I have been reading today of John Kerry’s somber visit to the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park. And how moved he was by it. I’ve been there, too, when I visited my brother Peter and his family in Kyoto, Japan in 1984. Being at ground zero was surreal. A mix of reality and fantasy. The textbooks say it happened, but surely…we didn’t really do this, did we? I wasn’t sure how to feel. My father had been badly injured in World War II, and most of my uncles had fought in either the Atlantic or the Pacific theaters of war. I had learned that the nuclear bombing of Japan was necessary. And I was a bit afraid that the Japanese would hate us being there, but that turned out not to be true.
Touring the museum was incredible. What most impressed me was seeing the shadows of the people who were close to ground zero left forever on the steps where someone was sitting or the wall that someone was leaning against. Multiple sources have tried to estimate the number killed. The most agreed upon is that 90-120,000 died in the first week after the blast of a population around 250-300,000 or at least 1/3 of the people in the city. The one thing I think we can all agree on is that this kind of attack would be devastating to any nation. I think of how long it has taken Americans to get past 9/11 if we ever will.
When we left the Museum, we were greeted by the beautiful cherry trees that cover the park and which at that time were in full bloom. It was a Saturday and the workers only had a half-day of work and so had were bright blue tarps spread under the trees to reserve a space. It being about noon, people were pouring into the park, carrying coolers, firing up Honda generators for music, and setting up food. We would have to walk right through them to leave. With some trepidation, we made our way down the walkway toward the exit. There was no question that we were most probably Americans or Canadians – we do not look Japanese at all. But instead of catcalls or angry faces, we found smiling faces and hands extended in their come here gesture – upside-down compared to the America gesture for come here – more like the shoo-away gesture you might do to a pest. And calls of “Amelican, hai, dozo!” They were actually calling us over, gesturing for us to sit and have a biru (beer). Come dance under the cherry blossoms with us. And, “Camala, Camala.” Can I have a picture with you? It was amazing. First time I ever felt like a celebrity. There in Hiroshima, in a place where my country killed thousands of their civilians, men, women, and oh so many children, 8000 children from one school alone. But now…Come be our friends!
It was hard not to cry.