Hiroshima Memo: Cross cultural exposure will deepen the meaning of Hiroshima

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Visitors to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the A-bomb Dome each gain different impressions and personal responses. It is intriguing, too, how the experience of these sites can stir different feelings in the same person, depending on that person’s age or number of visits.

Forty-one years ago, in August 1968, I first encountered the A-bomb Dome at the age of 20. The Vietnam War was raging back then and I feared that an atomic bomb might again be used. I had left Kobe, where I was living at the time, on a train bound for Hiroshima. I was carrying a backpack and a tent.

I leaned on the railing of the old Motoyasu Bridge and gazed at the A-bomb Dome for a long while. I had just visited Peace Memorial Museum and images of the devastated city, people’s skin charred by the bomb’s heat rays, and their tattered, bloodstained clothes were seared into my mind. The Dome looked as if it might collapse at any moment, reminding me of the scenes of destruction I had come upon in the museum.

Even 23 years after the war, there remained an area called the “A-bomb Slum” where shacks stood along the river bank to the north of the old Aioi Bridge, not far from the A-bomb Dome. Both the Dome and the slum appeared to me as scars of the atomic bombing.

The same river bank is now surrounded by greenery, providing a place of leisure. As the entire city of Hiroshima rebuilt itself from the ashes, it came to be recognized by visitors from conflict areas and war-torn regions as a city of hope, a success of post-war reconstruction. When I first visited Hiroshima 41 years ago, the city had already established itself as a symbol of peace and a leader in movements against nuclear weapons and war. But I could not easily imagine that the city, still showing the scars of war, would become a city of hope as a result of its revival.

When you live somewhere for a long time and its landscape becomes overly familiar, the freshness of your first impression tends to fade. To continue gaining new impressions from Peace Memorial Park or the A-bomb Dome, we must continually raise our awareness of issues involving nuclear weapons and peace.

The concept of Hiroshima as a city of hope has been largely formed by foreign visitors. The Hiroshima office of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) has held training projects to contemplate the preservation of Hiroshima’s World Heritage sites, including the A-bomb Dome. I have often heard participants from Iraq and Afghanistan refer to Hiroshima as a city of hope and I know that visitors from Bosnia and Herzegovina have used the same expression.

The hope that they find in Hiroshima derives from the city’s recovery from the devastation of war. Visiting Hiroshima, they feel encouraged that they can rebuild their own battle-scarred cities, towns, and villages by maintaining peace and making efforts at reconstruction.

Of course, physical reconstruction is not the only source of inspiration. The citizens of Hiroshima, including the A-bomb survivors, instead of dwelling on revenge, enmity, or violence, have been calling for reconciliation, friendship, and nonviolence. This attitude on the part of the Hiroshima people has much to do with the hope visitors from abroad have found here.

Qunli Han, the director of the UNESCO Tehran Cluster Office, said that, for the significance of the A-bomb experiences and the message of the A-bomb Dome to be better understood in the world, it is imperative to engage in dialogue with Asian peoples who suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese military during the war.

I have come to feel the same way through my news-gathering activities in Asian countries. Time and again, visitors from abroad have helped me gain new perspectives and an appreciation of different values. I believe the meaning of Hiroshima will grow further through exchanges with people of diverse cultural and historical backgrounds.

(Originally published on May 18, 2009)

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