Every year, on this day, August 6th, newspapers and media outlets write a piece on Hiroshima. On the first Atomic Bomb used outside of testing. On the first Atomic Bomb used on civilians. On the first Atomic Bomb that killed upwards of 100,000 people in matters of seconds and minutes. On the first Atomic Bomb that was followed by the first ever second Atomic Bomb to be used outside of testing. On the first second Atomic Bomb that killed nearly as many people. On the first Atomic Bomb to be dropped on Nagasaki, only 3 days later, on August 9th.
It is a day to Remember. A span of 3 days that must be remembered.
It is now 74 years since that happened, but the memory of it is still very much alive. Maybe it’s because the vividness of a memory is directly proportional to its gravity, to its magnitude.
74 years on and I Discover through Photography. I learn that Wayne Miller, a late Magnum photographer was in Hiroshima a month after the dropping of the “Little Boy“; the friendly name given to the Atomic bomb used in Hiroshima. “Fat Man” was used on Nagasaki.
Here are a few of Miller’s photos.
A few things strike me when viewing the photos above. The first is that they are all square format, which have always been popular even before Instagram. Secondly, the strong contrast between lights and darks. I feel it’s synonymous with the blast. A ubiquitous beam of incandescent light followed by darkness. The light and dark tension creates forms and shapes within the photos that make the viewers both focus and jump around.
The viewer will focus on the lightest part of the image. Therefore anything that is dark, almost black, just pushes the eyes away. The light pulls, the dark pushes. This makes it an easier photo to look at, although the subject is everything but easy. Also, this strong contrast gives way to strong lines, defined contours, which hold the pieces together. Like a block puzzle.
To help me write this post I’m listening to music that quite frankly, I’m not a fan of. It is a simple traditional folk instrumental playlist found on Youtube. If you’re in the mood for something a little different why not try it.
But the music does help me travel back to that day. Those 24 hours. I also feel like remembering. Some of the best 24 hours of my life. Hard to say those words with everything I just wrote above, I know. But the Memory is there, the Respect is also there, and yes, we had a great time.
The Crew is back.
It’s 73 years later. August 25, 2018 we leave Kyoto and head to Hiroshima. We are scheduled to stay there for one night. Guesthouse Santiago, with two separate rooms, both with bunk beds, shared bathrooms, and a common area where we kick off the night with a couple of beers and cigarettes.
The sun is setting. The Japanese architecture captures my eye. Blocks, window slits, orange on blue colors.
My wife and the guy that booked this guesthouse start looking for a place to eat on their phones. They locate the Izakaya. We move.
We show up and the waiter, host, all around entertainer, tells us they are full. We don’t give up. We use Google Translate to tell him that we really want to try that restaurant. Or something like that. He takes us upstairs. Surprise. It’ s a pub. There is no one there aside from the barman. He tells us to wait here. He’ll come back when a table frees up downstairs. We’re in the money. 4 beers. We drink them. He comes back up and tells us to go down.
The communication continues.
We choose a table.
At that point we tell our host, which then became two hosts, to do as they see fit. They are given carte-blanche. I’m smiling just remembering what happened that night in that small, tiny, Izakaya.
The beers were flowing, the sake as well. Filled to the rim and with a little overflow, caught by a cube cup holder. Genius.
The food is also trickling in. As we had experienced thus far, perfectly presented that just by looking at it one of the senses was already appeased. At that point engaging your taste buds was a mere addition to the experience. Sublime.
The night moves on. Swiftly. We drink, eat, laugh, smoke, repeat, repeat repeat. A couple of hours in and we become the hit of the night. Not one person speaks English but we all communicate. We all sit together around our small table of four. Our co-host shows us pink bunnies and baseball on his phone. Who knows what we were talking about.
Other guests are at our table feeding us.
And here he is. The man of the hour. The man who made this night unforgettable; with the aid of his friendly aid. The Bandana Brothers.
The night ends with them bringing us some rice and curry to help soak up the alcohol. We walk 5 minutes back to the guesthouse and crash.
I remember it. The emotions make me remember it. The photos help to spark up the emotions. They are the catalyst. They are the dark emotions in Wayne Miller’s case. They are in the light ones in my case.
The next morning we wake up. We aren’t feeling all that fresh, as you can imagine. We’re in for a rude awakening.
We grab breakfast and head to see the Genbaku Dome, or Atomic Bomb Dome. The Ōta River brings us there. We are waking up a lot quicker than any other morning with a hangover.
The closer we get the more the memory becomes alive. The memory of the countless hours on History books at school.
As we continue to walk around we encounter a volunteer, a person that shares his story. He was an in utero survivor of the Atomic bomb. He had a booklet with much of the info you can probably find elsewhere online. Just that now you had context. You could imagine what it meant for an Atomic bomb to be dropped there. You could visualize the photos of the pre-destruction juxtaposed to the ones after.
As we cross the Aioi Bridge we head to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. We ring the Peace Bell. We walk through the park and arrive at the Memorial Cenotaph and the Hiroshima Pond of Peace.
We visit the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims and read some of the people’s stories. Then move on to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
[Continued caption] … Several bereaved families have suggested that one of their family members may have created the shadow.
Time’s almost over. We have to get back to the guest house, retrieve our bagpacks, grab a bus, head to the train station and jump on the bullet train back to Tokyo. We walked through the city, through light and shadow.
Black and white, light and shadow may be mutually exclusive but they do coexist. The dark may push your attention to the light, like in Miller’s photos above, or my street scene above. Contrarily, a light memory like ours pushed us to appreciate the more somber one that would have come about just the next morning. The memory of such a horrific day can coexist with the memory of laughter, friendship, and Google translate.
Might there be tension between them? Yes, but simply acknowledging both sides can give balance. To a photo. To memory.
Until Next Time,
P.S. Guess who went to Los Alamos to see where the Atomic Bomb was designed and tested? We’ll talk about that in another post.