Visiting Hiroshima: August 5, 2011

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August 5, 2011                                         Hiroshima: Humid and rainy

Breakfast was an odd assortment of food.  There was miso soup, mini hot dogs, toast and what I later found out was pickled lotus root.  The group had a bus for the day and as I climbed in I realized that it, like many thing in Japan, was made for people two-thirds my size.  I bumped my head once climbing the stairs into the bus, again one the chandelier attached to the ceiling, and once more on the overhead compartment above my seat.  As the bus made its way through the city, the former second general army headquarters was pointed out to us.  We also made a quick stop at Hiroshima Castle, but I wish we had time to explore a bit longer.

Mayor Matsui

Our first real stop for the morning was when we met with Mayor Kazumi Matsui.  It was very official and very brief.  I got the impression that he wasn’t very eager to meet with us.  However, he did allow a short question and answer period.  I was so happy when Yukiko stood and asked him what he thought about the devastation in Fukushima.  Kazumi made a clear distinction between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.  The purpose of one is to kill while the purpose of the other is to harness energy.  For him, the only issue now is to find a way to sufficiently control it.  He said if, after extensive research, it becomes clear that we cannot control nuclear energy we should move to eliminate it.  He then compared nuclear power to genetic alteration.  Both have infinite possibilities but some people will always see it as playing God.

I had a hard time agreeing with Kazumi’s faulty logic.  Unlike nuclear energy, genetic manipulation doesn’t have the risk of world annihilation.  He may distinguish between nuclear weapons and energy, but isn’t the outcome ultimately the same?  After the Q&A, we had a quick photo session with the Mayor and then we were back on the bus.

Our next stop was to a small restaurant where there was an exhibit of photos of Hibakusha.  I recognized Mr. Nakazawa and our own Koko among the dignified faces of the survivors.  I heard that the exhibit had been created by Paul Saviano, a former student of Dr. Kuznick.  It is amazing how one trip can inspire you and set you on a new path.

Next we made a quick stop to the Fukuromachi Elementary School.  The grade school had been struck by the blast and has since been turned into a museum. We then grabbed lunch at a nearby convenience store and took the bus to Hijiyama Hill, where the Radiation Effect Research Foundation was located.

RERF

RERF is the most recent incarnation of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.  The ABCC was put in place by the United States government after the war to study, not treat, the effects of radiation on the survivors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The foundation was placed on the hill in a series of buildings that looked like the Dharma Initiative from an episode of LOST.  We were shown a brief film and lecture by a RERF scientist before we were allowed to explore the open house.

I ended up spending some time with an immunologist who described to me the research that has been conducted on the t-cell count of the A-bomb victims.  The scientist that spoke to the group described the difference between internal and external exposure to radiation so I assumed that any research conducted on the victims from Hiroshima and Nagasaki couldn’t be used to help the victims in Fukushima.  I asked him if RERF had any plans to conduct similar research on these victims and he immediately said no.  He said that it would be too costly and that, his department at least, had no immediate plans to study the aftereffects of the Fukushima crisis.  I was shocked to hear this, but I hope that I misunderstood.  I would think that it would follow RERF’s objectives to research the radiation exposure in Fukushima.  I later left him and snuck upstairs to see the auditorium that Koko had described to us a couple of days ago.  It was much smaller than she had described, but I could easily see how terrifying it would be for a little girl to be paraded about in this room filled with men in lab coats.

Shukkeien Park

Our last stop of the day was Shukkeien Park.  Located in the center of the city, the park is dominated by a large pond that is the home of enormous carps and friendly turtles.  Picturesque footpaths meander their way around the pond and guide visitors through expanses of trees and bamboo.  It figured prominently in Rev. Tanimoto’s interview in Hersey’s Hiroshima.  When I read the book, I had pictured a large green field.  Koko led us to where the park met the river that ran through the city.  This was the same river where her father had ferried injured people to the park.  It was almost impossible to imagine this pristinely manicured pleasure garden transformed into a place overrun by the sick and dying.

Hiroshima Carps vs. Yomiuri Giants

Tonight, we went to see the Hiroshima Carps play the Yomiuri Giants.  The stadium was placed along the water and as we walked to it we passed vendors selling food and Carps merchandise.  Koko is good friends with the owner of the Carps, so when we arrived we were all give free hats and team yearbooks. I learned that he has done this in previous years as well and I was touched by this man’s generosity.  We all donned our hats and made our way to our seats in the ‘performance section.’  Our seats were on the third level of the stadium and had a perfect view of the field.  But that was the least remarkable aspect of our location.  The performance section is the home of the Hiroshima Carps cheerleaders.  Several men played trumpets and flew flags with the Carps insignia while their leader shouted commands to the crowd.  The fans around us memorized each cheer and shouted and clapped in unison.  My fellow American students and I tried to learn the chants and what we lacked in accuracy we definitely made up with enthusiasm.  I went to a Giants’ game at AT&T Park two weeks ago and that doesn’t even begin to compare to the atmosphere at a Japanese baseball game.  We spent the evening cheering, chanting, drinking and eating in equal measure.

 

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