Fahrenheit 8/6


This blog entry about the events of Monday, October 04, 2004 was originally posted on October 10, 2004.

DAY 352:  August 6, 1945, 8:14 a.m.  It was a clear, sunny day over the city of Hiroshima, a city that prided itself as a center of education.  People of the Saragakucho district, a vibrant neighborhood of actors and artisans, were going about the beginning of their day like any other — kids went to school, adults went to work.  One person’s anecdote of that beautiful morning started, “A dragonfly flitted in front of me and stopped on a fence.  I stood up, took my cap in my hands, and was about to catch the dragonfly when…”

8:15 a.m.  A flash of light.  A boom that rattled the ground like an earthquake out of Hell.  A fireball with a core temperature of over 18,000° Fahrenheit exploded just 580 meters above the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall in the city center.  In a couple of seconds the radiation and heat of the blast expanded to the surrounding three kilometers, bringing it to scorching temperature of 5400-7200° Fahrenheit.  The whole thing happened so fast that the innocent people whose clothes had suddenly burst into flames, exposing their skin to be charred and even melted, had no idea what had just happened.  The explosion decimated the area and killed close to 75,000 people in an instant, with more radiation-related deaths to come in the coming months.

Meanwhile, high in the sky over the sea, the force of the blast was so powerful it turbulently shook the US warplane Enola Gay as it flew back to base with its news:  Mission accomplished.  The first atomic bomb to be used in human history had been deployed.

IN TODAY’S WORLD, such an act of terror would spawn a major grudge of global proportions and hmm, let’s say, an all out war in “search of weapons of mass destruction” (hypothetically speaking, of course).  However, the Japanese didn’t retaliate.  In fact, the city of Hiroshima, after picking up the pieces and reconstructing the city, dedicated itself to the promotion of world peace and the disarmament of nuclear weapons.  To this day, a ceremony is still held each August 6th in remembrance of the tragedy that day and more importantly, to persuade world leaders that Hiroshima’s history should not repeat itself anywhere else on the planet. 

This annual ceremony takes place in Peace Memorial Park, a park on the peninsula between the Honkawa and Motoyasu-gawa Rivers right near Ground Zero.  The area in and around the park not only holds the Peace Memorial Museum that is responsible for most of the research and photos used in this entry, but many memorials erected for the events of that unfortunate summer day in 1945 — including the Mother and Child memorial, the Monument for A-Bomb Victims, the Peace Bell and the Flame of Peace, which appears to be an eternal flame monument for the victims, but is actually extinguishable; the flame will be extinguished when the world has completely disarmed all of its nuclear weapons, most of which are in the USA

The most significant of the memorials is the site of the remnants of the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall — now dubbed the A-Bomb Dome, reconstructed to remain in a dilapidated state as a reminder to the world of the destruction that had emanated 580m above its roof.  Nearby was the T-shaped Aioi Bridge, which actually served as the target in the crosshairs of the US Enola Gay that dropped the bomb over Hiroshima.  Choosing Hiroshima as the site of the first atomic bomb was a result of weeks of discussions of the perfect target in Japan.  The Americans narrowed it down to Hiroshima from a possible 17 targets — Hiroshima was picked because it was a Japanese military strategic position that hadn’t been bombed yet, and it was believed there were no US POWs.

THE EFFECTS OF THE ATOMIC BOMB did a lot more damage than any conventional weapon of mass destruction could.  With the radiation came many side effects, apparently not much of a concern to the scientists of the atomic bomb researching Manhattan Project (which was advised by none other than Albert Einstein, who urged Roosevelt for the creation of nuclear weapons for fear that the Germans already had them).  Aside from the burns, cataracts, keloids and the odd black deformed fingernails that started to grow out of some people, one major after effect was leukemia.  One girl named Sadako Sasaki contracted the disease and while bedridden in a hospital, believed that she could overcome her illness if she did the “impossible” task of folding 1,000 paper cranes.  She died before reaching her 700th one, but her classmates were inspired by her strength and finished the rest. 

