We get off the train in Hiroshima and it's pouring. We put on our rain coats and pick up our bags for the walk to our hostel for the night, following the always competent Mrs. VanZile.
We drop off our bags and then we start the metro ride to something I wasn't ready for.
"Where are we going?" I ask, not having looked at the itinerary for a few days.
"The memorial," a chaperone says, and I'm a little taken aback.
Here was the place I had read about. Not just in John Hersey's Hiroshima (the assigned reading for the trip) but since I was little, from books like Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, that I read in elementary school.
Two hundred thousand people died here--one hundred times more than on 9/11--and I was about to walk on that ground.
When we first get off the train we go to the Prefectural Building (one of the only buildings in the hypocenter not completely demolished) and it's in ruins, left unfixed to show the damage the bomb did. There is an information man standing there with pictures of the demolition and the people suffering. It is gruesome. He next tells us that his parents were survivors of the attack, and my whole perspective changes.
Here was a man that I felt indebted to. He probably lost his parents to medical reasons of the attack, and probably other relatives, thanks to me and my country, and looked at us with no judgment or anger; because he was at peace. We thank him, give him a pen with Payson High School written on it, and keep walking on the river--the river that the injured were laid next to and later drowned in. We stop by the student worker memorial, the children's memorial (dedicated to Sadako), and the eternal flame. All were adorned with flowers and paper cranes, some origami made into huge displays with images saying "peace" or "remember."
There are Japanese elementary school groups everywhere, and one girl in our group decides to pass out pins that say "ARIZONA" on them. The children swarm, sticking their hands out to get one, the way koi stick their heads out of the water for fish food.
Next is the museum, where the heaviest emotional images lie. In the middle of the ground floor are two city models: one before the bomb and one after the bomb. The first shows a large, vibrant city, and the second is a desolate flatland, with only one or two sparse ruins standing. Around it is the pre-bomb history of Hiroshima, Japan, and the Manhattan project, including a copy of the letter from Einstein asking FDR to work on nuclear warfare.
On the next floor is the current information about nuclear weapons: how they affect our world, how they work and what they can do.
The last section are the personal stories. When you first walk in, you see life-size replicas of survivors with their skin melting off, in front of smoke and fire. Around it is a gallery of deformed objects from the bomb: blobs of glass and metal each vaguely resembling what they were labeled as having been.
A porch in the middle has the etch of a human shadow engraved on the steps, what remains from the blast of the bomb.
There is a map showing the levels of destruction each area suffered. Most of the city was completely flattened to the ground in seconds.
Finally, there was the biological section, showing pictures of a woman whose kimono pattern was burned into her skin from the heat. There is hair that fell out, and lists and explanations of all the diseases people contracted from the radiation.
These sights made us all feel so uncomfortable.
Why do we even go to Hiroshima if it makes us so sad? Why do Americans and the Japanese alike look back on this tragedy?
The first reason is for respect. It is worth it to show a little bit of pain for those who had to go through a lot of pain. Those people can't just die forgotten.
The second reason is for remorse. The A-Bomb and WWII as a whole created a gap...a gap of cultures we have to close in order to make peace. Visiting and showing remorse about it says that we don't want to initiate anything like this again, for both nations.
An Australian guy at our hostel told me that we all have boxes in life that we have to check off, and that's exactly what we Payson High students did by paying respect and showing remorse at Hiroshima.