Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

36. Hiroshima, Japan

Hiroshima, Japan

A close-up look at Hiroshima was always on my bucket list. I was awarded a book with the title “Rays from the Ashes” by the school board in my hometown in Germany. Naturally I read the book and ever since, I wondered a lot about many of the details when the first A-bomb was dropped.

This is the first time that I actually will step foot in this radioactive place. I have no clue how radioactive it still is, is it still radioactive? I am writing this in Kobe, before I even get to Hiroshima. Hiroshima must be ok to live in now; there are millions of people walking around the city. Still, I wonder about the radioactivity in Hiroshima today. Compared to Chernobyl, compared to Fukushima’s latest breach of the containment building, how safe is Hiroshima now? Is Hiroshima safer than Nagasaki? Remember it is only 70 years since the bomb exploded and radioactivity, the half-life of some elements, is in the thousands of years.
Little Boy

I hope I will find the answers for myself. I know it was a plutonium 235 bomb that was split on the atomic level. The bomb (Little Boy) had a devastating effect. The ignition of the bomb was very simple and almost primitive; a special bullet was shot into the Plutonium. The whole procedure was similar to a gun being fired within the bomb.

It is not that Japan was not warned about the coming of a very new, very devastating weapon, a weapon the Americans had developed. On the 26th of July 1945, at the conference of Potsdam, near Berlin, Germany (Germany surrendered in May of 1945) the Allied Nations sent an ultimatum to Japan. Surrender or else! There was no response from Japan. The fighting continued. Little Boy (the code name for the bomb) was dropped over Hiroshima 11 days after the warning, on August 6, 1945. We all know about the famous Enola Gay bomber, we have seen the black and white, historic films of the drop of the A-Bomb. A new area in warfare had begun. The atomic age had started.
Aug. 6, 1945, The A-Bomb Exploded
Over Hiroshima

Mr. Harry Truman, the U.S. President at the time, had a very difficult decision to make! I am sure it was not looked upon as “Let's drop the bomb”. The U.S. knew the bomb would kill a lot of people and would injure many more through radiation in the days following. History tells us today that after the drop of the bomb, about 80,000 people died immediately and another 160,000 died by the end of the month through radiation poisoning. The exact number will never be known. Imagine, within a split second, 80 thousand people are dead. The town itself is wiped out at the same time. Water is poisoned due to radioactivity. The survivors are out of food and water, with no shelter and no medical facilities; all within a split second. The ‘survivors’ were severely
Metal Twisted by the Heat of the Explosion
burned. At the point of explosion (2000 feet above ground level), the temperatures rose to millions of degrees C. The shock wave of this explosion wiped out everything within a one mile radius. On the ground, metal melted like hot butter. Steel beams inside buildings or on bridges evaporated or twisted into just a molten mass. The ground temperature immediately after the explosion was 10,000 degrees C. It was hell on earth.

People who lived far outside the radius of the initial drop (the official target was the Aioi Bridge) had somewhat of a chance for survival “if” they were underground at the time of the explosion and left Hiroshima immediately thereafter. Not many people were so lucky. Luck came a few days after the bombing when a huge typhoon swept over Hiroshima “washing” the rubble and dust down, bringing drinkable water to some. The Typhoon helped douse the persistent fires and lowered ground temperatures that were still in the hundreds of degrees C.

Japan did not capitulate, even after this horrific bomb. The U.S. waited to hear from Japan, but Japan kept on fighting on the many battle fronts. The U.S. prepared to drop a second, bigger bomb targeted for Kokura, a few days later.  When the bomber plane was over Kokura, there was no positive verification of the target possible; the ground below could not be seen due to a dense cloud cover. The bomber diverted and dropped the 2nd atomic bomb (Fat Man) on Nagasaki.

This second bomb was even more destructive. This time the Emperor of Japan surrendered unconditionally. August 14, 1945 the war between the U.S. and Japan ended.
The Japanese People Were Very Welcoming

When we arrived via the cruise ship, none of the destruction was visible. It was just short of 70 years ago and almost 3 generations have passed. We were greeted with music, signs and waving flags. “Welcome to Hiroshima” the signs said. The Japanese people were very welcoming and had no animosity towards American visitors.
A Modern Harbour in Hiroshima

The city today is very modern, clean and a busy metropolitan city. I still do not know what radioactive level Hiroshima has today. Carol and I did not worry about it though. We were tourists, doing the tourist thing on the one day of our visit.

Map Showing the O-Torii Gate
Guarding the Itukushima Shrine

We first visited another UNESCO site, the O-Torii Gate, part of the Itukushima Shrine; An 800 year old, but still very active Shinto Shrine. It was recommended that we wash our hands to purify ourselves before entering the inner sanctum of the Shrine. I did that. The gate itself stands in the ocean and separates the water of the small bay from the water of the vast ocean.

Purification Ritual Before Entering the Shrine

It was like a demarcation line in the
water, separating the common from the sanctified.

