Visiting Nagasaki: August 7, 2011

nagasaki museum

August 7, 2011                                                         Nagasaki

We woke up early this morning and, after two train rides and yet another taxi caravan, made it to the Alpha Inn in Nagasaki by noon.   After a quick lunch, the group follows Atsushi and his Snoopy flag to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

At the Hiroshima Peace Museum, the bombing of the city is examined within the context of international events.  Then the viewer is presented with the stories and personal effects of the victims.  Here, the viewer walks immediately into a room with carnage pulled from the ruins of a destroyed city.  A twisted water tower stands next to a reconstruction of the scarred façade of a cathedral.  It is tipped precariously over the room, effectively forcing the audience to walk through the devastation wrought by the atomic bomb.  Throughout the exhibit, I was bombarded with stimuli ranging from traditional charts and panels to city reconstructions, filmed personal accounts, and animated shorts.  One part of the exhibit was devoted to the victims of the development and testing of nuclear weapons.  Six pillars stood in a row, each with screens showing interviews of victims from Semipalatinks, Ronneburg, Hanford, Nevada, New Mexico and Bikini.  Surrounding each screen was a reflective silhouette.  As the viewer watches each interview, they see their own body reflected back at them and they are encouraged to picture themselves as these victims.  After being presented with image after image of total annihilation, we walked into the Remembrance Hall.

In striking contrast, the hall is clean and completely devoid of ornamentation.  We walked through hallways made of sanded, pale gray wood into a large room with two rows of pillars.  These pillars form a line that points to the hypocenter.  They also lead one’s eyes to a long shelf set into the front wall that houses the registry of the victims of the atomic bomb.  The pillars glow a soft green, and their illumination symbolizes a call for peace being released into the sky.  After the museum, the Remembrance Hall is elegant in its minimalism.  It is a serene place that evokes a more contemplative state of mind.  It reminded me of the labyrinth of columns at Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Both are made all the more powerful and evocative by their simplicity.

Reflection Meeting

My perception of the Atomic Comb museum was reinforced at our next reflection meeting which was held in the basement of the Hibakusha shop. Several students commented that they thought that the bombing of Nagasaki was much more destructive than that of Hiroshima.  But I thought this might be because the museum in Nagasaki presented its information with such a dynamic use of space that it ultimately had a greater impact on its audience.  It created the most coherent and effective narrative.  After our discussion, we met with two Nagasaki Hibakusha.

Hirotami Yamada is the Director of the Association of Atomic Bomb Survivors and he was the only member in a family of six to survive the bomb.  He is now eighty and has the passion typical of the Hibakusha we’ve met to keep fighting for awareness.  He said that if people forget the lesson of Nagasaki, the perception that nuclear weapons and energy are useful will spread.

Sakue Shimohira was ten when the bomb dropped and said that sixty-six years later, the injury on their bodies and hearts remain.  According to her, in order to understand peace, one must understand other people’s suffering.  And she wanted us to work to make peace.  Shimohira wanted to pass the torch to us.  She said that she was so happy to be alive and wanted us to cherish life as well.  I can’t imagine a better way of honoring life than striving to make peace.

Reflection Meeting

Tonight, our group divided for our reflection meeting.  Japanese-speakers took over one side of the hotel’s dining room and the English-speakers claimed the other.  Both groups discussed the issue of reparations.  Our group came to the conclusion that there is a moral discipline that takes precedent over national interest.  The United States should apologize for wrongs it has committed.  Although I am inclined to think that our nation has both a moral and a financial obligation to its victims, the group made the valid point that paying reparations would become a slippery slope.  A defeated nation still has the responsibility to see to the welfare of its citizens.  If the United States became financially responsible, it would undermine the Japanese government.  Someone even asked at what point does Japan become a colony?  I won’t hold out hope that the U.S. government will take any sort of financial responsibility for Japan’s Hibakusha.  I do think that someday America will apologize for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The other students might consider me naïve, but I prefer to see myself as optimistic.

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