During my last trip to Japan I actually only had 2 main goals, visit the Yasukuni Shrine + Yushukan and to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Site + Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Both made deep impressions on me, but I think the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum definitely did make the deepest impression.
Ok, before I get into details, let me explain a bit why I’m sharing this. 1) because everyone needs to know 2) because it was part of the research for my bachelor thesis. Until I graduated last summer, I was a student in Cultural Heritage & Museology. Which basically means I know a bit of information on a lot of topics concerning history, art, law, marketing, aesthetics, communication, housekeeping and well… everything concerning museums. During my studies I always pretty much skimmed through everything, I wasn’t a bad student, and it’s not that I didn’t like the course, I just wasn’t that invested (even though I loved my curriculum). I actually wasn’t really invested in anything, now I think of it.
And then there was this big, grand thing called ‘thesis’. And on this ‘thesis’ I would probably work for a year. So I knew it had to be something good. Something I could be invested in, and stay at it. So that’s kind of how I came to Japan. – I did a minor on another university, on the school of economics in Amsterdam, and it was called ‘Cross Cultural Business Skills’. So I was already very interested in the differences between cultures, and how to understand, handle and manage those. Which gave me the idea of researching ways of museum display in Japan. And the differences within the country. And more precisely: controversial or difficult heritage that brings out the different views from different cultures. And how we, as Dutch/European exhibition-makers, can learn from that. I don’t know what came over me to pick such a (interesting, but) difficult topic, but I absolutely loved it. Even during the times I thought I went mad. Looking back, everything was so worth it. And I guess here’s one of the explanations on how I am still working on the blogs for this trip that happened over a year ago, until summer I was working my butt off to get shit done.
You can look back on my short reflection from Yasukuni on the blog over here. But here I will dig deeper into the devastation of the atomic bomb, and how this museum shifted from the war and blaming people to explaining and showing how gruesome and inhumane the power of the atomic bomb was in Hiroshima – and how it is unacceptable for humanity to experience such devastation ever again.
That’s actually one thing I really, really like from their exhibition. The exhibition is really honest with you on those parts. I didn’t really experience it as “we, Japanese people, suffered because of the Americans!”, but more as a “we, human kind, suffered from terrible inventions!”. – And I guess that’s the museum’s strength, without playing victim, or blaming countries, or going into the right/wrong sides of history.
When you enter, you don’t really know what to really expect, you get into this semi-bright room with a few photographs of the mushroom cloud. And this actually puts you in the moment where the atomic bomb just happened. The room follows with a entryway that resembles ruins, get around the corner and you see melting people standing in the midst of the ruins (made from wax, yes not real people). Here the audiotour is a big plus to make your experience a little more close to home.
This room is followed by small personal items like a watch, a burnt bento box, etc. And a map of Hiroshima that gives an insight on how big the scope was of the atomic bomb. As well as a little background information on the bomb itself and where it came from. But you keep being pulled back by more and more personal items with stories from survivors about their kids, parents, siblings, friends who did not survive. Little tricycles, school uniforms, actual steps from a building that show someone’s ‘shadow’ from where they sat the moment the atomic bomb struck. And this is also the moment you feel how horrible, gruesome, awful the atomic bomb was. How many lives were destroyed. And it’s here where you see the people around you with tears in their eyes. And all of it hits you in the heart.
The museum continues to explain the force of the atomic bomb, how there was black rain, the aftermath and the story of Sadako. All with accompanying pictures, film, objects displayed as well as objects ‘free to touch’.
Until there is the end, in which you encounter this little story about the oleander. This flower was the first to bloom again on the destroyed grounds that had been supposed incapable of supporting life for 75 years. This sign gave hope and strength to the city residents as they poured their utmost efforts into rebuilding the city. It blooms in the summertime, especially around the time of the anniversary of the atomic bombing. The oleander is now the official flower of the city.
This is all my own opinion and experience, though. I have left some bits out for your own good. During the time I was visiting one of the parts of the museum was closed due to renovations (they’re reopening in spring 2018 – and I am actually thinking of going back by then). I massively recommend you to visit this museum if you’re ever have the chance.
After my visit I headed back to make dinner with Kumiko and I got to learn how to make super-tasty gyoza. But more on that in my next, and final, instalment of this series.
Part VII | | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII