Hiroshima Injects Lessons of History Into Asian Games
HIROSHIMA, Japan (AP) _ Nestled unobtrusively at the edge of a bustling shopping district amid department stores and multifloored parking ramps stands a dull gray monument to one of mankind’s worst moments.
The monument marks ground zero, where nearly 50 years ago a fireball erupted from the still airborne ″Little Boy″ atomic bomb, instantly turning Hiroshima into a hell of carnage and flame.
Though it is once again a thriving, growing city, such reminders of Hiroshima’s near total devastation in the world’s first atomic bomb attack are hard to miss.
But as Hiroshima plays host to thousands of athletes and dignitaries here for Asia’s version of the Olympics, it is going out of its way to make sure its anti-nuclear message is heard.
″We have an important message, and we want as many people to hear it as possible,″ said Hajime Fukumoto, administrative director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
Fukumoto said the city and Asian Games organizers have arranged 10 different tour courses to introduce Games participants to Hiroshima’s horrible past, and have printed pamphlets with Hiroshima’s pleas for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Most of the tours include visits to the museum, which features photo displays, artifacts and grisly reproductions of what the city looked like after the bomb fell on Aug. 6, 1945, killing some 140,000 people and injuring or irradiating hundreds of thousands more.
Fukumoto said 1.4 million people visited the museum last year, with as many as 10,000 coming on ″a good day.″
Many of the countries participating in the Games fought against invasion or occupation by Japan’s army during World War II, and have criticized postwar Japan’s government for not facing its militarist past.
In one particularly bitter example, Korean residents of Hiroshima at the time of the blast were long denied recognition as victims by Japanese officials putting up monuments to the dead after the war. Hundreds of Koreans held a memorial ceremony in Hiroshima on Sunday.
But lingering rancor toward the Japanese government does not seem to keep foreign visitors to the museum from sympathizing with the tragedy of Hiroshima.
″Unforgettable,″ was how one, Andrew Gladstone of Australia, described it in a book kept near the exit for visitors to sign. ″The displays were touching, horrible,″ wrote a woman from Hong Kong.
Just beyond the museum is Hiroshima’s Peace Park, a patchwork of greenery, statues and cenotaphs to the dead. In one gully stands the Children’s Peace Monument. Nearby is the Monument to the Employees of the Hiroshima Post Office.
On Sunday, before attending the Asian Games opening ceremony, International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch laid a wreath before a flame at the center of the park.
Not all of Hiroshima’s 900,000 residents are happy to have the Games, a sports extravaganza with nearly 5,000 athletes from 42 countries and territories, in their midst.
Outside the city’s most poignant symbol, the skeleton of a bomb-blasted government building now known as the ″A-Bomb Dome,″ dozens of leftists demonstrated Sunday against Hiroshima’s role as host and the presence of Emperor Akihito at the Games’ opening.
Japan’s soldiers fought in the name of Akihito’s father, the late Emperor Hirohito, and many left-wing groups believe the government and the royal family have never really atoned.
Leftists, and many mainstream Japanese as well, are also concerned by Tokyo’s dispatch of troops to assist in United Nations missions in Cambodia, Mozambique and, just last week, Zaire. Some see the missions as an excuse to revive Japan’s military.
″It is absolutely unforgivable for these people, with their militarist designs, to hold the Asian Games in this city,″ the leader of a group called the Workers’ League yelled into a loudspeaker as plainclothes police stood by.