Ophelia Ding

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Healing in Hiroshima

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you.” 

― Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach

Visiting the city where the world’s first atomic bomb was dropped and detonated in 1945 was a powerful, emotional experience. It was by far one of the most important trips I’ve ever taken — and Bourdain’s words above couldn’t be truer: Hiroshima left a “mark on my memory, [and] on my consciousness.”

I am so grateful my UC study abroad program took our entire cohort of students to Hiroshima, located in southwestern Japan. We traveled via the Shinkansen — Japan’s famously fast bullet trains. The city is a 9 hour drive away from Tokyo but only 3.5 hours (yes!) on the Shinkansen. We spent four days in Hiroshima — and here are a couple of my highlights: 

  Entrance to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. 

Entrance to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. 

1. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. This museum is a must-do. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was numbing; an excruciating reminder of the cost of war. It educated visitors on the atomic bomb— the materials used, the force of the blast, the black rain that followed. But what hit me the hardest was the museum’s depictions of human suffering. Agonizing images of survivors suffering from long-term effects of radiation, stories of leukemia patients, videos of tormented mothers weeping as they searched for their children... it was heartbreaking. I didn’t realize the extent of human suffering the atomic bomb (A-bomb) caused and political viewpoints aside, it was overwhelmingly painful to see another human-being suffering so tremendously. Being in Hiroshima jolted empathy into facts strung together in my junior year U.S. history textbook.

A rendering of the atomic bomb  depicted as the red ball  over Hiroshima.

"Human Shadow Etched in Stone." 

President Obama visited Hiroshima in May of this year (the first sitting president of the United States to do so!). Photographs and artifacts from his visit were showcased at the close of the museum exhibitions. President Obama (eloquent as always) left these wise words of wisdom in the museum’s guestbook:

"We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons." - Barack Obama.

By the way — flipping through the guestbook at the museum was the coolest! It included notes from figures from Mother Teresa to Jimmy Carter.

2. Hiroshima Peace Memorial ParkAfter the emotional museum visit (waterproof mascara is a must, ladies), I took a walk around the surrounding park to reflect and pray on what I saw. The park was the perfect place for reflection — sitting on a bench under the trees with quiet hum of bikers and travelers was just what I needed. The centerpiece of the park is the Memorial Cenotaph, dedicated to the victims of the A-bomb. The Cenotaph aligns with the Flame of Peace, which will burn until all nuclear bombs on the planet are destroyed. 

Memorial Cenotaph, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Flame of Peace, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

 

3. Former Bank of Japan. The former Bank of Japan building survived the A-bomb, and now serves as an art gallery space. The exhibition featured harrowing firsthand accounts of the bombing with accompanying artwork drawn by A-bomb survivors. I loved seeing art utilized as a medium for storytelling — and the drawings resonated deeply. Depicting a sequence of events, the gallery began with a series titled “Flash! Boom!” and ended with “Life carries on.” It was excruciating to read and reflect on the images and words. 

The second from the left reads:

When will Dad come home?
Our father died in the atomic bombing. My five year old younger sister waited for him to come home every day. Whenever she saw a man, she ran after him, saying it was father. "Dad's come home! No, it wasn't him. When will dad come home?"

4. Meeting an A-bomb survivor. It is remarkable to me that a city so enveloped in tragedy has become such a fervent advocate of peace, and individuals have taken on the responsibility of spreading peace. It was such an honor to meet Mrs. Taeko Teramae, a hibakusha (A-bomb survivor). Hearing from her was extraordinarily powerful. She was in third grade when the A-bomb dropped, and credits her schoolteacher for saving her life. She recounted the story of how her sister perished in the bombing, and how the bombing redefined every aspect of her life. At the end of her seminar, she told us how important it was for her to keep telling her story at the age of 86, and to advocate for peace — so no one would have to go through what she went through.

5. Origami Cranes. A tangible symbol of peace — the origami crane — was a running theme throughout our time in Hiroshima. These colorful creations were inspired by the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who was diagnosed with leukemia after the atomic bomb dropped. According to Japanese legend, if one folds a thousand origami cranes, a wish is granted. Sadako folded as many cranes as she could during her fight with leukemia, but tragically, didn’t live to finish the task. Instead, her family, classmates, and community finished the thousand cranes, and now, origami cranes pour in from around the world. During one of our school tours, the guide pointed out that the cranes are actually recycled to produce colorful paper, used for printing diplomas for schoolchildren in Hiroshima. How cool is that?!

Fukuro-machi Elementary School Peace Museum.

Children's Peace Monument, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Children's Peace Monument, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

I wanted to close with a quick excerpt from a speech President Obama gave while visiting Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park: 

That is why we come to this place. We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see...

Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.

-President Barack Obama

Visiting Hiroshima was emotionally taxing, but ultimately, it was a chance for me to better understand what happened on August 6th, 1945. I don’t have words to adequately express how gut wrenching it was to see the amount of human suffering that was endured. It is, however, inspiring to see how the city has rebuilt, and is now a champion for world peace. Hiroshima is an important place to visit, and I won’t ever forget it.