It's been over a half a year now since my visit to Hiroshima - and I've been thinking about this post all the time since then. I knew I wanted to write it - but should I? In trying to launch a travel related site, should I worry about my brand? Is this too much of a personal opinion and not the "please everyone" message? Ultimately I decided since this site is all about authenticity, transparency, and bringing the travel experience to its users - I HAD to write it. I feel like I have a responsibility to. So if you're not into the serious stuff, no offense taken! But you'll want to skip this post :)
On what was an otherwise happiness filled trip to Japan to play ice hockey with my old club team from London (Wolves!), we visited Kyoto and Osaka for some R and R as well as to play in Osaka. Great times, both. My buddy and I decided that while in Kyoto, we wanted to take a day and go see Hiroshima. I was a History major in University, and well, as an American, I felt this was one of those once in a lifetime chances that might never come around again. Frankly, while most Americans know of it, the vast majority never see it. This isn't your fun, #Insta-travel trip. This is a trip you take for a personal journey. To learn about something. To pay respects to a horror the likes of which the world has never seen. And maybe, to show how sorry you are. I'm not sure I've ever written something like this because really, I don't think I've ever experienced something like this. Something to this scale.
It was a significant, powerful experience. I don't know how else to say it. I mean, to be in the place - to physically stand in the place - of the most horrific, singular act in human history, is an unbelievably sobering thing to do. I'm not going to sit here and utter some cliche about "Boy, this really puts things into perspective." It doesn't. This isn't the same as seeing someone in the streets less fortunate than you, or a family member passing away that you thought was fairly healthy. This goes much further beyond that. You can't possibly put yourself in these people's shoes. It stands as a stark reminder that the Mother of Invention doesn't always give birth to kind and noble children. We have a great responsibility to ensure that this never happens again. All of us. There are other ways. And there are better ways.
Wars, at times, are indeed necessary. I am not naive enough to sit back and claim otherwise. I mean, WWII as a whole was in fact necessary despite some of the events it produced. Our world would be a very different place without it and I could not sit here as an outsider and tell anyone from a European country that the war shouldn't have happened. But these kinds of weapons are not necessary. They are not "cool". They are not worthy of boasting about "technological superiority". They don't belong on a baseball card that markets a modern war effort. They are monstrous, and I've now seen for myself where they've been and what they've done. I've touched a glass bottle that was nearly liquified from the blast. GLASS - which needs to be formed originally at an unbelievably high temperature and is one of the hardest materials on earth. I've seen a tricycle, who's young rider was destroyed while the bike's metal melted and blistered. Read that again - metal melted and blistered. I've seen his pre-blast, life-sized picture next to this tricycle. My eyes honestly water as I write this just thinking about it. "What if?" is not a reason for these weapons to exist. We do not need them. We can be better.
We've all mostly read or heard about this event in our history. I know that. And we look at it academically and of course recognize it's significance. But being there. Standing on the actual ground and being in the museum? It was scientific. It was vivid. It was human. This wasn't a story in a book, it was real. And I can't really, truly, convey how mind changing that was.
Today, Hiroshima is what appears to be like any other bustling city. It has that Japanese feel to it that anyone who's ever been to the country knows what I mean. There are modern constructions, trams, and people going about their every day lives. And there happens to be a wonderful memorial in the center. But here's what I struggled with - walking past the older locals. I know this sounds absurd if you've not experienced it. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I of course had nothing to do with it, yet for the older generation: here are some people who have real memories of the times that followed, or even the actual times for the very old. And here I was - an American more than 70 years later - I was standing in the spot that this atrocious event happened in. Looking them in their eyes. And I had to look away - it was too much. I wanted to smile, and say hello as I passed. But I couldn't. My country did this thing. And now I felt it. How could I possibly not?
A few final notes and I'll leave you with some more shots from the visit. THIS right here is the other "Why I Travel". This is something significant - to be challenged and pushed to feel things you've never felt before. A chance to connect to something - in a way you've never done. To be changed by the world and those who have come before us - and those who are here WITH us now. Revisiting my previous points - there wasn't a single person there that viewed me with any looks of animosity. Of course there wasn't. They were lovely like all the people I encountered in Japan. And that was probably the real magic. Here I was paying my respects, trying to become something new as a person, trying to remember - and I was welcomed and allowed to do that in my own way. So thank you Hiroshima, for how you changed me.