Hiroshima remembered

Tragic city evokes pain of the past, and hope for the future

Posted: Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On any day in Hiroshima, tens of thousands of folded paper cranes blow in the breeze around a statue of a young girl. The girl, who stands holding a bronze crane, symbolizes a call for peace. The inscription for the statue reads, "This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in this world."

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The paper cranes, hand-folded by children all over the world, arrive daily in Hiroshima as a gesture of support for world peace.

The Children's Peace Monument in Peace Memorial Park was erected near the location where the first atomic weapon detonated more than 60 years ago. It was inspired by the memory of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who died from leukemia after her exposure to radiation in the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima.

As Sadako lay on her deathbed, she took on the task of folding a thousand paper cranes according to the Japanese custom that completing this task would grant her a wish. And her wish was to live.

Sadako's memory lives in this monument, as well as in books and plays about her life that have become well-known throughout the world.

Visitors to Hiroshima can learn about Sadako and other facts about the atomic bombing when they visit the city's multi-acre Peace Memorial Park erected in the years following the bomb's aftermath. Touring the park is easily an all-day affair, even a few-day affair for those with the time.

As a bit of background, the first atomic weapon was dropped by a U.S. Air Force B-29 bomber on the city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m. Most of Hiroshima's citizens were at work or at school in the city.

The bomb detonated 2,000 feet above the ground, creating a 900-foot white-hot fireball with inside temperatures rising to 18 million degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature on the ground rose to 7,000 degrees for three seconds, evaporating everything combustible in the city's center - including people, buildings, cars, plants and animals. Human skin was reported burned as far as 2.2 miles away.

The heat from the bomb caused a pressure change so severe that the resulting vacuum sent a blast of wind that sped across the city at speeds up to 1,500 feet per second, crushing buildings and sending glass and bricks and debris shooting in all directions. The resulting fires burned whatever was left standing in the following days.

Hiroshimans who survived the initial blast walked around in a daze. Some made it home, others lay down where they fell. People did not know what happened to them. They had nothing to compare it to. Nor did the world.

By the year's end, 140,000 people had died, either directly from the blast, or eventually from effects of the blast.

Stepping off the trolley at the north end of the Peace Park the first thing a visitor sees is the ruins of an old brick building, once called Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall. The building stands almost directly under the bomb's hypocenter, having miraculously withstood much of the bomb's impact. Its copper roof, glass windows and wooden framework were instantly crushed or evaporated, but the brick structure survived.

Today it is called Gembaku Domu, or A-Bomb Dome, and stands as a skeleton and grim reminder of the devastation.

Near the building, the Motoyasu-gawa River flows by, bordered by walking paths and trees leading to bridges, lawns and monuments within the Peace Park complex. Sixty years ago the river carried the bodies of thousands of people who were blown to their deaths from the blast, or who had jumped to relieve the burning.

A one-ton peace bell hangs by the river wrapped in a world map depicting no national boundaries. Visitors are invited to ring it as part of their wish for peace.

Beyond the river, the park opens to a multi-block walkway reminiscent of the corridor in front of the Washington Monument. The view from one end is at least the distance of two football fields and was built to offer visitors an idea of the open emptiness that Hiroshimans experienced in the days and weeks following the blast as their city lay flattened and smoldering.

At the center of this corridor is a stone arch called the Memorial Monument for Hiroshima City of Peace, Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims. A stone chest lays at its center containing the names of Hiroshimans who were living that day, who have since died. Today the number is more than 240,000.

The inscription in front of the monument is a demand for Hiroshima to rebuild as a city of peace, and Hiroshima has taken the edict to task.

In 1949, the city passed the Peace Memorial Construction Law calling for the city to stand as a Peace Memorial City and center for world peace. It also directed that public funds be spent to build a peace park, museum and bridge at the site of the bomb's devastation. The park was completed in 1954.

The city holds a Peace Memorial Ceremony every year to honor those who have died from the bombing. At this ceremony the peace bell is rung at exactly 8:15 a.m. on August 6 to remember the exact time the bomb was dropped. The mayor then ceremoniously announces a peace declaration to the world and asks for the abolishment of nuclear weapons and a commitment for world peace. This is followed by a dove-releasing ceremony.

Since 1947, the city has sponsored a Peace Festival that now draws more than 50,000 people.

In 1992, Hiroshima sponsored a United Nations conference on disarmament issues.

Other peace events include a Peace Art Exhibition, a Peace Concert, and Gathering of Citizens for Peace, all held in Hiroshima.

The Hiroshima Mayors for Peace invites cities around the world to transcend national and international boundaries and join together to promote peace. The organization is officially registered as a United Nations non-governmental organization (NGO) with membership currently at 1,698 cities in 122 countries. The Hiroshima mayors actively participate in protests against all uses of nuclear weapons and whenever one is tested, the standing mayor sends a letter to the leader of that country protesting their action. A wall in the museum shows hundreds of these letters.

Visiting Hiroshima offers a chance to see up close the effects of nuclear destruction and how the victims have risen up, rebuilt and moved ahead with a mission.

The people of Hiroshima have not forgotten. Through their efforts they show a hope that the world should not forget either.

For more information, visit the City of Hiroshima website at: http://www.city.hiroshima.jp/e/index-E.html

• Teri Tibbett is a writer, photographer and musician living in Juneau. She was in Japan for a two-week music tour in March 2006.

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