A few weeks ago I took a weekend trip to the city of Hiroshima. The purpose was, as the city promotes itself as an international center of peace and anti-nuclear sentiment, to garner a true appreciation of nuclear threat. Little did I know how relevant this trip would turn out to be.
The city nowadays shows little sign of its tragic past, though it is more spacious than other Japanese cities of its size, for obvious reasons. A beautiful park stands in the center of the city, in the place where the A-bomb went off, which was once the bustling city center. At the edge of the Memorial Peace Park and along a branch of the river stands the famous Hiroshima “A-Bomb Dome”, and across from that, the monument dedicated to the memory of Sadako Sasaki and other children killed by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
If you have not heard the story of 12-year-old Sadako and her thousand paper cranes, I highly suggest looking it up. The young Sadako seemingly escaped the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing unscathed at the age of 2, but was discovered to have developed radiation-induced leukemia by the age of 12. An ancient Japanese story says that anyone who can fold a thousand paper cranes will be granted a wish by a crane. Sadako folded over one thousand cranes in her hospital bed, each with a wish to live. However, she died within a year of her diagnosis.
The final attraction of the Memorial Peace Park is the museum. Inside it is divided into two sections, one detailing the city of Hiroshima, its development from its founding up to the bombing and why it was chosen as a target, and the other detailing the toll of the destruction and the impact on human lives. What makes this museum particularly legitimate is its entrance fee: 50 Yen, the equivalent of 1 US dollar per person.
While the section of the museum that extols on the city is fascinating in its own right, the real “juice” in my opinion was the latter section. The collection of personal items, photos and debris gathered and preserved bring the viewer uncomfortably close to the human element of the tragedy. Displaying clothes to melted roof tiles to sections of preserved leukemia-filled bone marrow, the Memorial Museum, no matter how full of people, is perpetually quiet.
And finally, what is most relevant to those of us in Japan right now:
This brings me to current events. Before I continue, let me be clear: the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are very different from the current nuclear reactor crisis in northeastern Japan. However I will say, even though the bombs were designed to destroy and the plants were designed with several safety redundancies, in both cases uranium and plutonium have been used. These are radioactive and dangerous, and ties between them are undeniable.
That being said, the current nuclear crisis affecting over 6 Japanese reactors has put one of the only nations to have ever known nuclear fallout into an understandable state of panic (the others being Ukraine and much of Europe after the Chernobyl disaster, of which I know too little about to speak of with any authority at this time). And all of this after the 5th largest earthquake recorded in over 100 years and a tsunami that wiped out entire towns.
People are panicked. Food and supplies that are desperately needed in the disaster zone are disappearing from shelves up north, and droves are fleeing Tokyo by train or air. And while out where I live people still keep their firm Japanese calm in place, they nervously check the news. They whisper. They wait.
But for what?
As an American citizen, I cannot have faith in any kind of government and still claim to possess a single brain cell. And though I may personally find Japan to be more (shall I say) honorable than many other countries, my almost natural (and hard-earned) suspicions of government communication have me on the alert. They can’t be telling us the whole story.
So for me it comes down to this question: what shall I do? If (or rather when) a reactor blows, I don’t want to be downwind. Luckily the wind is currently blowing east and out to sea, where it will disperse before harming anyone on the North American continent, but that can change at any moment.
They say it can be controlled, and they say that radiation levels outside of a certain radius are not harmful to human health. But one reactor after another has either exploded or caught on fire – and it is difficult not to conclude that the Japanese government is trying to keep people from panicking. Experts from around the world ensure us that nothing extremely bad can happen.
People can speculate about how safe radiation levels are from across oceans in their university chairs, but I’m HERE now. When it comes to the reality of harm to one’s own person, the speculation of others from far away is often hardly worth a damn.
I don’t plan on leaving the country. There is a chance that I don’t need to be worrying so much, especially since I myself am not an expert on anything nuclear. I am not panicked. But the potential prospect of contracting leukemia in 15 years or telling my deformed children why they turned out they way they did is not appealing to me. Right now I can only hope for the best.
It may be a few years until another museum dedicated to disaster and nuclear tragedy is built in the country of Japan, but I can only hope that this is a lesson to the rest of the world to put aside plans for nuclear energy. Thirty one countries operate nuclear power stations, and many have plans to build more. It is just a bad idea. You can’t get rid of the stuff – ever. You have to bury it and hope it will go away in a few million years. And if something goes wrong politically in any country that operates plants, what happens to those plants? Who will man them? These are not risks, in the interest of the environment or humanity, to be taking. As of right now, I hope this ends soon so we can get back to concentrating on helping those who really need the help.
Ultimately, I do not and will not ever regret coming to Japan. A terrible series of events like this could happen anywhere at any time, so I cannot partake in any woulda-coulda-shouldas. Japan is a wonderful country that has opened up so many doors of opportunity for me, and greatly added to my life. I can see my poor mother now – chiding me for leaving her safe country town in Middle-of-Nowhere America to go out into the dangerous world, but despite these events, I would still say to her: sorry. I’d rather die alive than live dead.