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“The Voice of the Train Wheels” That is the title of a Romanian song that for the present day Japanese, would have no meaning. And that is because of the Hikari (The Bullet) super-express that runs at a speed of 220 km/h, without making any sound. Ultra-silent, the train has something of a plane in all its appearance: a luxurious interior, in which blue and white are dominant; an attending staff like the stewardesses who walk along the aisles, tempting you with coffee and refreshments. Even if you don’t buy anything, they bow as they leave the room and thank you all the same. Between Tokyo and Hiroshima there are some 800 km, and an electronic display above the entrance of the train compartment announces the following train stations: Nagoya, Kyoto, Shin-Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima… I looked out of the window and I thought that I had just begun an amazing adventure. As a child, the name of Hiroshima excited my imagination; in fact, it terrified me; for me, every year August the 6th was a day to settle down silently everything coming from an inner impulse that I couldn’t define even today. Many mornings, at 8:15 AM, I thought of the swaying of the bomb in the summer skies above the city, I read the newspapers or heard on the radio news about latest victims of the massacre -; in one word, Hiroshima was for me a small obsession and a great unknown. Later, I used to mention its name in articles or poems, and this name with a feminine flavour to it had something of a mourning mother, its tragic burden being much more powerful than the megatons of the bomb. I was interrupted from my melancholic “remembrance” by the majestic landscape of the Fuji Mountain, solitary and silent, with winding roads covered with snow, it irrupted on the right side of the road like a pagoda in a blizzard like swirling of blooming cherry trees. It is a holy Mountain for the Japanese, a kind of national symbol, it had inspired the poet Sodo to write a haiku of great simplicity and beauty: “In this very first day of the year/ let us cherish the sight/ of Fuji Mountain”. Therefore, let us cherish life in “The Great Morning” (as the New Year’s Eve is called in the Nippon folklore), to meditate in front of the eternity of this sanctuary offered to our sight, for a year, and a year more, in our brief passage under the sun. y3q13qy
“Yesterday” of the Beatles, and its reminiscent litany had the gift of sending me back in time, in a memorial state of mind, cleansing me for the great encounter.
A Useless Massacre All massacres are useless and condemned by history, but the “punishment” of Hiroshima can have no excuse, no reason, be it political or military. The truce had been signed for just a few months. Germany had completely and unconditionally surrendered itself thus the war was officially over. Indeed, Japan refused to surrender its weapons because of its blamable fanatic military leaders. But this couldn’t be a good enough reason to turn a city into ashes with thousands of innocent civilians! In reality, the government in Washington wanted to show the whole world the extent of their considerable power, to do a live experiment of the unmatched weapon that the human genius -; sometimes unconscious -; gave birth to. Because of the unexpected spreading of the war in the Pacific, Harry Truman ordered general Carl Spaatz, the US Air Force commander in that area, to launch an atomic bomb over a highly populated city in Japan. The pilot, Tom Feerebee, enplaned the uranium bomb called “Little Boy” on board of the “Enola Gay” bomber. It was the bomb that, in 1941, the American National Academy of Science decided to build in a rapid pace “for reasons of national and free world security”, as a report used to mention. The two fathers of the weapon -; who did not foresee how or when it would be used -; were the scientists Enrico Fermi (who obtained the first controlled chain reaction on 2nd of October 1942) and Robert Oppenheimer. The latter carried out decisive research, as that at Los Alamos Base, where the first successful experiment took place on 16th of July 1945. In that very moment of the blast, Hiroshima -; which was chosen as a gigantic test site of one of the saddest pages in human history -; became a Dante’s Inferno with fire spreading at a speed of 1200 km/h. That fire had lasted for six hours.
A huge red cloud, shaped as a mushroom, whirled the skies. Life was wiped out instantly on 1 km radius. The wave of heat melted everything on a four kilometers area around the epicenter. I have recently read in an edition of
Larousse dictionary that: “24 hours after the blast, any single American aircraft couldn’t report the effects of the bomb: a black vale of smoke covered the city. Hiroshima was nothing but a desert Starting from the ideal status of kamikaze up to the unconditional surrender, the shock caused by the use of the atom bomb, put Japan in the extreme situation of ending the horrors and humiliation. The atomic age started by death and destruction: while for a large number of survivors, life turned into a deadly disease”.
After three days, in the afternoon of august 9th, another bomb blasted over the city of Nagasaki, as if the Hiroshima tragedy were not enough. There
were 36000 dead and 40000 wounded, but later the number would increase considerably. Was it necessary to issue such an unimaginable punishment in order to burn hundreds of thousands of innocents? How come that, along the history, many and innocent simple folks have to pay with their lives for the sins of a handful of governing criminals? Today, after so many years, more and more voices say that the hard worked and deserved victory of the Allies in WW2, was tarnished in an unthinkable way by the indefeasible murder executed by the Americans.
