Hiroshima: The Dichotomy of a Scarred City

14 June 2015


In my travels I have come across the scars of World War II again in again. From Berlin where I walked a city riddled with a troubled past to Hawaii where I saw the sunken ships of Pearl Harbor, this war truly encompassed the whole globe.

When planning my trip to Japan, I knew I wanted to include Hiroshima. I thought it was too important a moment, as an American, to pass up.

Hiroshima, Japan
Hiroshima, Japan

I arrived in Hiroshima late in the evening but set out first thing in the morning to see the Atomic Dome. This building marks the epicenter of where the atomic bomb was dropped and is the only ruin that was not cleaned up. The building and the surrounding park has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and stands now as a symbol of world peace.

The building itself is eerily skeletal and demands your attention no matter where you are in the Peace Park. There's something almost human in its structure, the way it looms over you, insisting that you look at it. I spent quite some time sitting on the river bank and staring at in reflective meditation.

Hiroshima, Japan
Hiroshima, Japan

In the Peace Park there are many different memorials but none stands out as much as the Children's Peace Monument. At the top of the monument is a statue of Sadako, a young girl that passed away from side effects of the nuclear radiation. Before passing, Sadako begin folding paper cranes based on the Japanese myth that folding one-thousand would grant you a wish.

Sadako passed before she could finish folding her paper cranes but now people from around the world bring origami cranes to remember her and all children lost due to war.

Hiroshima, Japan

Towards the end of the park is the Peace Museum. Here remnants of the destructed city are stored such as stone statues of Buddha that melted from the intense heat or bloodied clothes that people were wearing the day the bomb was dropped.

Everything is presented in a matter-of-fact nature; no one is pointing fingers yet as an American one definitely feels a cultural shame while walking the halls of the exhibits.

Hiroshima, Japan
Hiroshima, Japan

Time, however, does move forward. I couldn't ruminate on death and destruction all day and it seems the people of Hiroshima have the same mentality. 

Just steps away from the Peace Park are underground malls and European style cafes that line the river banks. Hiroshima, while small, is a thoroughly modern city on par with any other city in Japan. Personally, I'd say I prefer Hiroshima to any other large city I visited in Japan as you still have all the conveniences of a metropolis with the walk-ability of a small town.

Hiroshima, Japan
Hiroshima, Japan

As evening came, the streets filled with people celebrating the Ebisu Festival. This is a local festival that celebrates the end of autumn and the approach of winter. In the streets there were taiko drummers and hip hop dance offs and the whole town was alive with energy. Vendors were selling all sorts of delicious, fried foods along the streets as well as komazadare, lucky bamboo rakes. Some of the larger rakes were selling for as much as 1,000 dollars! 

I made my way over to the Ebisu Shrine itself and was blessed by a Shino priest who hung a gohei (Shinto prayer wand ) over my head and said a prayer. I had just days before drank the good health water in Kyoto but you can never have enough good luck!

Hiroshima, Japan

At this point it was pretty late in the evening so I passed by the Atomic Dome one last time then headed back to my hostel. I spent the next few hours in the bar of the hostel, drinking plum wine with strangers, laughing, and learning how to play kendama. Here we were, foreigners and locals, in this town of past tragedies getting sloshed and playing children's games. 

That's how I'll always remember the dichotomy of Hiroshima.

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