August 6, 2011 Hiroshima: Sixty-Six Years Later
Hiroshima City Memorial Ceremony
The moment I stepped outside this morning, I knew that it was going to be a hot day. In the few moments it took to wait for the taxis I was already sticky with perspiration. Our group was dropped off at the Peace Park and before the city memorial we attended a multi-faith ceremony that was first started by Koko’s father. The ceremony remembered the seventy thousand unknown victims of the bombing. We stood and watched for a few moments before heading towards the City Memorial Ceremony. As we walked, Satoko pointed out a memorial dedicated to the Koreans that died from the Atomic bomb. There has been some conflict over this memorial because, although it acknowledges the Korean victims, it neglects the fact that these Koreans were slave laborers.
Once at the city memorial, I was relieved to see volunteers handing out cold towels and water. We were soon seated in an area designated for international visitors and Satoko distributed pamphlets and earpieces for the simultaneous translation. In the ceremony booklet, there was a small piece of origami paper and instructions to fold a paper crane which we could later give to be placed at the memorial altar. The directions baffled me in seconds. Luckily, a woman named Lee lee sat in front of us and took pity on Natalie and me when she saw us struggling. I don’t know exactly what I expected from the ceremony. There were speeches made by the mayor and the Prime Minister of Japan that were very official and, I suppose, impressive. To be honest, I came away disappointed. The only moment where I became emotional was when they held a minute of silence at 8:05 am. Beyond that, the ceremony seemed like another opportunity for politicians to be seen and heard. I thought there would be more of a sense of communal mourning.
Hiroshima Castle and Miyajima Island
When the ceremony ended, the group was given free time and Andy, Nick, Tripp, Tom, Allen and I made our way back to Hiroshima castle. We had the chance wander inside the castle a bit and see the view from its balconies. The grounds were beautiful, but the exhibit inside the castle was also impressive- there were descriptions of samurai society and displays of swords and clothing from the castle’s ruling family.
At two, everyone met back at the hotel lobby to go to Miyajima Island. I don’t know much about the history of the island, but there were several beautiful temples and streets lined with overpriced souvenir shops. There was also what looked like a large red arch rising out of the water.
I made sure to buy some fresh grilled oysters and they were delicious. I also tried green tea ice cream for the first, and second, time. The first bite tasted a bit like potpourri. The rest tasted like heaven.
Perhaps the most interesting part about the island was the deer. I’m not sure where they originally came from, but they now seem to have overrun the island- turning it into an enormous, beautiful petting zoo. They aren’t afraid of people and we quickly learned that they love to eat paper…and unsuspecting tourists’ shirts. Visiting the island was a nice chance to play tourist, but I was eager to get back to the city to see the lantern ceremony.
I found the emotion and sense of community that was missing at the morning’s ceremony at this evening’s lantern ceremony. Each Peace family was given a lantern and we took turns writing messages of peace and hope on them. We then filed into a line that zigzagged its way through the park. It moved quickly and soon we were at the river’s edge. Several of us grabbed a side of our now lit lantern and set it gently on the water. One by one, lanterns were placed into the river by individuals, groups and families. Soon, the river that had once been filled with dead bodies was now filled with multi-colored lights. I saw the entire city come together in such a beautiful moment. Our Peace Families slowly kept pace with our lanterns along the side of the river until we eventually crossed a bridge and stood looking over the brightly lit river. Surrounded by a crowd of strangers, I was filled with peace.
I was content to stay and reflect for a while, and Tom and Allen were of the same mind. We parted ways with the group and eventually found dinner in what we think might have been the ‘nightlife district’ of the city. It was great to just sit and chat with them over a couple glasses of sake. They’ve both been at AU for a couple of semesters and I seized the opportunity to ask their advice and opinions about the school. I was nervous about starting grad school and I still am. But it helps to know that I at least have a couple people I can run to for advice.