President Truman will forever remain in the eyes of humanity as an exponential
Nero. Those two murdering bombs, the equivalent of hundreds of earthquakes of
8 degrees on the Richter scale, fell like two terrifying and eternal teardrops from the eyes of humanity.
A city always praying on its knees Although it was rebuilt from scratch, despite of the phenomenal electronic “boom” of Japan that shines here too, in the bright shop windows and aggressive advertisements, the city has a funeral look. There is a lot of black marble, a tormenting peace and meditation after the disaster. The local branch of Kyodo Agency assigned me two escorts: a young reporter Yashiyasu Adachi and a photographer Katsuji Nagasawa. Despite the fact that it was the middle of December, it was very hot and people were walking with light clothes. Nicknamed “Water City”(because it was founded in the Ota River’s delta), Hiroshima was covered by green all the seasons. Pigeons flew all around the parks and squares; they climbed on our shoulders like a sweet burden, they “chatted” with lots of children that fed them from sunrise till later in the night. I let myself in the hands of my guides, who accompanied me to the Memorial Grave. It represented a stylized clay-made model of an ancient house that shelters the souls of the departed ones. Under its arch there laid a symbolic coffin made of black stone, on which were engraved the names of those who perished in that tragic day and even later on, due to burns and radiation. Recently, the coffin has been considerably enlarged, because the list of names increased every year. The same names -; were joined by 24000 more in 1985 -; were written in a book called “Kakocho” -; that translated means “ the Book of the Past”. It’s interesting that the architect designed the sanctuary in such a manner that the visitors could see, through the arch, The Fountain, Museum, Grave, Flame of Peace and the Atomic Dome in a straight line! Another stop during our visit, another moment of meditation: Mother and child in a storm, a bronze statue that got greener during the passing of time. Nothing is sadder than a mother covering her child with her own body and kissing him at the same time, while another child tries desperately to find shelter behind them. An inscription carved on the pedestal, in Japanese, sounds like this: “Trust peace!” Nearby, the Memorial Park of Peace, dominated by the Flame of Peace that springs out of a small sanctuary. As the hosts said and as it was written in every tourist guide of the city, it would burn until the day in which all the nuclear weapons disappear from the face of the earth! That’s why I can’t call it Eternal Flame, because I hope that some day it will fade away along with these devouring weapons. On the rocky pedestal one can read the following inscription: “Let all these souls rest in peace. Let it be that this disaster never happens ever again”.
From a little girl’s sorrow to the Atomic Dome
I’ve often asked myself if anything has survived from the former Hiroshima
-; the one before the disaster. I have also asked myself if it does any good to have kept something from the past and, if some atomic ruins can mingle in the glamorous look of a city in full development. Man’s retina is anxious to see splendor, and not enter the psychosis of old misfortunes. Intelligent people,
with high sense of the future, but also with a cult of piety, the Japanese preserved a single building that was a close witness and a victim of the devastating blast on the 6th August 1945. The Atomic Dome, as it is called in all the languages, became the symbol of Hiroshima. Originally, it was an ordinary building, designed before WW1 by the Czech architect Jan Letzel, whose company built it. It was inaugurated in April 1915 and served, in its 30 years of functional destination, as an art museum and storage of the Prefecture. The gifted Czech architect didn’t know that he imagined and built one of the most famous edifices of the world, that will conquer the centuries like the Pyramids, in spite its present look, devastated and darkened with smoke. In the morning of the bombing, 30 people worked inside the building. The bomb that blasted, as reported, at 600 meters above the city, vaporized them instantly. Everything, absolutely everything -; windows, furniture, and wooden works -; melted in a second. Although it left deep incineration like markings on them, the nuclear blizzard passed and left standing only the walls and the cupola made in a basilica style. At the origin of the initiative to preserve this building was the pain of a little girl. Yes, you read correctly, a little girl’s drama determined the mayor’s office to leave this building untouched. In the month of the terrible happening, Miroko Kajiya was two years old. She had leukemia. Although, in time, she became aware of her disease, she didn’t tell anything to her parents.
Step by step, passing through primary school, she began to write a diary, in
which she described her symptoms and pains dawn to the smallest detail. When she turned 17, after 15 years of great pain and torment, she couldn’t bare them anymore and went to the hospital. After 10 days, she died. Among her belongings, after her death, her parents found the diary -; a overwhelming document that sends our thoughts to another child in pain, Anna Franck, that had the strength to murmur her own drama, putting it on paper, without telling anyone. At the same time, a new Club of Paper Cranes was created in the city where the children could manufacture colored birds like garlands of flowers, in an ancient Japanese tradition. The youngsters were deeply touched by one of Hiroko’s last wishes -; to preserve the building -; that they began a real campaign. This “children’s crusade” succeeded in July 1966, when a decision to preserve the Dome and its remains was taken. The funds necessary for the consolidation of the walls and the arrangements needed were received from public subscriptions from all over Japan, but also USA, Soviet Union, France, India and England. Who knows: maybe without this relic, Hiroshima would be poorer! Situated within two minutes walk from the epicenter of the blast, the building has the gift of creating the momentary illusion that you are on 6th of August 1945. I took out my sunglasses to see up close this horrible wound on the cheek of the humanity.
