On the 6th of August 1945 at 8:15am Americans dropped the “little boy” A-bomb on Hiroshima, with horrific effects – the centre of the city was completely obliterated and 100,000 people died. The city is home to those who remember, and to those who feel its effects even though they weren’t yet born.
Yesterday was the 65th anniversary of the bombing. At 8:15am people lay on the ground at the hypercentre of the explosion, attended outdoor religious ceremonies, and held a minute of silence all over the city. They brought fruit and sweets and beer to the shrine at the mound of ash, now covered in grass, of the thousands of unidentified bodies, queued to pay their respects at the peace park, and visitors filled the museum with its hundreds of reminders – from the subtle (a postcard enquiring after a school friend who had died; a Dali-esque clock melted out of shape in the blast) to the horrifying (a life size diorama of children emerging from a concrete building, their skin dripping off their bodies; an entire headful of hair that fell out of child’s head three days after the blast, leaving only her fringe.)
But, despite the obvious grief of the city and her older inhabitants, our visit for the anniversary of the bombing was overall an uplifting experience. The city claims it rebuilt itself to be a city of peace and yesterday was a testament to their slow but steady success in sending the message of nuclear disamourment to the world: yesterday, for the first time the American ambassador to Japan attended the 6 August ceremony. Solemn-faced but steadfastly without comment to local journalists, he was present and from the number of times I saw his face on local television I can assure you this was an important development for Hiroshima. Ban Ki-moon was also present and addressed the commemorative gathering at the Peace Park.
The city was well prepared for the influx of international guests: school girls approached us with faltering English and handmade cards with messages of peace, a panel of survivors told their stories in voices broken with the grief of retelling, art works from and of survivors told their stories and a local school held a tea ceremony, in the spirit of Hiroshima, to welcome guests. I was very glad for the little bit of training we’d had.
Guests were invited to fold paper cranes for the evening ceremony and some local ladies helped us with our rather inept attempts.
In the evening people decorated paper lanterns for their lost loved ones – parents, siblings and friends; for their city; and as prayers for peace. Then they queued in a long queue for their turn to push them out into the river – for hours new lanterns continued to be added one by one.
On my lantern, I wrote the name of my Grandfather, whose funeral I wasn’t able to attend last week, and we watched it float down towards the sea, with all the others.