Hiroshima Part 3: Peace Ceremony

September 29, 2010

I’m not sure how the Hiroshima Peace Ceremony became such a must-see event for me. It’s something I’ve wanted to see in-person long before I knew I’d be coming to Japan…a little strange since my birthday happens to fall on August 6 as well and it wouldn’t exactly be the happiest way to spend the day. I had been planning to go to Hiroshima on this day ever since I found out I’d be teaching here and I was hellbent on keeping that part of my schedule. And here I was…on my 23rd birthday, waking up extra early in the morning to go to the ceremony. Also, to get far away from the manga cafe and it’s so-so chair.

As evidenced by discovering every hotel in the city had no open rooms the day before, lots of people were just as determined as I to go to the park. Not deterred by what might have been the hottest day of the summer, these souls crowded towards the tram station to make their way down to the park. The line for the ride wasn’t too intimidating…I’ve seen longer waits for Splash Mountain…but it still outdid whatever wait we’d experienced the day before. We shuffled onto the packed tram, and stood for the entire commute.

People going to the park

People going to the park

Unsurprisingly, the park was packed with people inching towards where the formal ceremony would be hold. Japanese people and obvious tourists…I see ya, fannypacks…made up the majority of this wave of humanity. Yet the ceremony also brought out plenty of activists and protesters who wanted to sell some platform to the large number of people in Hiroshima. Some pushed religion, virtually throwing pamphlets using the atomic bombing as a gateway to whatever faith they subscribed to into passersby’s hands. Others focused on political movements, ranging from “lets get rid of all nuclear weapons” to more nationalistic ideas like “give Japan an actual army yo” or “get the fuck out America” (my words, not theirs). Most people moved by them as quickly as possible and beelined to the main area.

The main seating area was already full by the time we arrived…made up mostly of people who had reserved spots or folks who must have gotten here stupid early…so we settled on watching the ceremony from the side, in a spot surrounded by trees but very little shade. Even from our spot, we could see the majority of the white stage and, though each speaker looked like a raisin from where we were, could hear everything well (ignoring the fact the majority of it was in Japanese). The actual ceremony lasted one hour and featured a lot of speeches in Japanese, a message from two adorable school kids urging the world to stop stockpiling nuclear weapons and a moment where a bunch of pigeons were released into the air.

This year’s ceremony, the 65th since the attack, ended up being historic. It was the first time representatives from countries with nuclear weapons – France, Russia, England, America, a few others…attended the ceremony. It also marked the first time the United Nations Secretary-General came to the ceremony, and Ban Ki-moon actually took to the podium and delivered a speech (the only one in English on the day). It was a solid speech – about how the world needs to get rid of nuclear weapons etc. etc.

U.N. Secretary-General

U.N. Secretary-General

An hour after we had arrived, it was over and the mass of people streamed out of the park. Plenty of other mini-memorials were happening around the park…including a “parade of flags” deal where I ended up holding the flag of Burma, but it’s all sorta a blur now…along with tiny rallies. Yet it was far too hot to spend too much time exploring these various events. We stayed a bit, ate and left in the early afternoon, one major thing off of my Japanese checklist.

(Japanese Fun Fact #80 – Vitamin Water just got released here so I see the stuff everywhere…well, in the city at least. Glad Japan can experience sugar water too!)

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