Hiroshima – The Price of Peace
Situated somewhere between tragedy and peace, lush greenery and an ever-growing influx of tourists, Hiroshima’s harrowing past seems to be kept hidden. At first glance, this vibrant city is full of life, but reminders of its history are never far away.
At 19 years old, I was naïve as they come. I was brought up in a small town in Australia, hidden from the horrors of past wars, and had never been overseas before. Upon discovering Hiroshima on my first trip to Japan, my whole concept of the world changed, and my eyes were opened to its cruelty.
Sadako Sasaki was two years old when her hometown fell apart. Screaming out in agony, trying to gain the attention of anyone amongst the mayhem, she was plunged straight through her bedroom window, shattering glass as she landed on the crumbling chard flowers that were once the garden she played in. Neighbours were crying out for family members, trying to salvage any form of life. As she lay there gasping for unpoisoned air, a mushroom cloud of smoke rose above her. At the time, she was completely oblivious to the severity of what had just happened.
At exactly 8:16 in the morning on the 6th of August 6, 1945, as Japanese businesspeople were taking their seats at their desks, the American army dropped a B-29 atomic bomb on the town of Hiroshima. 80,000 Japanese civilians were killed instantly, leaving charred, mutilated bodies scattered all over the city. Nearby birds burst into flames mid-flight; the white light burnt patterns of clothing to people’s skin and the shadows of bodies onto walls. Of the survivors, 35,000 were left unrecognisable, burns covering most of their bodies. An additional 60,000 would be dead by the end of the year. Those at the hyper-centre were considered “lucky”, granted an instant death. Many spent their last minutes of life in pain and misery, with their flesh melting off.
On the ground, everything was flattened. The whole city was destroyed. In a matter of minutes, Hiroshima went from 90,000 buildings to 28,000. Of the resident doctors, only 20 were left alive. The city was in hysteria. Half its population had been wiped, and Japan would never be the same again.
Sadako was one of the lucky ones, or so they thought. Shortly after her 11th birthday, she started to experience symptoms a healthy young girl shouldn’t. As a result of the radiation exposure from the bomb, her developed leukaemia.
It was in sickness that Sadako became an icon. There is a Japanese legend that if someone folds one thousand paper cranes, they will be granted one wish. As Sadako’s health diminished, she continued making origami birds, but not even magic is powerful enough to combat the force of nuclear warfare.
But though Sadako passed away, the hope of this 11-year-old inspired a movement. Children from all over Japan created a paper crane club in her honour. In fact, Sadako’s legacy was so great, so widespread, that three years after her death, a monument was built in her honour. Standing tall, a young girl raises a crane to the sky, mesmerised by the thousands of origami cranes and messages of peace that surround her.
Following the war, Japan agreed to a treaty led by the United States implementing policies that ensured the nation became a demilitarised state. Kazumi Matsui, the Mayor of Hiroshima, strongly advises the UN to adopt a nuclear weapons ban treaty. Having a mother who was a survivor, Matsui heartily believes that no one should ever suffer the way Hiroshima did that day.
I can still visualise a child with half her face charred. I can see the one lonely small sock found without the owner amongst the wreckage.
A visit to Hiroshima combines horror with hope. Some people choose to remain oblivious; they choose to ignore our world’s dark history. But sometimes, dark tourism is necessary. Japan’s past should be used to teach us, and stop us from repeating old mistakes. Plus, if the people of Hiroshima can rebuild and strive for peace after the nightmares they endured, then there is hope for all.
Today, Hiroshima is a city that has risen from the ashes; a picturesque place wedged between mountain ranges that combines bustling streets with serene gardens and temples. It was said nothing would ever grow here, but new buds sprouted; greenery came back to life. Amidst the destruction, the people of Japan united.