When we go for a vacation, our expectations always revolve around having full of wonder and enjoyment, which most of the time is achievable. However, very few destinations could meet that expectation while at the same time wrench your heart with so much pain that will later intensify into a source of an even much more inspiration.Hiroshima, the historical prefecture that has been through hell and back, did just that.
A non-negotiable destination
Ben and I planned our 17-day itinerary in Japan by ranking each destination that’s captured our interests as a primary deciding factor, among other considerations. We had several disagreements on the sites we wanted to visit. But, there are few destinations we strongly feel about, and one of them is Hiroshima.
It then became a non-negotiable destination, a must-visit. And on our 13th day in Japan, we found ourselves in one of the most serene and unassuming prefectures in the Country. At that time, to say that we were exhausted was quite an understatement. But for some reason, our hearts remained fueled to explore Hiroshima.
That fuel is more than enough to power our exhausted bodies and to urge us to embark on new journeys in this prefecture.
The serenity and wonders of Hiroshima
We went straight to Miyajima Island where we could find the Itsukushima Shrine, one of the most sacred destinations in Japan. In front of the shrine stands the huge crimson Torii gate which is one of the iconic places to see the sunset in the Land of the Rising Sun.
It is where we felt so much serenity and wonder. Ever since we started planning our trip to Japan, the Torii gate standing against one of the most scenic backdrops kept on popping up. The moment we saw the sun hid behind the mountains, we felt a surge of gratitude, awe, and admiration.
We left Miyajima Island in awe but, admittedly, dead tired at the same time. We asked for serenity and calmness, and that’s exactly what we got from the Island. However, we hoped that our tired bodies could still manage to carry on to Hiroshima the next day.
A day we’ll remember, forever
Someone was trying to wake me up. It’s too early in the morning, and the alarm hasn’t gone off yet. To my surprise, I saw Ben who normally wakes up too late, almost completely prepared to leave, asking me to hurry up and take a shower. Curiously, I asked him why he’s up so early and he said “I don’t know, maybe because I really wanted to see the [Hiroshima Peace] Memorial Park. There’s something about it that captivates me.”
I couldn’t blame him. From the day we planned our trip to the moment we arrived in Hiroshima, I felt the same. I felt compelled to see it and be on the same ground that changed the course of history 72 years ago.
August 6, 1945, World War II
0:25 AM, an air-raid warning was issued in Hiroshima. At 2:10 AM, the warning was cleared. The dawn broke into a clear sunny morning.
“A perfectly clear morning greeted my eyes. The sun was shining brilliantly, it shocked me to remember we were still at war. The morning feigned peace.” – Yoshito Matsushige
7:09 AM, a yellow air-warning was issued. At 7:31 AM, the warning was cleared.
The people went back to their daily activities. Students were helping in the demolition of buildings that helped prevent fire breakouts caused by air-raids. Younger students were at school or in temples with their teachers. Some left early in the morning to work. And then, the worst happened.
8:15 AM, “a single flash of blinding light” instantly brought Hiroshima to its darkest times. It’s the “light” that took tens of thousands of lives. That same light that turned Hiroshima, the hypocenter of the explosion, into a “living hell” and brought the surface’s temperature to about 5,000° Celcius, tormenting and damaging every living soul in the place we now call Ground Zero.
August 21, 2017, 7:39 AM, Present Day
We found ourselves exactly at the Ground Zero, staring at the ruins of Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall, now called Genbaku Dome (Atomic Bomb Dome). Speechless, as if the place automatically imposes reverence to anyone who sets foot on it.
Ben and I automatically fell silent. The vibe in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is quite deafening. 72 years after, the ruins that survived the cruelty of war and the test of time, stand firmly to remind everyone that “mankind and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.”
“What exactly has transpired when the explosion happened?” “How much suffering did people of Hiroshima endure during World War II?” Those questions were running through my mind as we walk deeper in the park. And every time I’d ask myself questions, the Park seemingly listens and answers them in a form of a monument, a cenotaph, a symbolism of peace, and paper cranes.
The Park gave us a glimpse into Hiroshima’s dark past. However, hearing the stories of the survivors completed the whole picture quite vividly for us.
A day we should never forget
We thought that we’ve seen enough to move our hearts, but not until we entered the Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims where we chanced upon the exhibit Memoirs of the Atomic Bombing: The Earliest Accounts of the Hiroshima A-bomb Part 2.
It is a film about the stories that are published in the book Memoirs of the Atomic Bombing. Watching the three stories featured, we were deeply moved. We felt their suffering and their pain. One of the survivors named Kitayama Futaba, a mother of three, had an “urge to defy death” and “forced [herself] to exert strength to get up” and search for her kids in the middle of the chaos while suffering.
“I noticed that the skin of the fingers of my right hand, from the second joints to the tips, had peeled off and was hanging down weirdly, while the skin of my left hand, from the wrist to all the fingers, was also peeling off.” – Kitayama Futaba
It is only one of the stories featured. While watching, I tried my best to hold back my tears. But before I realized it, the pain of the survivors started flowing on my cheeks. I looked at Ben who was sitting beside me and, expectedly, he’s also in tears. I looked around us, everyone, approximately 10 individuals who watched the film with us, were all sobbing.
That’s when I realized that the souls of the 140,000± recorded victims of the atomic bomb continue to live on to remind us not to forget the darkest day in Hiroshima’s existence and to remember the greatest lesson it taught us.
“In a war, no one wins or loses”
Indeed, in any war, regardless if it’s nuclear or not, “no one wins or loses. There is only destruction.” Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and all the victims of the atomic bomb prove just that. Some may argue, a country who’s waged war should expect to also suffer its consequence the very moment they declared one. Others may also say that Japanese military has caused as much misery to their neighbouring nations in the past, too. Thus, they may find what happened to Hiroshima seemingly “justified” (for lack of a better word).
However, it’s not a question of who did what. It’s the question of who suffered the most, not just in the atomic bombings but from our acts of cruelty. Yes, it’s the humanity in general who is impacted, regardless which flag is being waved.
Hiroshima suffered a great loss and innocent lives were taken away from their loved ones. Some of the victims are still suffering from the adverse effects of the bombing to this date. However, seeing the present-day Hiroshima has enlightened us about the spirit of Japan, how they have moved forward, and how the survivors are now fighting for the total eradication of nuclear weapons.
Now, the city is teeming with life and inspiration. It never forgets about its dark past but its people never considered it as a hindrance to work on a brighter future.
In Hiroshima, we found a renewed inspiration from the people who’ve been through hell and back, the same people who have the “Spirit of Hiroshima — the desire for the realization of lasting peace.” These are the same people who have embraced life with so much hope in their hearts and a strong desire to continue fighting for peace to ensure that similar catastrophe never happens again to humankind.
“I know that the A-bomb Catastrophe was a product of war. But my deepest wish is that the horror endured by Hiroshima and Nagasaki be conveyed to the far corners of this world.
To treasure human love and to build world peace: does not give this joy and meaning to life?” – Kikue Komatsu