Day four of my trip was dedicated to Hiroshima city. The first thing I did in the morning, and the most important of the trip, was going to the Peace Memorial Museum. Going there by myself was a big factor of why I took this trip alone, and I’m glad I did. The museum is currently under renovation (due to be finished this summer) so I was able to see the permanent area but not the other exhibitions. I got an audio guide which I would definitely advise doing if you go.
In a University course I took, we talked about how pictures of tragedies (current or historical) put distance between the viewer and the event. The internal response feels like that’s sad, I’m sad that happened but because it’s a picture the contents are framed as something separate from our own realities. Films, documentaries, and even news reports are similar – they can invoke an emotional response but the story exists on a screen.
Museums can do what pictures and films cannot. As you walk through the Peace Museum you can reach out and touch the texture of roof tiles that were changed by the explosion. You see the burns in the clothing worn by someone who lost their life laid out before you. You see the actual steps of a building where a dark mark was left by someone sitting during the explosion. You listen to stories from survivors who lost their children – their despair and regrets. A woman tells you how she sent her young son into the city on the day of the bombing even though he told her he was sick that day – “I killed him” she says, she blames herself for his death. In their intimacy these stories show the magnitude of what happened that day.
The exhibition also presents the science behind the atomic bomb. It shows long-lasting effects of that day – survivors who lived with debilitating health and psychological problems. It shows the details of the environmental impacts in the city. The reality is straightforward, and it is sobering.
I’m not sure what else can be said. I left the museum into the large park and just sat on a bench for a while. I felt hyper-aware of all my senses – how bright the sunlight was, the sound of the trees, of how people in groups were walking in differently than people alone, the coldness of the bench under me, the sounds of traffic out of sight. I was acutely aware of the humanness of myself and those around me. The thoughts, emotions, feelings, and concerns that comprise my own personal and self-centered universe also exist in every other human. The sheer volume of this is unfathomable and I felt it full force as I was sitting in the park.
I did other things that day – I walked through the peace park, to the castle, to the museum of modern art and then back. Being alone in the bustle of cities always makes me feel connected to other people and the world. And that day the same feeling was there but in a new way – with an overwhelming awareness of the significance in everyday normalcy.