Sadako Sasaki’s story became such a moving and inspirational one that the Children’s Peace Monument was erected in her honor.  To this day kids still come by the busload to present 1,000 paper cranes — and, as I saw in the group that arrived when I did, to sing a song of peace.  The kids were allowed to wander the park afterwards — some of them placed flowers in front of the Cenotaph for A-Bomb Victims, the centerpiece of the park, in front of the “eternal flame” burning as long as the threat of nuclear war did.

NOTHING REALLY HIT THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT right on the head more than the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, a free indoor exhibition in the park that really humanized the disaster with an electronic list rotating through the names and faces (picture above) of those Japanese that died that day, and the ones that died as a result of the nuclear fall out.  By the end of 1945, the death toll rose to about 140,000 and over time up to near 200,000 — not all of them exclusively Japanese; ten percent of the victims that perished were Korean (many working in Hiroshima as WWII laborers, and remembered in the Monument to Korean Victims and Survivors) and a smaller percentage were students from China and southeast Asia.  Also, in an apparent foul-up of US military intelligence, US POWs were killed — although I didn’t see anything erected for them.

I walked through the memorial’s Hall of Remembrance, built with 140,000 tiles to commemorate the 140,000 lives lost by the end of 1945.  In the center of the hall was a perpetually-flowing water fountain sculpted in commemoration of the time 8:15 and the tens of thousands that died thirsty — at the time, many people begged for water, not knowing that water after such an explosion actually accelerated the death process.

Everyone visiting the memorial hall received a pamphlet, which I thought was just an ordinary explanatory thing, but each one was individually encoded with a symbol that triggered specific information in the library archive computers.  Oh, it’s like trading cards I thought, but that didn’t seem so funny when I inserted mine into the machine and saw the victim whose code I had.  My pamphlet also pulled up the moving and tear-inducing first person accounts of the people in rescue teams (like Toshio Ishizu 1 2 3 4 5; and Mariko Arata 1 2 3 4) and people who had miraculously survived (like Fumiko Ikeda 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10).  (I was so moved by their anecdotes I wanted to share them here [without having to retype them].  Please read them at your convenience.)

WALKING AROUND PEACE MEMORIAL PARK and the Peace Memorial Museum, without a doubt, was the most depressing place I’d been to in The Global Trip 2004 thus far, largely in part because as an American I felt some sort of guilt.  I got all choked up inside seeing the before and after models, and the press photos taken that day by photojournalist Yoshito Matsushige (who couldn’t stomach being there after five shots).  Depressed and saddened, yes — but it was nothing a couple of pancakes couldn’t handle.

OKONOMIYAKI, THE SAVORY PANCAKE DISH stuffed with noodles, meat, eggs and other toppings that I had tried with Liz, John and Melissa, was one of Hiroshima’s specialties.  Once place Liz highly-recommended was Okonomiyaki-mura Village, a collection of small, humble hot griddle food stands that specialized in the Japanese pancake.  It was there I was almost immediately cheered up by the smiles of friendly people, including my cook Emiko, and the couple from Yamaguchi that I befriended, Yasuhiko and Yumi.  There were no grudges when I told them I was American and they were impressed that I broke the stereotype that all Americans don’t know how to use chopsticks. 

PROBABLY THE MOST OBVIOUS EVIDENCE that there really is no bad blood anymore between Japan and the U.S. is the common pastime of baseball.  The Japanese have come to enjoy watching and playing the American-made sport — that morning I was tipped by a guy in the hostel that a big home game was going on that night:  the Hiroshima Carp vs. the Yokohama Baystars.  The Japanese really have embraced the American pastime, particularly on the spectator side of things, with paraphernalia stands and a mascot that dances in the outfield or “can’t hear you.”  I sat in the home team bleachers out of right field and watched the game, but was more entertained with the crowds.  Going to the ball game in Japan is very similar to going in the USA, with vendors going around selling popcorn, french fries and hotdogs, and a big guy with a keg strapped to his back to pour beer.  The Japanese have also perfect the good ol’ American pastime of looking really surprised and waving when they realize they’re on the big JumboTron screen.

I had a great time at the baseball game, less for the game, but more for the cheers led by the pep squad “Carp Club” with drums and trumpets almost every minute of the game.  In the seventh inning stretch, people inflated big phallic balloons and then launched them into the field for a colorful display of deflation that sounded like a symphony of flatulence.

