Coming face to face with history in Hiroshima, Japan

hiroshimaHiroshima.

Just saying the name can often evoke a strong emotion or reaction. When I told people I intended to visit Hiroshima on my Japan trip, the response was usually the same.

“Why would you want to visit there?” my friends asked.

“Why not?” I quipped. “The city is home to one of the most epochal events in modern history!”

Despite the admonishments and the bitter winter temperatures, I now stand before it — Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. There are no children playing, only a few tourists snapping photos nearby. The neatly manicured grounds seem to merely provide a cover for the somber history located here.

The clouds part, allowing sunlight to stream through the crumbling walls and cragged ruins of the A-Bomb Dome, regarded as one of the most recognizable remnants from World War II.

Located a mere two blocks away sits a nondescript gray and blue tile building with only three Japanese characters at the top and a small plaque on the side that reads “Hypocenter“. As we approach, we spot a group of local Japanese surrounding the plaque, deep in conversation. Not wanting to intrude, we wait quietly behind, but their guide stops talking and motions for us to approach.
Switching from Japanese to English, she exclaims, “Please join us! I will share with you about the Hypocenter.”

Almost seemingly out of nowhere emerges an older Japanese man from the group. He is well-dressed, looks to be in his early 60′s, and has the most charming and inviting smile.

He walks over to us and asks, “Where are you from?”

I stutter and stammer, finally managing to answer, “The United States.”

Much like the rest of the group, he warmly welcomes us to Hiroshima. He begins sharing interesting details, details not regurgitated from any tour guide prompt. Instantly, I realize we are reliving this horrific event through his eyes — the eyes of an atom bomb survivor. Obviously not as young as he appears, the man tells a chilling account of the events that took place on August 6, 1945.

He was just a kid living less than two miles from the hypocenter. His father and brother worked right across the small alleyway, just feet from where we now stood. After the bomb was dropped, he rushed to the hypocenter to search for them, but was met only with a sea of death and destruction. Bodies were strewn everywhere and it was impossible to find anyone or anything — including his brother and father, who, he ultimately learned, had perished in the blast.

Talking to this man was the chance to live an important piece of world history — something that no high school or college textbook could’ve ever prepared me for. His words were filled with emotion and pain, yet he never uttered a negative sentiment. Although tragic, he seemed almost accepting of those day’s events. “Ultimately,” he said, “no matter where we are from, we both have the same goal — to live in peace.”