Hiroshima and Nagasaki – These locations – these words – are indelibly etched into the minds of the survivors of the 1945 atomic bomb blasts in Japan and are recounted in history books, lectures, and movies. Following some fact-filled ship-board lectures on the events leading up World War II, we visited these historic sites as part of two optional excursions with the Far East & Alaska Cruise with Viking Ocean Cruises. How do the Japanese remember and commemorate these horrific events?
The answer lies in the designation of peace parks and dedicated museums in these cities. They remember the war, salute the peace today, and offer their hope for peace in the future. They want the world to see and understand the horrific consequences of nuclear war.
On the morning of August 6, 1945, at 8:16 a.m. an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the world’s first atom bomb on Hiroshima. Ultimately, more than 140,000 were killed or died as a result of the bombing. This date is now referred to in Hiroshima as Peace Day and is remembered and commemorated yearly. Thousands gather at the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park to mark the day and pray for lasting world peace.
The main street in Hiroshima is called Peace Blvd. The central theme of the park and museum is Never Again should the world experience the horrors resulting from an atomic bomb.
The Peace Museum
We first visited the Peace Museum in Hiroshima which had reopened just three days before our arrival following major renovations. Our visit coincided with Golden Week in Japan, an annual holiday in honor of the Emperor. Because schools, government offices, and other establishments were closed, the lines of Japanese citizens waiting to visit the museum was long. Thankfully, our Viking guide arranged for our admission without the two hour wait in line. But before even entering, it was clear to us that these people want to know, want to see the photos, know they must remember.
The photos and exhibits in the Hiroshima Peace Museum depicted the horrors resulting from the 1945 bombings
THE PEACE PARK
One of the focal points of the Hiroshima Peace Park is an arched tomb cenotaph. The names of each of the victims is inscribed on the stone chest beneath the arch. At the end of the arch, an eternal flame burns. We were told that it will continue to burn until all nuclear devices in the world have been destroyed.
The children’s’ monument tugs at the hearts of visitors. It is dedicated to a young girl named Sadako who survived the initial blast but died from leukemia in her early teens.
The monument is surrounded by origami figures. The girl believed that if she made 1,000 origamis she would survive. She reached her goal but succumbed to the disease which resulted from her exposure to the radiation that killed many who survived the blast. Funds for the monument were raised by her classmates in 1958 to build the monument.
“We dedicate this bell as a symbol of Hiroshima aspiration. Let all nuclear arms and wars be gone, and the nations live in true peace! May ring to all corners of the earth to meet the ear of every man, for in it throb and palpitate the hearts of its peace – loving donors. So may you too friends, step forward and toll this bell for peace! Dedicated September 20, 1964 by Hiroshima Higan -No-Kai.”
Three days after the Hiroshima bombing and following disregarded warnings from President Truman that they must surrender or experience more bombings, the United States bombed Nagasaki resulting in 74,000 more deaths.
The Peace Park at Nagasaki
The 9.7 meter (approx 30 ft) high Bronze Peace Statue is the focal point of the Nagasaki Peace Park. Our guide explained this statue. She told us that each of the hands of the man are representative. One hand represents nuclear attack. The other hand symbolizes tranquility and gestures for peace and meditation. His closed eyes express prayerfulness for those who are victims of the war.
The Fountain of Peace sends up a sparkling spray of water in the shape of a pair of wings, evoking the dove of peace and the crane is representative of Nagasaki Port, which is known as the “Crane Port” because of its shape. There is a Peace Bell which is a symbol of warning to future generations to avoid Nuclear War.
The park is filled with poignant monuments contributed by various nations.
In The Museum
As we entered the museum, we read the sign. “Nagasaki must be the last place exposed to an Atomic Bomb.” Like the Hiroshima museum, the Nagasaki exhibit has numerous photos illustrating the destruction of the city and death and injuries to its citizens.
We were privileged to hear a talk by a survivor of the blast, Okumua Ayaka. This soft spoken 82 year old addressed us through a translator, telling her personal story. Eight year old Okumua was at a friend’s house when her family home was destroyed by the bomb. Of the nine members of her family, only she survived the blast that struck 600 meters from her location.
Why did this young girl survive? She had been taught in school that in case of an air raid, she should fall to the ground in a fetal position. As we heard this, many of us recalled our own training in school with “air raids.”
When asked how she felt about the experience, Okumua told us that the foundation is to understand other people’s pain and that human beings must get along, otherwise history will be repeated. “We felt no hostility or blame toward the United States. Just regret that such a tragic event took place.” She said.
These Viking Ocean Cruise sponsored excursions were time well spent giving us an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the Japanese people and their perspectives on these catastrophic historic events.
Japan is a vibrant country which looks ahead to a prosperous future, but we learned that it places great importance on remembering and reminding the world of the heavy price it paid for waging war.