Synaesthesia Magazine Cities - Page 18

estled between the mountains and the

sea, covered as it is with maple trees and

cherry blossoms, Hiroshima is an idyllic jewel of Japan. A city of crowded shopping streets, quiet shrines and long sunsets, Hiroshima would be famous for the collection of early 19th century street trams it sourced from across Europe rather than its tragic past. The first city in the world to have suffered almost total destruction, Hiroshima has emerged from rubble, fire and death to be one of the most wonderful cities on Earth.

The wasteland of Hiroshima

The name Hiroshima is synonymous with one of the greatest tragedies in history, made all the more poignant as it was caused by war. The first atomic bomb used in warfare was dropped on the coastal city on 6th August 1945, and utterly destroyed almost 5 square miles. If the unparalleled fury of the blast didn’t kill the 70-80,000 victims who died on the first day, then it was the firestorms that raged across the city, reducing anything that could burn to ashes. Another 80,000 people – soldiers,

fishermen, doctors, artists, elementary school children – would succumb to their terrible wounds or radiation poisoning over the next few

days. It was suggested that, after such complete ruin, the ground would carry enough taint to prevent a single plant from growing in the wasteland of Hiroshima for 100 years.

Our Planet's Resilience

Thankfully our planet is far more resilient than the curiously-excited nuclear commentators of the time, and the official redevelopment of Hiroshima began only 4 years after the A-bomb. On a

pragmatic side, Hiroshima was rebuilt like any modern city razed to the ground – chartered, in long,straight blocks like an American city. Much of it is like any other built-up area of Japan: bustling with commerce and tourism, with shop owners loudly announcing their daily deals, commuters riding the antiquated tramcars with a frappuccino in one hand and a mobile in the other, and children in odd yellow rain hats holding hands on their way to school.

All this hustle and bustle dies away completely as you approach the centre of Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Park.

Quiet reflection

Stepping into the Peace Memorial Park feels like entering another world. The air is thick with quiet reflection - even for those born generations after the event on the other side of the world, the magnitude of Hiroshima’s hangs over you as if you were attending a funeral. Part of this is from

the baleful presence of the A-Bomb Dome: the only structure to have survived the blast within the bomb’s hypocentre. Now serving as a manifest example of the power of atomic weaponry, the building is a skeletal and broken mess, blackened from the fires that raged for days, yet resolutely standing firm. The sight of it is enough to quicken the pulse and transfix the eye. There is a terrible beauty about it.

Origami Cranes

The rest of the park is devoted to memorials - a memorial to the civilians who died, to the

children, to the animals, to the Korean nationals living in Hiroshima at the time. The saddest of all may be the dedication to Sadako Sasaki. Having survived the blast, Sadako was hospitalised with

severe radiation poisoning. She spent the last two months of her life crafting origami cranes in the belief that, should she reach 1,000, the Gods would grant her the wish of life. She reached 644

cranes, made from paper, sweet

wrappings, medical packaging, anything she could find, before she died on 25th October 1945. She was just 12. Her story so moved the people of Japan that she remains a symbol of the innocents lost in the attack. Still to this day, school children from around Japan craft hundreds of thousands of

origami cranes, to be displayed in her memory.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

This is all before you reach the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The entire account of what happened in August 1945 is laid out in curiously specific detail, as if to forget the smallest part of the devastation would be an insult to those who died. One particular room above all others remains in the mind like a thorn - possessions from children, tattered clothes, watches forever frozen at 8:15, broken tricycles, pictures of irradiated wounds and cancerous growths - the effect is to make the bombing of Hiroshima seem like a personal trauma for all the visitors to the

museum. A life-sized diorama depicts a group of blast-survivors, so that you are confronted with

the imitation of burned skin, flesh melted off to the bone, with appropriately horrified expressions plastered on the mannequins. It’s all a little overwhelming, and is obviously manipulative to the extreme, but to deny the raw truth of the exhibits is impossible.

You really cannot comprehend the effects of atomic weaponry until you have endured the Peace Memorial Museum.




by Vincent Kenny