Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb

I can't remember exactly when I first read the book "Hiroshima" by John Hersey, but I think it must have been in my early teens.

So it's been about 15 years, but the images Hersey painted of the dying -- and even of the survivors -- of the first atomic bomb have haunted me ever since. I knew even then that if I ever visited Japan, I would have to visit Hiroshima.

So it was very convenient that our friends Gail and Joe were placed in the city as English teachers more than two years ago. I worked with Gail for four years at the Springfield News-Sun, and she's basically the reason we planned this whole trip to Japan to begin with. Not only did Gail and Joe give us a place to crash the three nights we spent in Hiroshima, but they acted as tour guide and gave us tons of suggestions of things to see in Kyoto.

We arrived in Hiroshima late on Saturday, so we didn't see much of the city until Sunday. The first stops: everything "peace."

Peace Bell

Peace Memorial Park (Atomic Bomb Dome in background)

Peace Memorial Museum

It was an appropriately gray and dreary day for such an outing, but the museum was nonetheless fascinating. I've long been interested in World War II, probably because of my Dad's tendency to watch everything war-related on the History Channel. Hearing the German on those shows was one reason that I wanted to learn the language-- I wanted to know exactly what the bad guys were saying. (The other reason: I loved "The Sound of Music." If there would've have been a musical about an Asian soprano nun who basically adopts a choir, maybe I would've majored in Japanese instead.)

I reread "Hiroshima" a week or two before we left on vacation, and I'm glad I did. I was prepared for the displays of burned clothing, stopped watches, and charred artifacts. I knew about the diseases the bomb caused, but that didn't make looking at the images any easier. Still, it was an interesting and surprisingly well-rounded look at the bomb and its impact on the city. And it even included a shout-out to Springfield for hosting an exhibit on the bomb sometime since 2007.

Of course, we also saw the Atomic Bomb Dome, the shell of a government building that was nearly directly under the epicenter of the bombing.

It was a somber first impression of Hiroshima, but it was a visit that's been 15 years in the making.

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