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May 04, 2018

Honouring History in Hiroshima: An Emotional Journey

Hiroshima Memorial Hero

When my younger brother graduated from high school, I told him I will take him anywhere in the world to celebrate. He chose Japan, but gave me full control over planning what we did while we were there. As I combed over all of the gems these islands have to offer, I put together what I thought would be the perfect itinerary for our week long journey. If you had asked me before we left what the highlight of the trip would have been, I would have guessed the buzzing modernity of Tokyo or the ancient regality of Kyoto. I would not have thought the place that would still give me chills to describe would be Hiroshima.

Travelling to Hiroshima

Hiroshima bullet train

My brother and I set out from Kyoto on the bullet train, which exceeded my expectations as a lover of public transportation. The weather outside the window was not proving to be a good omen for the day. There were severe rain storms and squall lines causing flooding and the canceling of many train routes. We were only planning a day trip, but I was beginning to accept that we might not make it or might get stuck somewhere due to the severe weather.

Tracing history

Hiroshima dome

When our train pulled into Hiroshima, the winds and rain disappeared, and it was easily the most beautiful day of the entire trip. For historical purposes, I believed that travelling to Hiroshima was a must, but I was not prepared for what the city would make me feel. We hopped on an old streetcar to get to the Peace Park. The modern city has rebuilt itself around the epicentre of the nuclear bomb that was dropped in August of 1945.

The park is filled to the brim with monuments to different groups that were affected on that day and in the years afterward. The juxtaposition of this gorgeous summer day in a manicured park and the haunting nature of the history represented by the structures surrounding us overwhelmed me. While strolling through the grass and groves of trees, you see the A Bomb Dome, one of the few remaining buildings that survived the blast, sitting as a ghostly sentinel refusing to let you forget the city's history along with a clock that chimes every day at the time of the bombing. There is also a peace flame that was lit when the Olympics were in Tokyo in 1964. The flame will stay lit until full nuclear disarmament has been achieved.

An emotional journey

hiroshima paper cranes

One of the sites that spoke to me was the memorial to children affected by the blast. I remembered in school folding paper cranes for classmates who were diagnosed with cancer, but I had no idea the Japanese tradition became well known because of a young Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, who developed cancer seven years after the dropping of the bomb. She made over 1300 cranes before her death. The memorial is dedicated to her and surrounded by paper cranes from all over the world including one I brought with me.

Our visit to Hiroshima has stuck with me to this day. The country has so much to offer, but seeing a representation of its history displayed in a vulnerable way is what travelling is about to me. Near the moving Peace Memorial Museum, there is a grove of trees that survived the bomb. The Chinese Parasol trees took the full heat of the blast and appeared dead, but they flowered the next spring. This symbol of the new birth of something beautiful out of such devastation is perfect for a city that has endured so much. If you make the journey to Japan, consider it incomplete if you do not venture to Hiroshima.

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