Where the Streets Have New Names

OK, right at the start of a post about Hiroshima we need to get a few terrible, disrespectful, wholly inappropriate puns out of the way. Please understand that I don’t condone these puns. I’m sure many people would find these puns offensive. Consider them a preemptive strike, a way to cleanse your mind of the shameful possibilities. (A very Japanese thing to do, I think.)

Ok, here we go.

Hiroshima: what a blast.

Visiting Hiroshima was da bomb.

Hiroshima: Japan’s enduring hot spot.

Hiroshima: a modern Japanese boom town.

We give Hiroshima a glowing recommendation.

And so on.

Stop it. I can tell you are trying to think up more right now. Just. Stop. It.

Thank you.

The reality is that this blog is hardly the first place that such puns have appeared. And of course they can be offensive, if you don’t acknowledge the profound tragedy behind them. The flip side is that much humor is born of tragedy. Humor is a human defense mechanism. Is it really funny when a man slips on a banana peel? What if he breaks a hip, or gets a concussion?

The reality, too, is that the dropping of an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima happened over 70 years ago. At 8:15 in the morning, to be exact, on August 6, 1945. Everyone knows it was an extraordinarily sad moment in human history, regardless of politics, regardless of whether or not you think the United States made the right decision (which will probably be debated forever).

But if we never laugh about the past, then can we ever truly embrace it, learn from it and move on? People make jokes about the holocaust. They make jokes about slavery. They make jokes about the Roman persecution of Christians. Okay, that one was a really long time ago. But does that make it okay? (In a survey, four out of five lions preferred the taste of martyrs over their usual diet of pagans and thieves.)

People have started making jokes about 9/11.

Unfortunately, life is full of cruel and shitty moments. Without humor, I don’t know how the hell we would cope. Without humor, I don’t think our time on this planet would be very much fun at all.

OK, I’m getting off my soap box. But you get my point. Now stop trying to think up more bad nuclear puns.

I said, stop it.

Hiroshima today is a vibrant, bustling city in the western part of Honshu, Japan’s largest island (which is where we’ve spent all our time on this trip). The people here are cheerful, hard-working, and optimistic about the future. If you didn’t know an atomic bomb completely destroyed their city, killing hundreds of thousands of people near the end of a war three-quarters of a century ago, you might not believe it actually happened.

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Except, there are traces. There’s a museum filled with photographs of victims and survivors. With newspaper accounts and diaries. Bits of burned clothing. Fragments of buildings that melted in the radioactive heat. Videos of the mushroom cloud and the “black rain” fallout. Stories of little children who died of leukemia in the years that followed.

And right at ground zero, there’s a building that somehow remained partly standing. The city of Hiroshima has pledged to preserve it forever as-is, to remind everyone alive now and future generations of the horrors of nuclear weapons. It’s called the A-Bomb Dome.

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Across a fork in the Ota river from the A-Bomb Dome, with an unobstructed view of its shell, sits the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Before the war, the park area was a very busy working class neighborhood with old, narrow, poorly laid-out streets. Actually, much of Hiroshima’s city plan was a mess. But when you’re reconstructing a whole city starting from nothing, well, you can change things up. So the streets of Hiroshima 2.0 were designed using a grid system.

The Peace Park employs some symmetry too. Perhaps its most important monument, the Memorial Cenotaph of the victims, occupies the very center of the park, visually and geographically aligned with the A-Bomb Dome and another important monument, the Peace Flame.

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There’s often a long line of people at the Cenotaph waiting to pay their respects to the dead and perhaps say a prayer.

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In addition to the Cenotaph and the Peace Museum, the park contains dozens of other memorials and monuments. The most famous is probably the Children’s Peace Monument, erected in honor of Sadako Sasaki and all the children who were killed by the bomb or lost their lives to its after-effects.

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Sadako Sasaki was one of those little children diagnosed with radiation-induced leukemia. When she got sick, she folded a thousand origami cranes in the hopes it would help her triumph over her illness. Instead she died in 1955 at the age of 12.

The Children’s Memorial has a bell that every visitor to the Peace Park is invited to ring. The bell’s clapper is in the shape of a paper crane. Every year thousands of people come to Hiroshima, including many children, with thousands of their own folded cranes. The paper cranes, in every color of the rainbow and often arranged to form images and messages, are on display in cases around the monument.

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The park has another bell you can ring, called the Peace Bell. The bell is designed in a traditional Japanese style. Its surface bears a map of the world.

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The park features many other memorials and monuments. The intent is to forget no one. So, for example, there is a memorial to displaced Korean victims of the bomb. And there is one for the children of the future. Its hopeful perspective is symbolized by a waxing crescent moon.

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Beyond the park, there are monuments and remembrances in other parts of town. This one, symbolizing hands folded in prayer, is a memorial to the thousands of local health care workers who treated other victims even as they themselves were suffering the effects of acute radiation poisoning. Almost all of them died.

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And this one is for all the schoolchildren who perished.

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We visited a garden that has existed for hundreds of years. Near the entrance is a photograph of how it looked right after the bomb.

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Here is how it looks now.

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Hiroshima is a beautiful city, full of green spaces and new buildings and waterfront parks and public art installations. But at its core lies a broken heart that is still mending, that wants never to forget. Visiting Hiroshima shouldn’t leave you depressed. It didn’t have that effect on us. It left us a little sad, yes, and a little anxious about the 16,000+ nuclear warheads that are out there in the world right now. It left us wondering whether the human race will ever really know peace. Whether we’re capable of it. But it also reminded us that life goes on, that in each generation, in the face of every innocent child, there is the hope that love will blossom instead of hate.

Well now, the Most Idiotic Blog just got a little too schmaltzy, didn’t it? Let’s lighten the mood by wrapping this up with some more Japanese weirdness, and a few random pictures of the beauty of this country.

Have you ever heard of tomato-flavored hard candy? It’s a thing in Japan. Tomato is a fruit, I guess, so why not? Except the candy tastes like tomato soup. Who wants candy that tastes like a steakhouse appetizer?

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These young Japanese people are all of the male persuasion (I think). Young Japanese men trying to look a bit too much like young Japanese women also seems to be a thing in Japan.

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Sorry boys, but just putting on a tie doesn’t make you butch.

On the island of Miyojima (about an hour’s journey from Hiroshima by train and ferry) we visited the Itsukushima shrine. The shrine is famous because, well, as you can see, it’s not on dry land. But at low tide you can wade out to it and say your prayers.

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Wild deer roam the island. Other species can be found roaming as well.

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In Hiroshima they love their local baseball team, the Hiroshima Carp. Everywhere around town you see posters, food products, even manhole covers adorned with Carp insignia. Can I get a high touch?

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Apparently an entrance exam is required to stay at this hotel. We didn’t get in.

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We didn’t get to stay at this next place either.

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That’s the Hiroshima Castle. Built in the late 16th Century, it was completely destroyed by the bomb, like everything else in Hiroshima. What stands there now is a painstakingly reconstructed replica. A new castle, on a street with a new name, in a new city where they promise never to forget the old one.

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4 Comments

  1. Juliet Brown

    Craig, your writing left me laughing and crying. You are masterful. Thank you for writing about Hiroshima with such tender feelings and humor.

    Reply
    1. Craig David Singer (Post author)

      Thank you so much Juliet!

      Reply
  2. Alex Duvan

    Great!

    Reply
    1. Craig David Singer (Post author)

      Thanks!

      Reply

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