While it’s now been well over a week since I visited Hiroshima, the effect that the city, its people, its history and their strong desire for peace has left a lasting imprint on my heart. Words cannot really describe how it felt to spend some days in this city. From the enthusiasm of the Hiroshima Carp fans, to eating “Okonomiyaki” with new friends and colleagues, to singing Karoake the “authentic way,” it has been a very fun place to visit.
Beneath the “good times” in this city lies the undertone of the historical significance to what happened here on August 6, 1945. Over 200,000 people lost their lives that day, and there was always an undertone of the realization of where I was during my entire stay there. Whenever I’d see an older person, I couldn’t help but think that they were alive during the terrible tragedy. I wondered if they remembered. I wondered what they thought of Americans. I wondered how they survived.
On one of the mornings, we visited Shukkeien Garden. I found this video made a few years ago on YouTube to give you an idea of this very beautiful place.
Immediately upon entering, you can see the images of the park as it was before the bomb hit it and destroyed everything there. I stood in silence as I read that people began to run to the park for shelter when the bomb hit, but to no avail. The garden has been reconstructed to replicate how the park was prior to its destruction. The reconstruction is magnificently done and the park is absolutely breath-taking. The garden itself means “shrunken-scenery garden,” and there are valleys, mountains, forests and mini rice fields, along with tea houses within. Of course, I took some photographs of my own.
As I walked through the park, across its picturesque bridges and rocks spread across streams, I couldn’t help but notice the trees. I love to photograph trees and am instinctly drawn to looking at trees. The bamboo trees were breath-taking and I know that they grow very fast, so they were planted after the bombing. Yet I saw a few other trees that looked much older than 60+ years since the bombing and wondered out loud if any trees survived the atomic bomb.
Little did I know that later in the day, my question would be answered by a taxi driver. He brought the subject up, what appeared to be completely “out of the blue,” and I felt this sensation that I was about to hear something important. He announced that he had been studying about the atomic bomb and that he was studying the trees. He had a page of photographs that were laminated in the back seat pocket for us to look at. There I saw how what looked to be a dead tree later develop into flourishing symbols of endurance, strength and beauty. He explained that very, very few trees survived the bombing in the entire city. I realized right then, that he had answered my question. Chills went through my body at the sychronicity of it all; yet I knew in my heart that when one asks, the answer is always given.
I was so touched by this man that I asked his permission to take his photo.
The trees represent the wisdom and perseverance of the people who survived. They are respected elders who we can all learn from. Through the trees and the elders who survived the bomb, we can see examples of the beauty of love and peace; of perseverance and nurturing; of how respecting nature and human beings can blossom into a harmonious world for us all. Despite the atrocities of what occured in Hiroshima, the city lives on: through its people, its history and its trees. The message of the trees and of the survivors is one of peace and they consciously broadcast that message to the world.
All of this was a prelude for my final day in Hiroshima, where I would visit the site of the A-Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Inside the park, one sees the actual remains of where the bomb hit directly above this building. It remains because it was dropped directly above it.
The park itself is beautiful and a moving symbol of peace for the world. I wished I had more time there, but it was a rainy day and I had only a few hours, so I spent most of my time in the museum.
The museum experience was very powerful. I don’t know how anyone who experiences it can exit without becoming an advocate for peace on Earth. I learned about the Hibakusha, a name in Japanese that literally means “explosion-affected people,” and is used to represent the survivors of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They could be survivors who were in the area at the time, who suffered from the side effects of nuclear fall-out or unborn babies at the time who later were born with birth defects. The Hibakusha have fought hard for an end to nuclear proliferation.
Below is a replica of what Hiroshima looked like both before and after the bomb.
I found it very difficult to “get through” the second half of the museum, with artifacts and stories of individual children who perished. I literally didn’t listen to them all, as I found myself in tears. Yet I understood the intention of having those exhibits there: to imprint a desire and passion so strong for peace within all who experience it.
Perhaps the most fitting photographic exhibit for me was in this last image I’m posting of the phoenix trees. If you click on the photograph, I believe you can read the captions which explain how the phoenix trees survived and grew, even though no one expected them to for at least 75 years. What is deeply moving is reading that the “hibakusha” gained strength from Nature’s rebounding from this man-made destruction. What a tribute to the trees and people of Hiroshima! May we always find that peaceful place within us and with others.