It still hasn’t turned into a scar and maybe it may never will; over the centuries it will bleed the remembrance of the innocent blood. But life goes on!
Close to us, a television crew prepared a music show. Young boys and girls brought electric guitars, a portable keyboard, and microphones. I sat down on a rocky knot and took good look. I didn’t know where to look at first: the celebration of life or the smoking brick of holocaust? My young colleague Adachi who told me that we still had much to walk awoke me from my meditation.
Lamps lighten on the river… “There is nothing more beautiful than a man that fights with misfortune. Oh but there is something even more beautiful than that: another man coming into the rescue” -; I quote from memory this saying of an ancient moralist, because I’m convinced that it suits Hiroshima best. The sudden blast didn’t die out; no one knew what kind of death dropped out of the sky. The saying “the dead should stick to the dead, the living should stick to the living” could not be applied in this case because many didn’t know if they were alive or dead, if they lived or had a fatal nightmare -; and the rescue teams jumped into the rescue. They couldn’t do much because in such a situation there was no remedy. But there were still survivors under the rubble; there were orphan children crying, old people blinded by the apocalyptic blast haunted the streets. So someone was needed to give a helping hand. Not far from the blast’ epicenter is the Memorial Atomic Hill. Here is a huge crematory -; the biggest in history -; were the ashes of 70000 unidentified people are buried. At that time, the rescue crews couldn’t confirm that the remains were those of men or women because they were horribly mutilated. Can you imagine that even today, nearly forty years after the tragedy, there are families in Japan that are trying to identify their dead, that are trying to find out for sure that their loved ones are buried here or elsewhere? Every summer, the names of the victims that are thought to be here are published. Also every summer, on August 6th around 7 o’clock AM, a memorial religious service is performed. Not very far there is the Children’s Peace Monument, nicknamed the Tower of the Thousand Cranes. Originally it was dedicated to a little girl, Sadako who died of leukemia ten years after the bombing. In her touching innocence, Sadako was convinced that she would get better if she made a thousand paper cranes. To support her, her classmates made small birds. You can imagine the disappointment of the little girl when, after having finished the last of the thousand cranes with her fingers swollen from the thorough work, she realized that the miracle didn’t happen. But she didn’t give up and set to make a thousand more cranes, but death took her by surprise with the small colored sheets of paper in her hands. In her memory and that of the other children who died in incredible pain, her classmates and teachers decided to ask all the pupils and students in Japan to help build a monument. Funds began to arrive from everywhere, the statue was built on May 5th 1958, but little Sadako remained lost among her cranes light as snow and no one could give her life back. “….” It is written in another haiku of the great poet Basho, without even imagining from the foggy depths of the Late Middle Ages, that after many years, children can die because of their burning blood.
In his house, at the exact moment of the explosion, Sankichi Toge, in a single breath wrote these lyrics, which are so simple and yet troubling. From that moment until the end of his life that will occur on March 10th 1953 -; he didn’t turn 36 yet -; his literary activity became obsessed with Peace. Two years before his death, he sent his poem to the Berlin Peace Conference. The monument was erected on August 6th 1963, and, under its foundation a sheet of paper containing the poem, the pen, it and a stripe of this gentle poet’s wife hair. The inscription of the lyrics on the pedestal is written using letters called “Kana”, that are easier to be read and understood by children.
My hosts told me that one of the most touching scenes that happen every year is the procession of launching thousands of paper lamps holding flickering candles on two of the largest rivers that intersect the Ota River. This event takes place year after year, in the evening of August 6th, and it’s meant to give comfort to the souls of the lost ones. Each family that lost someone during and after the bombing -; and in Hiroshima all the families are in this situation -; writes on the colored paper of the small lamps the name of the departed. Floating torches, like an ancient ritual to invoke the good spirits.
Water carries their words on its fluid back, across Japan, until they reach the surrounding seas. With this kind of boats, multiplied by thousands and thousands of others, the borders of the unforgettable can be passed on the way to eternity.