I was amazed by how many people were praying at this Shrine, despite the many tourists present and the heavy rain. The Shinto religion is still very much practiced in Japan, it seems. Whenever you see a postcard picture of Japan there is a high likelihood that you will see a picture of this red gate, standing in the water. 
The O-Torii Gate

It seems like an official entrance gate to Japan. But in reality, one can only see the gate from shore or from a ship near the common waters. The actual gate is untouchable. This all expresses Japan symbolically. Think about this! Is this not a good description of Japan? You can visit Japan but you will never really be Japanese, even if you speak the language.
The O- Torii Gate From Inside the Shrine
The O-Torii Gate is a symbol of Japan's efforts to keep itself separate from the rest of the world. Since the shrine itself stands on an island I even looked at it as Japan, the Island Nation, separated from the rest of the mainland, the rest of the world.

Devotees Inside the Shrine

One of the Open Buildings
Seen Through the Rain

Rainy Streets Near the Shinto Shrine

We took some time to walk through the shopping streets near the Shinto Shrine. This area is known for a maple leaf shaped cookie, some filled with assorted fillings (cream, bean paste or chocolate). We ate a few of those plum sized cookies and even had one that was deep fried. Yummy!

So Many Good Things to Eat
Deep Fried Maple Leaf Cookies
Incredibly Good

Yummy Street Food
Maple Leaf Cookies

Oysters, Another Local Delicacy

We did not taste the other delicacies, the famous oysters or the savory pancakes, however. Carol bought a special wooden spoon, designed and hand carved to dish out rice and a sushi mat. I guess this was a hint for me to try to make sushi rolls when we are back in Toronto.

Our Lunch Time View
Our Japanese lunch was in a Hotel with a stunning view across the water, with forest covered mountains in the distance, with tranquility as a theme. Beautiful! The food was not as good as in Kobe but there was an interesting representation of the O-Torii Gate. The lobby of the hotel showed some folksy figures representing life as it was years ago. We were in a nice place for lunch. 
Lunch With a Jellied O-Torii Gate

Carved Figure in the Lobby Where We Had Lunch
Trade Building Before the Bombing
The afternoon was spent walking around the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The park was erected at ground zero, right next to the Aioi Bridge. Grim reminders are still visible. Walking in this Memorial Park made our group of visitors a sober bunch. Hardly anybody spoke and if they did, it was in a reverential whisper. The remains of a trade building that was erected just
You Can See the Remains of the Trade Building
Through the Scaffolding (Look for the Dome)
before 1945 in steel and concrete with a distinctive dome construction of its roof, serves today as a reminder of this horrible day. It somehow is the focal point of the park.

Modern Monuments in the
Memorial Park

Modern, simple but artful monuments were built to give all of humanity a reminder of this infamous day. On the premises of the park are museums.

The Eternal Flame in Front of a
Bombed Building

One memorial burns with an eternal flame and has a reflection pool nearby to symbolize and honor the dead. Another building houses assorted examples of items that were found after the initial explosion. There are burned remains, melted and distorted metals, scenes of temporary survivors in tattered clothes with horrific burns on their body; their body fat dripping off their fingers, melted by the intense heat. The visual effect is shocking and disturbing. The museum was packed with young people but hardly anybody spoke. Picture taking was allowed yet I just walked through the exhibition, too shook up to think of taking pictures. The exhibition
Tattered Clothing Found After the Bombing
brings to the foreground the details of this historic day. The stopped clock on display showed the exact time as 8.15 AM. There are pictures of the 240 foot fireball and the effect of high winds following the drop. One is shown the “black” rain, the fallout and many Charts of numbers. A population of 350,000 reduced to 200,000 in just a few days after the bomb hit. The pictures, videos, body counts, interviews with the few survivors all added up to a gut wrenching display. I sat on a bench for a while after I stepped out of the museum. I needed some time to calm down and breathe.
Origami Cranes at the Children's Memorial

There were so many heartbreaking stories; especially the children’s stories. There is an exhibition dedicated to the children filled with origami cranes symbolizing long life and happiness. Very small paper origami cranes were given out in the bus as a memento to the lost and the surviving children of Hiroshima. Nobody blamed anybody; nobody pointed
There Were Many Pictures, All Done With
Origami Cranes
fingers at a nation. But everybody at this junction wanted only one thing:  No more War! Let there be peace. 

The Crane and the Child Make
Up the Top of the Entrance to
the Children's Memorial

Chinese Parasol Tree

Outside the museum, growing in the park are 3 trees planted close to each other; almost leaning on each other, the branches intertwined. One is an old tree, supported by sticks yet still alive somehow. This old Chinese Parasol Tree survived the A bomb. Next to this tree is a tree grown from the old tree’s seed. Another young tree is the number three tree; again grown from seeds from the number two tree. Life goes on. School children are given seeds from these trees today to grow more trees throughout Japan, maybe throughout the world. The one survivor, over time, will spread his seeds all over the earth. Life goes on. 
Heart-felt Sentiments

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