Hiroshima: the memory remains

In Hiroshima city, it’s spring. The sun is warm and the air is fresh. Smells somewhat green. Birds are singing. In the city center, a tram pulls off and the street vibrates. Men in pressed pinstriped suits and polished brogues walk briskly and women cycle to their offices in chunky heels (how do they do it?).



The Motoyasu river glitters past the A-bomb dome. The dome looks benign, protected by an exoskeleton of scaffolding. Further along the river, Hiroshima Castle soars into the sky like an iced wedding cake. The cherry trees on the castle grounds sprout pink buds. Some are already blossoming. A man gently sleeps under the trees. Fountains bloom. Flowers smile.

In the Peace Memorial Park, an old woman doubles over in prayer, clasping two withered hands in front of a cenotaph for the A-bomb victims. Colorful bouquets rest in front of it.

The Peace Memorial Museum stands nearby, a gray rectangle with rows of long windows cut into its sides. Inside the museum tells another story of the city. On August 6, 1945, at 8:15am, the Allies dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima, then Japan’s military stronghold. At first, the residents saw a flash in the sky ten times brighter than the sun. Then, they heard a heavy boom and felt an intense heat. At ground level, the nuclear bomb created firestorms that swept through the city, melting everything. Thirty minutes after the blast, black rain fell on the survivors and the wreckage. Little Boy instantly killed 80,000 people and injured 100,000 more.


Inside the museum, the war becomes a story of remains. Things left behind. A khaki cloth satchel discolored by death and the passing of time. A stained Shirley Temple doll and a black and white photo of a little girl clutching the doll to her chest. A scene: wax figures running away from the blast, mouths open in horror, skin melting off their limbs. A lock of singed hair. Disembodied, shriveled fingernails. Close-ups of hibakusha, those exposed to the radiation: scorched faces, blistered backs, buttocks, legs, and arms. Stories of human deterioration: hair loss, internal bleeding, diarrhea, birth defects, cancer.

Soon, it becomes too much to bear. How could Japan hold on to such a dreadful past? As a Caribbean person, I couldn’t understand because I suffer from historical amnesia, evident in Derek Walcott’s poem, “The Sea is History.” He writes:

“Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?

Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,

in that gray vault. The sea. The sea

has locked them up. The sea is History.”

In the Caribbean, we love to forget. We raze old buildings and build new ones. We clear the landscapes and start afresh. Our relics are buried deep in the ocean bed. The sea becomes the sole repository of our history: our dirty past of conquest, colonialism, slavery, and indentureship. In Japan, it’s different. The good, the bad, and the ugly are preserved in well-curated museums and restored castles, shrines, and temples.

Perhaps the Japanese don’t want to forget. American poet Susan Stewart explains that humans look for objects that embody an “authentic experience”:

“…the memory of the body is replaced by the memory of the object, a memory standing outside the self and thus presenting both a surplus and lack of significance- it is saturated with meanings that can never be fully revealed to us.”

In the same way, the objects carefully curated by Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum have become imbued with a special significance. Without understanding their context, they look mundane. But when we understand the backstory, they become more poignant. They remind the Japanese people of a horror that happened in real life. They do not forget because over time, they can develop the perspective needed to deal with the dreadful past.

When I exit, the city of Hiroshima still seems lovely. The sun still shines. The cherry trees still blossom. The river still glitters. The center still bustles. However, under the surface, there is always the memory of pain and the city still cries for the bodies that remain, burned into the fabric of the streets.

Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography

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16 thoughts on “Hiroshima: the memory remains

  1. Thank you for this article. We shouldn’t forget about events like this. We should all be reminded, and “wake up” to the horrors of war and the terrible things people in power can do. Unfortunately it seems like most people do choose to ignore it, and the wars continue around the world 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful piece showing us what the Peace Memorial Museum is like! I’ve been to Japan a couple times and agreed with you that “under the surface, the pain of the past remains.” They preserve the old and the ugly so that the history doesn’t repeat.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The mere thought of what people went through as a result of Little Boy is horrific! I understand that you say the Caribbean love to forget but I think it’s really important to have a memorial for these kind of events, so we don’t forget and don’t make the same mistakes again. I recently visited Auschwitz and had a similar feeling, wondering WHY they kept such a place as is. But after visiting I totally understand.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How touching. the effects of war and conflict never truly leaves a nation and for Hiroshima to have such a graphic museum truly does demonstrate its pain and their refusal to forget. And that’s a good thing. These elements of our history should be remembered always.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a beautifully written piece about a terror so great in Japan’s history – and world history. You have painted the scene perfectly with your written. Interesting about the Caribbean way of dealing with the past. But, like those commenting here too, I think it’s important to have a memorial – not to be sad, but to remember what humanity is capable of so we can prevent it happening again. But sadly it’s all too easy to forget. Great writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a lovely post about a really sad topic. I imagine going here must be such a moving experience, and in some ways so hard to even comprehend. Although some people would probably rather gloss over these things I think keeping reminders is so important.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s so hard to imagine how devastating this would have been for so many of the survivors. Hopefully by preserving this history, it will help to make current generations realize how lucky we all are, and to also remind us to not take simple things in life for granted. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ugh, history is so painful sometimes. This was an interesting read – thanks for sharing your perspective and experience. Very interesting perspective on the Caribbean too, that you like to forget. I’ve never heard that.


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