On the place of the crater on oleander blossoms Where did the bomb fall, on
what particular spot? Nowhere but a few meters away from a hospital, to make the tragedy complete! The hospital sheltered a few thousand war wounded, civilian and military patients that already had their pains, and were grateful for the smallest gestures of affection that could ease their tormented souls. These people were destined to be the closest to death, to its epicenter. “See the evening lark / My heart is full of the fear for the day that is to come” wrote the poet Issa, but there comes a moment when tomorrow is a too far away shore that some people may never reach. Now there is a modest memorial plate located on that doomed place, shadowed by the arborescence of an oleander. It blossoms as if it were here forever, people are used to it, no one looks at it anymore, except me, and I think about the miracle that is the birth of a flower of heaven from the ashes of hell. I don’t know whether it was planted on purpose or emerged on its own, but this substitution of death with life is miraculous: to face the most destructive weapon with a flower, in the good tradition of the Land of the Rising Sun -; that’s the supreme courage of this nation of artists, that’s the absolute triumph of living matter! With abyssal depths, deeper than the gigantic Marianne Depth, this crater was thoroughly sewed by the oleander that covered it with its delicate body, absorbed it, taking on all the burden of the apocalyptic crime.
The rose is important, isn’t it?
“Peace? We only have one world, keep it as such!” I headed towards the final point of my journey: “The Memorial Museum of Peace”. It’s a massive building, with two levels, surrounded by fountains through which the rainbow is filtered from dawn till dusk. Here as well as everywhere else, gentle armies of pigeons march to my right and my left, stumbling on children’s shoes, shaking off the violet water drops from the fountains, stepping royally, like true masters of the city. Here, more than elsewhere, the pigeon is a sacred bird. I found out that every year, 1500000 Japanese and foreigners visit the Museum, much more than those who visit Louver or the famous British Museum. On the ground level you can admire the Peace Bell that tolls in the morning of every August 6th, introducing the city in a serious mood of remembrance. I try to imagine the toll of the bell in midsummer, but now it’s winter and I comfort myself with the thought of another jewel of the Japanese spirit: “To wake up alive in this world / What a happiness / It is winter rain” wrote Shoha, impregnated with gratitude towards the divine gift of life. At the entrance of the museum there is an office that rents tape recorders with headphones to help with the explanation in languages like Japanese, German, English, French, Spanish, Russian, Korean and Esperanto. It was a smart invention for the locals, because they were a substitute for the traditional guides. Another reason for their use was the need for silence in such a place: it would be impossible to imagine hundreds of groups of tourists that would simultaneously listen to loud explanations in so many languages. Already at the entrance, there is a small size model of the city -; which was 90% destroyed -; and a giant photo of 6 square-meters of the atomic blast. Other photos show different angles of the atomic cloud: from Kure (an image shot by the amateur photographer Masami Ogi, 20 km away), from a military transport (7.5km away from the epicenter), from Fuchu town (6km away from the epicenter). I walked through the halls of this incredible museum.
Out of professional courtesy, I look through the pages of this volume of book -; there are hundreds of volumes -; and copy some opinions of other visitors. No comment. “Peace is always better than war”(Marge Kollar, Canton, USA); “I
wish that all the people could see this!”(Susan Smith, Dallas,USA); “Why?”(Ndiaye Oumar, Senegal); “Never again! Incredible, pathetic, painful”(Brookie Tabberen, Australia); “Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt”(Phillip Johnson, Sydney, Australia); “Peace? We have only one world, keep it as such”(Melody Moulie, Newport Beach, Australia). Don’t forget, all these things were written in only one day, December 12th. These were simple or educated people, women and men, who, from now on would have a whole new perspective about life.
“Hiroshima, my love” was the title of a greatly successful movie and I can’t stop thinking that if peace was to be a kingdom, its capital could be none other than the martyr-city.
This modern tragedy proved to be much stronger than all the ancient tragedies put together. It is rightfully said that the misery of others doesn’t hurt: make an effort if imagination and put yourselves for a minute in the shoes of a man that lost all his beloved ones, absolutely all of them, and has his body eaten by radioactive burns. How would you feel? How would the masters of the nuclear arsenals feel it themselves if there were in this situation?
The uguisu birds sing among the branches of paulonia trees, the life giving sun begins to sparkle on the horizon and the Land of Chrysanthemums gets ready for a well-deserved rest. “We have only one world, keep it as such!” says the Bell of Peace with a sound of an organ, kissing its dying child. “We have only one world, keep it as such!” -; says the Atomic Dome, with its burned skeleton that can always transform into green table of negotiations, of reason, of wisdom. In terms of development, don’t forget that the bomb dropped by the “Enola Gay” is, compared to today’s bombs, as the balloon of the Montgolfier brothers is to the jet-plane. That means it’s a part of the atomic era prehistory. And it brought so much sorrow So shall it be that the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have the privilege not only to be the first but also the last of the nuclear genocide, for the common good of us all! And something else: listen, please, when you get the chance, to the to consuming Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem
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