平成十八年 広島 / HIROSHIMA ‘06
A sense of apprehension and foreboding crept into my bones before my first visit to Hiroshima. I would make two journeys there in 2006. Before seeing the city through my own eyes, Hiroshima signified little more to me than the bomb and its ineffable aftermath. I did not know what to expect, or what I would find there. I imagined it would be a place deeply scarred by its past. I imagined I would find the skeleton of a once-great city, too devastated and decimated to replenish its spirit.
I was already 40 when I first saw Hiroshima, and touched its soil with my own hands. What I saw and experienced surprised me: the sheer beauty of its neighborhoods, parks and beaches; the sounds of laughter and genial chatter; the energy of its street life; and the abundance of its food. The people of Hiroshima awakened my heart with their accented speech and hospitable ways. It was the kind of hospitality that I find sadly lacking throughout much of Japan today – an old-fashioned hospitality. Inside the city I uncovered a fortress: not one of solitude and silence, but one of belonging and vitality.
On my journey I approached a woman who had recently turned 80. She recounted a story about how cancer from radiation poisoning ravaged her body. She was among the many that offered aid to her neighbors on that fateful spring day, following the sudden attack. She explained that survivors who suffered from the same conditions that afflicted her were called “hibakusha”. She then told me, with tears in her eyes, how many like herself, who offered help to the wounded and injured masses, eventually died. She said those that died suffered from “genbakusho”.
One of the aims of my journey was to uncover, explore and isolate artifacts from Hiroshima, a city in the midst of an unexceptional morning - its people tending to their regular rituals and routines - before it was obliterated without warning. I thought often about that day: men eating their morning meals, workers preparing for a day at the office, women tending to their gardens, children at play...and then, in one silent instant, blown away.
Survivors I spoke and toured the city with would point to a specific site and say, “...this wall, is where we rested...from this well, we drank water...here, we raised chickens and ate…in this iron pot, we made tea...there, we burned the dead, the bodies of family and friends...” I drove, walked, and crawled beneath the city and followed a path to its fringes where I discovered a lair of oblivion - a world that time abandoned. An image such as an old map inside a trashcan connected me to a place frozen in time.
How do we interpret these remains? Did I discover that map in the trashcan by accident? There are no answers; only memories of what was lost; and of the stories handed down from generation to generation. I stand in awe at the resilience of what remains…of what survived. Hiroshima is no longer just a place, it is the geography of hope: a miracle of human perseverance.