Monday, November 12, 2012

Hiroshima Echoes

This past week I took a couple of clients to Hiroshima, namely, the peace park.  As it is my wife's hometown, I've passed through a number of times, but it was the first time in ten years that I've played tourist.  

I made sure to approach the A-bomb Dome on foot from the city center, as that always surprises.   You're walking through a modern, bustling city, the suddenly the Dome looms up and stops all conversation.  At the very moment that we were walking slowly beneath the big trees that shade the grass and rubble at the Dome's base, word came across my client's iPhone that Obama had been re-elected.  Truly a bizarre moment in my own personally history.  

The irony was compounded not long afterward in the Peace Museum.  I hadn't been inside since I visited the park the day before the 50th anniversary of the bombing, (which I've written about here).  The museum has been renovated since 1995, but I find that many of my impressions from that visit still hold.  But there are few differences. Previously I claimed that the English and Japanese explanations differed, but I felt that they were now pretty well balanced, though that could be because my Japanese has improved dramatically since that time. One notable addition was the harsher tone against the government of the day, talking of their military aggression, and of the Chinese and Koreans conscripted for labor.    The exhibits themselves have been toned down somewhat, but the lack of subtlety remains.  Nearly every display refers to children killed by the bomb.  While the death of a single child never fails to move us, when those numbers are compounded we begin to get overwhelmed and, in the soul's attempt to protect itself, inevitably lose the feeling of tragedy.  The memory of those children deserves better.

But I referred earlier to personal history.  As I was standing before the first known photo of the aftermath, I noticed a couple of cameramen jockeying to photograph a short Middle-Eastern man standing beside me.  He was surrounded by what was pretty obviously a security team.   I walked over to a well-dressed Japanese who appeared to be with them and asked the short man's identity.  The Mayor of Kabul, I was told.

Yet history has a means of calling on you on its own terms.  Approaching the garlands of folded cranes that hang from the Sasaki Sadako memorial, I was suddenly and violently overwhelmed by tears.  I had to turn away from my clients and walk away, as a group of schoolchildren made their offering and began to sing a mournful song.  My last visit here, ten years before, had been with my son, just a few months before his death.  Some friends were visiting from America, and as they made their way through the museum, my son and I chased each other around the concrete pillars that support the structure.  Later I shot a photo of him, one of my favorites, of him reflected in a small block of marble.  That autumn, he'd get his own garland of cranes, presented at his funeral by his classmates.

While the death of a child never fails to move us...

On the turntable:  Neil Young, "Achives"

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