Hiroshima +50 (and +40)

Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Cranes 8 - closeI haven’t participated in that many “historic” events, but I’m now old enough that my early pictures qualify as historic documents, at least. Here’s another sample of my Japan pictures: maybe not an historic event in itself, but a major anniversary commemoration of one.

I spent both the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Hiroshima bombing in Japan. (Also the 39th, but who cares?) We didn’t do anything to mark the 40th — we were too busy getting ready to come back to the US, where I was going to start college — but I do remember getting a haircut that day. A haircut isn’t really memorable most of the time, but our barber, just down the street from our ‘mansion,’ also gave old-fashioned shaves. Now I didn’t have much historical consciousness as a 17-year old, but a decade anniversary of an event like the world’s first atomic bombing, in the country where it happened, is something that you notice. So there I was, laying back in the chair on the anniversary of the day my country atom-bombed my barber’s country, and he’s standing over me with a straight-razor. I don’t miss shaving, but there’s nothing like a good straight-razor shave.

On the 50th anniversary, we were living in Yamaguchi, so we decided to take the train to Hiroshima for the commemoration. We’d been to Hiroshima before, with visiting relatives, so we’d seen the museums and the park. But it was different that day:

Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Museum, Crowd and Chairs First, of course, it was crowded. I imagine that there’s usually a good turnout for the anniversary, but this was a dense crowd.

It was also an organized crowd: note the printed vests on several of the people in the crowd. Many people clearly came in groups — unions, victim groups, school groups, activists — to not just observe the occasion, but to make a mark on it.

Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Mobilized Students Pagoda - Side Plaque One of the most striking things about the day were the thousand-crane bundles. This is a pile at the base of the Pagoda for the souls of mobilized students (note the plaque on the left), which also had an offerings altar for other tokens.
Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Cranes 5 There were mounds, and piles, and stacks, and racks of crane bundles. Again, I’ve never been to a regular commemoration, but the quantity was mind-boggling: all over the park, probably over a dozen locations, large and small. My best guess is that there were hundreds of bundles, possibly more. Perhaps the biggest pile was at the children’s monument, which has the most direct connection to the crane tradition.
Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Black Rain Umbrellas river There were several organized memorial events: this was the release of umbrellas on the river to commemorate the victims of the radioactive Black Rain. There was also a release of lighted lanterns on the river, to memorialize those who drowned and those who died of thirst.
Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Concert - SF Taiko In a nearby stadium, there was an international cultural festival, the “Hiroshima Heiwasai,” which included everything from taiko drumming to Western classical music for flute and violin, and the pan pipes. Most performers were from Japan, but some, like the taiko group in the picture on the left, were from overseas.
Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Cenotaph Incense Though it was crowded and busy, it wasn’t loud. There was a reverence, not just at the religious events but all throughout the event. The festival concert was the loudest thing, and it seemed oddly out of place, more a celebration than a remembrance. They were trying to look forward, leverage the event into some kind of change. But it didn’t seem to fit.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.