Hiroshima is most certainly one of the places on earth every American should visit. World War II is beyond the memory for me and for most of my friends, but it shouldn’t be far from our hearts even if it happened before we were born. When I was a high school student reading about the A-bomb in history class, I had no basis for understanding the travesty of nuclear power yielded against humanity. Most people I know never question that the United Stated “had to” use the nuclear bomb in Japan as a way to stop the war, and even the Hiroshima Museum doesn’t bring this premise into question. What it does instead is focus on the totality of the losses experienced due to the bomb dropped on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 am. More than a hundred thousand people and their entire town were instantly incinerated when the bomb hit the atmosphere.
Yesterday when I walked through the museum, it became quickly obvious that the agenda of all the memorials in the Peace Park—museum included—is not to accuse or resent what is in the past, but to say, “Let us never allow this to happen again.” One of the most powerful exhibits for me was the downsized replica of the “Dome,” the only building still standing in downtown Hiroshima from before the bomb was dropped. On the walls of the replica are posted small plaques with letters written by the mayor of the city to every leader of a nuclear state EVERY time a nuclear weapon has been tested since 1968! As soon as a nuclear test has been completed, the mayor (whoever he is at the time) quickly sends a telegram protesting the test and the existance of the nuclear warfare program. One whole wall was filled with the protest letters sent during 1985, the year I graduated from high school.
On this trip to Japan, as I’ve wandered about searching for “goddess” images and stories, I have to admit that the images of men’s hatred for the “other” and the resulting violence that I saw in the exhibits yesterday (and I mean that the hatred cut both ways during World War II, for sure), almost overpowered the moments of peace I’ve felt at the shrines and temples I’ve visited in the past two weeks. But not quite. The message on every corner in Hiroshima is about peace. Just as I was despairing over how violent the war was, I stumbled across a huge bell with a plaque that instructed all who stood in that spot to ring the bell so that the call for peace could be heard throughout the earth. As the town rebuilt itself, it has made the most profound commitment to opening its heart and spreading a message of nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We saw more foreigners welcomed to Hiroshima than we’ve ever seen in any of the tourist locations in Tokyo! This town is (or should be) a Mecca pilgrimage for anyone who believes that the future of the earth depends on peace between nations.
Today we went to Miyajima Island and puttered around the shrines and temples there. I got to see one more image of the Benzaiten, goddess of all that flows. They requested that we didn’t take pictures of the image stationed behind the altar, so I respected that, but here is a brief video of the O-torrii gate that welcomes visitors as they arrive on the island. This is taken from inside of the big Itsukushima shrine (a world heratage site which is dedicated to the three Munakata goddesses of sea, safety, and furtune and accomplishment).
Tomorrow Bill and I head back to Tokyo for one last night and then fly home on Wednesday. What a trip this has been—so rich with adventures and new goddess myths to factor into my worldview! Cheers to you all. I hope whatever you’ve been up to this past couple of weeks has been as edifying for you as my trip has been for me, even if it was more mundane in nature.