We arrived at Hiroshima late in the afternoon. We’d spent most of a day getting there, three trains and a tram ride — and when it wasn’t raining it was steamy — and we were ready for a feed. Kaori took us for an intrepid walk, past the Children’s Peace Memorial and the hypocentre of the blast about 200 metres from the point where ‘Little Boy’ was supposed to detonate at 8.15am on Monday August 6, 1945. We walked down Hon Dori (‘main street’ I think) a covered arcade running for most of a kilometre bustling with life and vitality.Our destination was one of the several okonomiyaki ‘factories’ at the eastern end. We walked past a dozen or so fabricators before coming to Kaori’s choice. Okonomiyaki — you can buy them in Melbourne. The joint opposite the CAE in Flinders Lane doesn’t do a bad one; but really not in the league of a Hiroshiman okonomiyaki. Sort of an omelette, sort of a pancake, sort of an aggregation of what you like, grilled with mayonnaise. Seeing ‘okonomiyaki’ means a ‘grilled what you like’ that makes sense. Mine had cabbage, onion, bean shoots, pork, and a good deal of other stuff sandwiched between pancake-like affairs and it was simply magnificent. Mood-lifting. The longer it cooked on the grill at the counter where we were sitting, the better it was. Something to remember for the future. We wandered back through the city me at least thinking this place is going ok. It’s fine.
Our ryokan was of the cheap and cheerful variety, an establishment which had served dozens of Australian schools over the years. I recognised many of the names reasonably faithfully recorded on the honour boards. A lot of Queensland, and Catholic, schools. It fell just on the wrong side of excellent on most indicators: futons a bit thin, breakfast slightly risible, wifi in the lobby that you had to refresh every time you looked at it — but it was very well located, and it had a washing machine and a dryer, two matters dear to my ever so domestic heart.
We got up next morning to the rain and had a long tram ride to Miyajima, home of dozens of shrines (see ‘Orange’). I thought this might not be a success, but I mellowed. We had our excellent umbrellas purchased in a rush in Tokyo and it was like one version of what Japan was supposed to be. Green crags, rills of mist, lily pads, curling tiled roofs, the smell of incense and the tinkling sound of cymbals. Away from the hordes there was a lot to like about it.
That was half a day. We wanted to go to the art gallery and to finish the day at the Memorial museum. I was immersed in Yukio Mishima’s Spring Snow and I wanted to lie on my futon and finish it. It was still raining.
We ate at the gallery and looked at a collection of ‘folk art’ derived from communities of Japanese interned in California during the second world war and hastened off to the Museum.
You wonder how all this will be handled. A terrible thing has happened; but it has been generated by a terrible thing. For reasons I don’t remember I had just been reading about the rape of Nanking, which happened eight years before the bomb was dropped. Somewhere around 300,000 Chinese killed in four days, mostly civilians, well-evidenced atrocities, a public competition between two Japanese officers to see who could be the first to kill 100 people with their sword. And so on. Changi, the Burma Railroad. What do you say? What was said was: this is what happened. It shouldn’t ever happen again. In the exhibition there was no shying away from the fact that Japan was at war and had been for some time or that Hiroshima was to some degree a military target. In Year 12 one of our books was Robert Jungk’s Brighter than a 1000 Suns and I remember General Groves being determined to drop the bomb on Kyoto. There wasn’t enough left of Tokyo after weeks of carpet bombing. And he thought that would do the business. The American Secretary of State William Stimson issued a written order (on view in the museum) that this was not to occur in the belief that US-Japanese relations could never be mended in such circumstances.
Three things stick in my mind. One is that subsequently Russia has tested a 50 megaton bomb that was 31,000 times more powerful than that dropped at Hiroshima, ie the bomb that more or less instantly vapourised 70,000 people and killed another 100,000 within weeks. (Where was it tested?!) The second is the force and temperature of the blast. These pictures are of structural elements of a bridge several kilometres away and a pile of cups and roof tiles melted and fused together.
The third was something I have never really understood: the shadows.
I don’t quite know what I thought was being referred to. Perhaps some sort of stain on stone left by people simply disintegrating. But of course what it is is the fact that the blast has changed the colour of the stone but to a lesser degree where someone was. That’s the shadow. Ah gracious. And in the museum was an example. I did take a photo of it but it is not a very good one. But perhaps the idea will suffice.
We walked home through the rain, thoughtful and appropriately damaged.
The next day we footled round — a bit of shopping, a bad gallery, the fort, checking when the Hiroshima Carp had last won the championship (1991, but there’s always next year); and we made the mistake of taking the boys to a Japanese Mexican establishment, a mistake which was subsequently corrected by some fine desserts in Hon Dori. But we’d had a bit of a whack and the next morning we were lined up to listen to a talk from a survivor. That in itself was a shock — that there should still be survivors. That’s 68 years ago now. But for Kaori’s sake, if for no other reason, we thought we’d better go.
Keijiro Matsushima was 16 at the time of the bombing, a student who was also working in a factory. He was in class two kilometres from the hypocentre. ‘An orange flash jumped into my eyes and a hot searing shock wave blew into my face. I can remember a pine tree beside the window silhouetted against the orange red world just like a sunset. At the same time, I jumped under the desk, pressing my ears with both thumbs and my eyes with the other fingers unconsciously because had been told to do so in the case of a bombing. Then I heard the huge noise of the blast. I still have no idea if it was the sound of the bomb explosion or of collapsing buildings. Perhaps it was both. It became a very pitch dark world. … I was not sure how much time had passed — perhaps one or two minutes or perhaps longer, but gradually dim light came in among the debris. Fortunately my seat had been located close to the door and the staircase of the old-fashioned strong wooden building was still intact. Small cuts on my head and several places on my body were still bleeding but my wounds were not serious. … As I began my slow escape from the building, I was horrified to see so many wounded students sitting and lying on the grass or the ground and buildings everywhere smashed and destroyed. I was increasingly bewildered how only a single bomb could produce such extensive damage in an instant.’
He found a friend and was helping him. ‘As we started slowly walking through the school gate, I was again shocked to see the severe destruction and a great many injured people mostly burnt people who looked like smoked and boiled pigs. Their faces were all damaged, swollen up, and disfigured so badly. Without exception, they had thrust out both arms perhaps so that their wounds would not touch their bodies. Their smoked bodies had swollen and the skin was peeling off. … Processions of ghosts walking towards the suburbs were seen everywhere in the city all day long.’ This phenomenon of arms outstretched with skin dripping off the body is one of the recurrent memories held in common.
There’s so much more. He found his way to where his mother was working on a farm 40 kilometres away where he had bloody diarrhoea for some time. He thought that the poison was somehow being ejected from his system. He lived, and became a teacher of English and later a school principal.
It was what he said, but also the way he said it, a style that other older Japanese men I spoke had adopted: measured, unhurried, punctuated by an intake of breath with a small sigh, rubbing his face as he did so, without animus and without as much pain as one might have assumed. I wondered how he could bear to relive this all, telling his story over and over again. He felt it was his duty.
I was honoured to have heard him. We left Hiroshima, chastened.