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I’m Afraid of Americans

“I’m afraid of Americans, I’m afraid of the world. I’m afraid I can’t help it, I’m afraid I can’t.” –David Bowie, ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’

ひさしぶり! It’s been a while! I have kept busy over my month long break during March, but I will attempt to catch you up with all I have been doing.

During March, I traveled by shinkansen to Hiroshima with my friend and my grandparents, who were visiting from Washington DC. I felt that since I am an advocate for international nuclear disarmament and have participated with organizations with this agenda, it was sort of like a pilgrimage to go to the site where the first atomic bomb was dropped. It was a surreal experience, and one that I will surely never forget.

The Genbaku Dome, one of the few buildings left standing from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

We left early in the morning to catch the first train from Kobe to Hiroshima. When we arrived a couple of hours later we took the street car to the Genbaku Dome (Atomic Bomb Dome), which is famous for being one of the only buildings left standing after the bombing, a miracle considering its proximity to the drop zone. I felt a mix of emotions while walking around the dome that had been frozen in time, and through the Peace Park with its many memorials, as a calm silence seemed to pervade the entire area like none I have ever experienced in Japan.

As I watched traffic pass over the bridge that had been targeted, I wondered if I should feel guilty. But as I saw the memorials that stood for hope and peace, I decided that all I can do is raise awareness about the horrors of nuclear warfare and hope that such an atrocity will never occur again. I don’t care what a country or government has done; no one deserves that. No one.

I will spare you the disturbing details of the museum we entered and its gut-wrenching exhibits. Even knowing everything I do about Japan, World War II, and the atomic bombing, there were things in the museum–pictures, artifacts, stories–that I do not believe the US government would ever release to its public. I won’t say it was a wake-up call for myself, as I was aware of the atrocities of nuclear warfare, but being there certainly brought it closer to home.

Origami paper cranes folded by people around the world to promote peace.

What I keep going back to, however, is the thought of a case in which the United States had been bombed instead of Japan. I doubt that Americans could forgive and move on so easily, considering how many people suffered and died. I mean, we’re still mourning over 9/11, and the Japanese have lifted their heads and pushed forward only a year after thousands were killed during the March 2011 disaster. I should say that I do not at all mean to completely victimize Japan when discussing this, as anyone who has studied history knows that Japan has dealt out its fair share of wartime atrocities as well. But what I really took from my visit to Hiroshima was how important looking at the bigger picture is, rather than focusing on a single tragedy and allowing it to consume a country (or lead it to war). I realize that my thoughts are controversial, but I stand by them. Peace will never be achieved if revenge is a motivator. Things such as the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima should not be forgotten, but instead taken as a reminder of the lives that were lost and a reminder to nations that hold nuclear weapons of the power they hold.

Well, after that heavy and depressing interlude and a bite of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, we took the street car to the coast, where we hopped on a ferry to Miyajima island, home to Itsukushima Shrine and its iconic Shinto gateway that appears to float on the water during high tide. The island was full of deer similar to those in Nara who would just walk up to you and even let you pet them! We were there at low tide, so I got the opportunity to walk underneath the gate. Backed up against the mountains and lined by the coast, Itsukushima Shrine was beautiful, and the weather held up long enough for us to see most of the island before heading back to the station.

It was a long and emotional day, but well worth the distance and money it took to travel there. I highly suggest Hiroshima to any foreigner visiting Japan, as it is saturated in history and breathtaking scenery.

The large Shinto gate in front of Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island.