After dropping my rucksack off at the hostel, I took a stroll downtown. On my way to the Prefectural Museum for an exhibit on how artists have faced war, I came upon a peace memorial at the Noboricho Junior High school. This was the high school 12 year old Sadako Sasaki wanted to attend but could not. She died of leukaemia as a result of the atomic bomb. Each year on October 25th, a paper crane is placed on the top of the granite block in memory of Sadako.
When she was in the hospital, Sadako began folding paper cranes. She had heard that if a person folds a thousand cranes their wish would come true. After Sadako’s death the paper crane became a symbol of peace, that no longer would youth be wasted on the provocation of war.
Later as I browse through literature in the Prefectural Museum shop I found a book written by a woman who was hospitalized along with Sadako. She was 14 when she met Sadako, and unfortunately, I am not able to find her name. This book had an accompanying CD and was part of a bilingual children’s book series. In it the author details the process of making cranes. Unlike many accounts of Sadako’s story that say she was not able to complete one thousand cranes before her death, this first hand account states this inaccuracy as well as detailing that Sadako had completed a thousand folds and had begun a second round.
In the epilogue, the author reported much hesitation in constructing narrative about Sadako’s life. This section was compelling to me because it highlighted the difficulty of composing an accurate testimony of a horrific event. The author was 14 when she lost a friend. Together, they had folded over a thousand cranes each. To her dismay, her identity as having shared the same room as Sadako made her a source for information on Sadako’s life. She became an instant public figure. Numerous publishers approached her to write Sadako’s memoir, but she could not bring herself to do so.
Only after a passionate and empathetic female publisher’s persistent encouragement did she take up the task to its completion. At the time, she was diagnosed with cancer and this spurred her determination, as well as sparked fears that she would not finish. In the past, she had tried writing about Sadako but it was never easy.
Walking from the Prefectural Museum to the Atomic Bomb Dome, I came upon several plaques stating their distance from the hypocentre, where the bomb fell. A sense of dread set in as these numbers decreased. When I visited the Kyoto Peace Museum I learned that 90% of people within a one kilometre radius of the hypocentre died. Along the way, with the help of a guide map for peace-related facilities, I came upon hospitals, and trees that were restored or survived the bomb blast.
The effects of the radiation in living bodies haunts those currently alive. Numerous abomb victims, or hibakusha, become increasingly outspoken about their experiences after decades of feeling ashamed.
Many students were mobilized for the war effort, I came across memorials for over 70,000 students who perished or suffered from radiation poisoning. These students helped out in many ways, one particular instance was how Hijiyama Girls’ High School Students mobilized for the war effort at a semi-underground facility relayed the news of Hiroshima’s catastrophe. After the bomb destroyed telephone and telegraph lines, they used a barely intact phone system to communicate with the world. This is thought to be the first report of the atomic bombing. Photos of this military bunker, along with a memorial for students are in the slide show below.