January 7th: Hiroshima Peace Park, Museum and Related Sights. This is a picture of the “A-Bomb Dome,” or 原爆ドーム. The building was erected in 1914 as an industrial promotion hall. It was near the hypocenter of the August 6th, 1945 atomic-bomb attack.
The A-Bomb Dome has come to symbolize the destruction wrought by the weapon. It is being carefully preserved as a monument to the attack, and has been under consideration for World Heritage Site status:
Here is the approach to the Peace Memorial Museum, which includes the Memorial Cenotaph (designed by Kenzo Tange). The students spent a few hours in the museum and looking at the various monuments in the area, also known as the Peace Memorial Park.
The monuments, parks and museums contain the world “Peace” but the content of all of these sites are related to war, and to a specific war at that. Within a general message that the bomb is a scourge of humanity, and that nuclear weapons must be destroyed to make the earth safe, is a competing story about why the bomb happened to fall on Hiroshima of all places (and not, say, Sidney or Rome). Several plaques in the museum, and at least one memorial statue speak to the role of the Japanese military as an aggressor in China and Korea leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor:
While the first ten or so panels in the museum’s chronological exhibits highlight Hiroshima’s military function in the wars against China, this next plaque indicates how the focus remains upon Japan’s suffering. Even in a discussion of the horrible wars that cost China twenty- to thirty million lives, the effects of economic belt-tightening at home are emphasized. Yet this plaque at least acknowledged the place of China and Korea in the larger story:
Throughout our in-country class, we’ve noticed that most signs for tourists appear in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese. And we’ve heard all of these languages spoken at various sights and sites. Regarding the atomic bomb, there is also a sub-plot in the museum about Korea’s victimization at the hands of Japan. There is also a special monument built to the Koreans who perished in the blast:
Taken as a whole, it would seem that students, tourists, and visitors of any sort are left to sort out the meaning of the museum, the park, and the various monuments in Hiroshima for themselves. While the preponderance of images of suffering and destruction focus the local Japanese, there are hints, texts, and suggestions sprinkled throughout the complex that suggest a reality about A-Bombs that is more difficult than simply declaring “no more Hiroshimas” in annual proclamations. As a history teacher, I hope that Hiroshima’s monuments and placards will continue to evolve until a more regional perspective can be presented.
Interestingly, the Shukkei-en, a large Japanese garden that was built by the Asano clan of “Chushingura” fame, has preserved even more evidence of the complexity of A-Bomb memory politics. This monument, which is sustained by the prefecture, invokes a story-line that is recounted in John Hersey’s book Hiroshima. Namely, that Japanese military and police authorities were quite slow to react to the bombing and help victims. Here is a sign at the “Shukkei-en,” presumably the “Asano Park” mentioned in Hersey’s book:
January 6th: Osaka Castle and the 4th Army divisional headquarters. Both built in 1931 w/public subscription. Osaka castle was originally the stronghold of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who is considered by most to be the unifier of Japan (ca. 1590). He also launched invasions of Korea and NE China in the 1590s, as did the Japanese Army in 1931. So there are linkages between the old division headquarters and the castle, though they are not apparent in the signage.
First photo for trip:
Between 600 and 1868 AD, the literary, religious, architectural, artistic and culinary elements of Japanese civilization were created, refined, and re-invented in tandem with a number of reconfigurations of Japan’s political structure. Over the course of these twelve centuries, before Japan’s political and economic center shifted eastward to Tokyo, most major developments occurred in western Japan, and revolved around the imperial courts in and around Kyoto.
This interim course will immerse students in the aesthetic and political history of a nation which gave the world its first novel, Zen Buddhism, epic war poetry, samurai castles, sushi, and a number of internationally admired performance and artistic traditions. Within Japan’s sometimes elaborate, and sometimes austere cultural structures, distinct codes of conduct and governance also flourished, and have survived well beyond the passing of the old feudal orders. Through a combination of directed readings, language study, site visits to major monuments, participation in cultural demonstrations, and lecture/discussion classroom activities, students will gain a basic grounding in this most complex and storied history.
While we are in Western Japan, we will also take a day trip to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Park and the sites related to the atomic-bomb attack. Below is a memorial to Hiroshima’s past as a departure point for naval vessels en route to East Asia theaters of war.