We saw Hiroshima in the rain.  It seemed fitting, somehow.  The A-Bomb dome, mostly destroyed, is a mass of twisted steel and burned bricks.  It sits on the bank of a river, just meters away from the T-bridge, the actual target of the first atomic bomb.  It was sobering to walk around this gutted structure.  Sitting in its own rubble, and dwarfed by the modern sky scrapers around it, the A-bomb dome is the only damaged building not torn down when the city began to rebuild.  In a city trying desperately to forget, someone with vision knew the world had to remember. 

Across the river, the people of Hiroshima built a large park.  The Children’s Peace Park is quiet in the rain, and vibrant with fall color.  Tour groups come and go.  Loud speakers carried by the tour guides intermittently break the silence of the park.  The tourists huddle in the shelter of dripping umbrellas which reflect the multitude of colors of the folded paper cranes on display.  The park is gifted with 240 million paper cranes a year.  20,000 – 30,000 are on view all the time.  It was pretty amazing to see the large clusters of long strings of cranes, and the stunningly beautiful composite pictures on display; each one made of hundreds of individually folded paper cranes.  The glass display cases stand in a half circle around an impressive sculpture.  It is a tall obelisk with smaller sculptures of children attached on all faces.  The children appear to be jumping, flying, celebrating life.  On the top stands a solitary figure of a girl holding a very large replica of a folded crane skyward.  The sculpture is a representation of a child who survived the bombing of Hiroshima only to develop leukemia at the age of 10.  She began to fold paper cranes; believing, if she could fold 1000 cranes, she would survive her illness.  She died after folding a little over 700.  Her school mates finished the 1000 cranes in her memory.

I first learned the story of this child over 20 years ago through the music of Fred Hall.  The song he sang of her life and her death always brought tears to my eyes.  While standing at the foot of the monolith, gazing up at the child, I, once again, could not hold back the tears.  In the center of the sculpture hangs a wind chime with a tail of folded paper cranes.  When the wind blows, the deep tone of the bell rumbles across the park.   A tourist stepped out of the crowd and began pulling on the cranes to ring the bell.  I watched as an old man stepped forward, said something to the tourist, and began taking down the cranes.  Our friend, Mariko, asked the man what he was doing.  He was angry at the tourist whom, he thought, was disrespectful of the memorial.  He was protecting the cranes.

There are two large museums in the park.  As we walked from the A-Bomb dome, through the park, toward the museums, we passed by a flame burning atop a pedestal.  The flame was lit when the park was built; and it will not be extinguished until the last nuclear weapon on earth is destroyed.  I wonder how long it will burn.  We paused when we came to an arch festooned with flowers.  Looking back through the arch, we noticed it was lined up perfectly with the flame and the A-bomb dome. It is the flight path of the Enola Gay.

We were overwhelmed by the huge museums.  It was the exhibit consisting of the photos of the 140,000 people who died between August 8, 1945, the day the bomb was dropped, until the end of December of that year that stopped us in our tracks.  Babies, brides, grandmothers; their photos flashed across the screen relentlessly.  Except for a handful of soldiers who were guarding a small group of POWs, this was an entirely civilian population going about their daily lives.  I started to cry at that point, and I never really managed to stop.  The museum has placed video testimonial from survivors throughout; along with large dioramas, charred artifacts, and terrifying photographs.  It was sobering, thought provoking, disturbing, emotionally exhausting.  There were times I wanted to look away; however, it seemed somehow disrespectful to do so.  It was impossible not to be moved by the suffering that took place here

The design of the largest museum was a spiral that first wound down, then up.  Along the way history unfolded; in black and white photos, in newspaper clippings, in charred clothing, twisted tricycles, and watches stopped at the instant of detonation.  I appreciated the balance in the presentations.  There was no blame laid at the feet of the US.  There was some sharp criticism of the “misguided” Japanese politicians of the time, and the build up of the Japanese military. There was also some enlightening information and political speculation about why the US dropped the bomb; and it was not the US history book version.  It made the kind of sense truth makes. The museums were very crowded with tourists from many nations, including an entire basketball team from Brazil.  I spent a lot of time watching faces.  Somber children gazed at the dioramas trying to make sense of what they saw.  Elderly Japanese, their bodies bent from what might have been wartime nutritional deficits, solemnly moved through the crush of people, attending to every display.  I was acutely aware of the low hum of voices.  My experience with crowds in Japan is limited to train stations, Akihabara, and holiday excursions to popular destinations.  In these settings, the crowd is usually quite noisy.  Not so this day in the museums of Hiroshima. We made our visit to Hiroshima over the American Thanksgiving Holiday.  It was profoundly life changing on many levels.  Our companions were two Japanese friends, Mariko-san and Yuki-san.  Yuki-san’s mother lives in Hiroshima; and her uncle lived there in 1945.  Mariko-san and Yuki-san brought an important perspective to our trip.  I don’t think we could have left Japan without visiting Hiroshima.  It simply had to be.