|A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima|
Then i came to the Peace Memorial Museum, where the staff were a little anxious that i hadn’t left enough time before it was due to close; i assured them of my hope to come back next day. Particularly memorable in the first hall, which i had time to see, was a watch, stopped at 8.15am, when the tranquillity of a beautiful morning was shattered so brutally.
On Saturday 16th July, dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, i took up where i’d left off. The horrors experienced by the victims of the A-bomb, including the Hibakusha who survived - defy rational understanding. Aside from the implacable fireball of the blast itself, ‘black rain’ was a ghastly feature of the aftermath, when people of all ages, who seemed to have been spared (though often with horrific burns), would suddenly be taken ill and die; their internal organs wrecked in ways that were not outwardly apparent. The death toll mounted for months and years afterwards, wrenching such a lot of people from their loved ones; at least 90,000 in total, though when the effects of radiation-induced cancer are taken into account, some estimates put the figure nearer to 200,000, of whom as many as 20,000 were from Korea. The name of Sadako Sasaki, who died in October 1955, features prominently in the recollection of this tragedy. Just two years old when the bomb fell, in late 1954 she developed symptoms of Leukemia and was told she had at most a year to live. As popularised in Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, published in 1977, the story goes that her best friend brought a golden piece of paper to her hospital bedside, and reminded her of the ancient Japanese folk tale (tied to a traditional reverence for the crane in Japan), that whoever makes a thousand paper cranes will be granted a wish. It’s not clear whether she actually completed the task, but her story is important for the way it illustrates that, in the wake of any profoundly traumatic event, the healing process must embrace a ‘reclaiming’ of a community’s common culture; its collective memory. Only in finding reconciliation with the past, it seems, can people be fully equipped to confront the challenges of the future.
Elsewhere in the museum, i wept when confronted with baby clothes, the only trace left by a helpless infant. In a video interview, an elderly lady, her voice trembling even decades after the event, described losing her husband and two children:
“...we were such a happy family.”