July 19 – A Day of Extremes

Today was a strange day. The first half of the day was very solemn, while the second half was full of joy and excitement.

In a way, I think the day I had today serves as a example of the impressions I’ve had toward my fellowship objectives during the entire trip.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

h00141en_map011The morning was spent at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. This park was made on the ruins of what once was a bustling area of downtown Hiroshima during WWII. In the picture on the right you can see the park with a red dot in the top right. This represents the “hypocenter” – the place that the bomb actually exploded over.

The “T-shaped” bridge on top was the aiming point for the bomber in the Enola Gay (the bridge has since been rebuilt.

One building survived and was not demolished.  This used to be the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall and it was only 160 meters from the hypocenter.  It now serves as an iconic symbol of the area and is now called simply, the A-Bomb Dome.

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The ground of the park itself feature many memorials to those that lost their lives on August 6, 1945 and the years afterword.  One of the most poignant monuments was the Children’s Peace Monument to honor the children who died in the bombing.

The famous symbol from this monument is that of a origami paper crane.  The crane symbol came from a young girl named Sadako Sasaki.  Sadako was only two when the bomb fell and she didn’t die in the initial blast.  Instead, like many people, she died several years later of leukemia.  While she lay in her hospital bed, she heard of a story that if she folded 1000 cranes, she would get a wish.  She spent the rest of her time folding cranes with whatever she could find to make them from.

Around the park, you will find thousands and thousands of paper cranes.

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In the middle of the park, you will find a Memorial Centograph – which is a stone structure – that houses all of the names of those that died in the bombing.  This is still an emotional place for the Japanese people as I observed many coming up to the shrine and praying to it.  It faces a flame that, it is said, will burn continuously until the last nuclear bomb is destroyed.

ajuly19-tokyo-00423The park is a very quiet place for the most part.  Walking around the grounds, I could help but keep imagining in my head what it must have been like when, out of the blue, an immense explosion – the likes of which had never been seen before turned the town into a burning hellscape.  I kept looking up and imagined seeing 3 B-29’s – no serious threat – flying overhead.  In fact, even though the alarm sirens did sound, not many people took them seriously…after all, how much damage could only three planes do?

One of the sadder things that I learned was that many children had been pressed into service to demolish buildings to create fire-blocks in the event of an attack.  Many of these children who normally wouldn’t be near this area of town at this time of day were very close to the bomb site and were killed immediately.

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The (rebuilt) “T-shaped” bridge that offered the B-29 bomber an easy target.

The hypocenter now, just a stone's throw from the A-Bomb Dome

The hypocenter now, just a stone’s throw from the A-Bomb Dome

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

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There were a large number of exhibits of items of people that had remained after they had passed. Some of these items were fairly grizzly – blood soaked clothes from school children. The museum certainly doesn’t pull any punches demonstrating the absolute hell that the bomb created. There were pieces of rubble with shadows created by people that were sitting/standing near them when the bomb exploded.

One important item that the museum highlighted were the multiple effects the bomb had.  This bomb didn’t just level a building and kill the people inside that building, instead this bomb:

  • Vaporized buildings and people close to it
  • Knocked down buildings
  • Caused fires around the town that killed many more
  • Caused later medical conditions due to the radiation produced by this type of weapon.

One thing didn’t expect to find in the museum was a large display about President Obama’s recent trip to Hiroshima in April. That trip was controversial in the United States because some saw it as an apology for dropping the bomb.  The museum displayed several pieces of memorabilia from that visit, including four paper cranes that Obama made andgave to children and the museum.  I got the sense that the Japanese saw him visiting as a big deal – the first US president to ever visit the site.ajuly19-tokyo-00429

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After the visit to the museum, I went on a tour with one of the Japanese volunteers that works at the site. She showed me around the park and talked about some of the back stories of some of the objects. I asked her why she chose to volunteer and she told me a line that I had heard earlier and thought was very apt…for the US, the dropping of the bomb ended the war…for Japan, and especially Hiroshima, the dropping of the bomb started the quest for peace – to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. By volunteering and showing people around, this is one little way that she can help further that goal.

I was also able to watch a few memoirs from  A-Bomb survivors done on video.  It was very well done, with engaging images and video to go with the audio (which thankfully had subtitles in English!)

Completing all that, I went back to the hotel and crashed for a little while.  As it had been a very heavy morning, I was looking for something a little more joyful and fun – so I went to a Hiroshima Carp game!ajuly19-tokyo-00445


Go Hiroshima Carp!

ajuly19-tokyo-00580This was a neat experience. I just happened to see the Carp playing baseball on TV the night before and it looked pretty fun. After doing some Googling, it turns out that the Carp, a Major League Japanese Baseball team, is pretty much the best team in the league this year. Their fan base is rabid and most games are sold out.

I took my chances and went to the stadium where they gave me a ticket under the condition that it was for a non-reserved seat section and most likely I’d have to stand in the concourse to watch the game.  I got in and found myself a little area where I could stand and watch the game.

A few minutes later, an older Japanese lady started motioning for me to follow her.  Figuring, “what have I got to lose”, she brought me up to her section where she had reserved two rows of seats.  (even though it is the non-reserved section, she just put stuff on all the seats – that’s how they roll in Japan).  As far as I can tell, she saves these seats for people who have a tough situation and need seats, mostly families with little kids that can’t get their early and save seats.

She spent the rest of the game making sure I was having a good time – giving me a Carps fan to keep cool – giving me peanuts – and trying to buy me a beer (being the boring teetotaler I am, I refused and suggested a shaved ice thing instead which was delicious!).

The people around me were delightful and we would celebrate together whenever the Carps did something good (which was often – they crushed the other team!).

tjuly19-tokyo-00573Now, Japanese baseball isn’t like American basebbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb (sorry, I just fell asleep typing that…).  Japanese baseball is a bit like college football.  The crowd is yelling and chanting for the entire game, even for a fairly meaningless game in the middle of the season as this one.

The crowd only yells when their team is up to bat.  Each batter has his own cheer that the fans do.  These cheers are usually accompanied by little plastic bats that everyone has and a bunch of trumpet players and drummers in the right field stands.  It was a very exciting scene!

During the top of the 7th inning, people started blowing up balloons.  The nice man I was sitting next to gave me one to blow up for myself.  These balloons were held until the middle of the 7th inning.  At that point this video came on and everyone started singing and dancing to something incomprehensible to me.  At the end of the song, everyone released their balloons and they all shot into the air at once – making a pretty neat scene.

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Between the rowdy (yet always polite) fans, the beautiful night and the bullet trains constantly going past the left field wall, it was a pretty cool evening.  If I lived in this town, I think I’d come to Carp games often!

Tomorrow: Checking out the Kangen-sai Festival on Miyajima Island!