Seven Korean friends and I had the opportunity to travel to Hiroshima, Japan for a few days as part a peace exchange program called PAX. Our time was mostly spent hearing about the effects of the atomic bomb, meeting people involved in opposing nuclear proliferation, and checking out some cultural sites. Two stories from the trip stick out to me as small aha! moments I hope to carry with me going forward.
The first is from our first full day in town. Our guides took us to meet a woman named Kiyomi Kohno, who was living in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. She recounted her experience walking through town and witnessing the destroyed buildings, burned corpses, and fellow survivors trying to understand what happened. She shared some emotional and grotesque details, but the most captivating part of the story was the part she didn’t tell. She didn’t mention the United States—the ones who dropped the devastation she saw—even once. If one were from a different planet they might have thought she was describing the effects of a tragic natural disaster, not a catastrophic military strike. At the end of her presentation I asked why she didn’t mention the US or seem to hate us. Her answer was that she had once taken a trip to Hawaii and learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the pain her country caused on thousands of people. Essentially, she said she doesn’t carry anti-American feelings because she—this old lady who did nothing except have her home bombed—sees herself as both a victim and an offender of war. I don’t know that I’d be able to replicate the same kind of nuanced view if I experienced so much hell, which made it all the more powerful to hear from her.
On our second day we checked out an island called Miyajima, which had a ton of lazy deer and a neat temple. During our free time on the island I went to a cafe with a small group of people, including a few Japanese university students and their professor, Jim sensei. Jim and I began talking about how he came to Japan and how he got involved with PAX. We talked about young people involved in peace movements and how our host, The World Friendship Center, has a membership that is, well, older. While we were having this conversation about the need to keep young people involved in conversations about international conflict, violence, and power there were two young Japanese students sitting two feet across the table swiping through Instagram. Now, I totally love my Instagram account, and I realize they were probably as tired as everyone else after two long days, but if Korean idol groups and 애교 are the only things we can talk about then we may have a hard time developing deep empathy or courage to grapple with big problems. The thought I left our cafe with was that if young folks, from everywhere, don’t walk in the door as older generations walk out, we’re gonna have a problem. If young folks don’t show up to tell leaders like Shinzō Abe, Donald Trump, or Park Geun-hye that we’re paying attention then we forfeit the ability to shape the countries we live in.
I certainly hope this wasn’t my last trip to Hiroshima. Beyond the captivating history of the place, I felt deeply welcomed by our hosts and hope to visit them in their beautiful city again to see all the parts I didn’t get a chance to see!