In the end I was finally cheered up after such a depressing morning — the Hiroshima Carp defeated the Yokohama Baystars 2-1. 

HIROSHIMA MIGHT HAVE BEEN VICTORIOUS that day, but in the struggle to promote world peace and nuclear disarmament was far from over.  For that night, in the darkness of Peace Memorial Park, the Flame of Peace still burned as long as the threat of nuclear war did.  The question still remained:  Which country was willing to blow it out first?

Next entry: The Critters of Miyajima

Previous entry: A Castle Tale

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Comments for “Fahrenheit 8/6”

  • HAAAAAA First again!!!!! Twice in a row! The SBR’s are making a move for it!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/10  at  09:57 AM

  • HEY GANG… Here’s two more for the Monday morning rush. 

    This may or may not be the last entry up before I start my trek up to Everest (leaving Tuesday morning, Nepal Time, 9h45m ahead of NYC)—although I may be able to squeeze in a couple before then, or even on the trail since I’ve heard that there is also internet access on the trail.

    If not, I’ll be NIZ for the next 14 days… you’ve been warned.

    Anyway, if everything goes according to plan (i.e. no Maoists or altitude sickness), I arrive at Everest base camp on my thirtieth birthday.

    MARKYT:  I sent a package from Bangkok via sea (the cheapest way)... should be there in about two months…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/10  at  10:00 AM

  • MICHELLE:  Hey, where are you now?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/10  at  10:03 AM

  • hey Erik, I’m in Sydney Australia, leaving on a jet plane for Santiago, Chile on wednesday. I saw you on Y Messenger but didn’t message you in time!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/10  at  10:13 AM

  • Erik - “10” of Fumiko Ikeda and “before” links don’t work

    Posted by Liz  on  10/10  at  10:27 AM

  • Erik - there was an avalanche on Annapurna 1 yesterday (2 Japanese died so it just made the press here).  Are you doing that circuit?

    Posted by Liz  on  10/10  at  10:30 AM

  • LIZ:  No, that’s elsewhere— but that’s not to say I’m not threatened by avalanches where I’m headed—or Yeti for that matter…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/10  at  11:53 AM

  • Just take a small bad of Yeti food to distract them then..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/10  at  08:48 PM

  • via Sea?  You should have just put it in a bottle and threw it out to sea, since that’s cheaper….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/11  at  01:13 AM

  • Our 6th grade class made 1,000 cranes and sent them over!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/11  at  02:35 AM

  • Just take a small ““bag”” of Yeti food to distract them then..

    Proofread before posting Bill….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/11  at  04:56 AM

  • I started reading this early this morning, but couldn’t finish it… great perspective, but harsh for 1st thing in the morning. Reminds me of when I went to the Holocaust Museum in DC.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/11  at  06:15 AM

  • It rememinded me of how I felt whilst visiting the Holocaust Museum too.

    I need a good few days to recover.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  12:41 AM

  • “I needed a good few days to recover.”

    I have the same problem Bill!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  12:42 AM

  • I just bumped into your blog by chance today.. and couldn’t stop reading it all day long!

    when I was in jerusalem visiting the holocaust museum I felt the same way. it took me a while to clear my mind and your text here brought me back there.

    really nice blog, keep it up!

    Posted by Joy  on  10/12  at  06:02 AM

  • Td0t - looks like you missed one of the typos from that entry. wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  09:52 AM

  • Man, this entry was good. Eye watering. I only read Fumiko Ikeda’s account, and I don’t think I can handle all of them right now. Thanks shooting and sharing them.
    Also, those pankakes are mouth watering…

    When do you hit SE Asia? Are you comming to Malaysia? Sadly I don’t think our paths will cross, it would be my pleasure to meet up in KL and have a supporting role in the Erik Trinidad Show… (My contract is finished in December, then I plan to travel for a month or so and go back home in late January)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  10:47 AM

  • LETS:  I’ll be in continental SE Asia mid November to just before X-mas… then off to the Philippines…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  12:58 PM

  • JOY:  Welcome aboard!  Glad you enjoy, pass the word along!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  01:00 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
The Critters of Miyajima

Previous entry:
A Castle Tale


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