put it.