project hibakusha : a personal journey...

it's 5:45 in the morning and i can't sleep. i'm not sure if it's because i have ten million things going through my brain or because my body clock is all screwed up since returning from my trip to Japan and is lost somewhere in the pacific ocean. either way, i'm up and can't go to sleep!

my trip to Japan was in one word - incredible. amazing, fabulous and inspiring would work too. it was another whirlwind tour, my schedule wasn't quite as crazy as my midwest tour, but it was pretty close. i went to Tokyo, Obama, Nagasaki, Hiroshima and back to Tokyo in 13 days. this is my third trip to Japan, but my first trip outside of Tokyo. whoever thought of the JR Rail Pass is a genius!!!

while my first stop was Obama to do a story on the inauguration celebration there (i'll write about the Obama story in my next post), the main reason for my trip was to do research for my hibakusha project documenting the stories of the atomic bomb survivors.

after staying up all night filing my story and cramming in as much travel info as i could in a day in Obama, it was off to Nagasaki to visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum (NABM) and the Nagasaki Peace Park.

i had four minutes between connections in Hakata (Fukuoka) to catch the last train to Nagasaki. thank goodness trains in Japan run like clockwork and the gate agents know the schedules and platform numbers without even blinking. after 10 hours of riding the rails and a short taxi ride, i finally made it to my hotel just before midnight.

the next morning was cold, overcast and dreary which fit the mood for the things i was about to experience. i hopped on the tram and found my way to Peace Park and Hypocenter Park where the Hypocenter Monolith stood at ground zero.

on August 9, 1945, 500 meters above the monolith, the second atomic bomb was detonated, killing roughly 75,000 innocent men, women and children and injuring another estimated 75,000 people. everything within a 2.5 kilometer radius was destroyed.

as i stood there in silence and full of emotions, i couldn't imagine what that day must have been like, or the days and years that followed for those who survived. the trip to the NABM would soon answer some of those questions, but yet, so many remain. who were these people? what did they do? why the need for a second bomb?

after venturing over to Peace Park and seeing the Peace Statue and many of the 50+ statues and memorials on display, i spent the rest of the day at the NABM meeting people and looking through old photos of Nagasaki before and after the bombing.

i was surprised with the access i was given to people and photos considering i had no appointment, didn't know anybody and spoke little japanese. everyone was so accommodating. i spent so much time there, i didn't even make it to the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims which was right next door. not to worry though, i'll be going back.

the next day i was off to Hiroshima, where i actually had some meetings arranged thanks to Kaz Suyeishi, a hibakusha living in Torrance, who has been so helpful with this project and gave me the names and email addresses of people that spoke english. without her help, i don't think i could have accomplished half of what i did on this trip.

i had four days to spend in Hiroshima, mostly because of the timing and not being able to meet with people over the weekend. the pace was a little more relaxed visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

the Flame of Peace burns on, never to be extinguished until all nuclear warheads are destroyed, and a warm glow bathes the Cenotaph for the Atomic Bomb Survivors. visitors from near and far pause and pay their respects at the Cenotaph, where the names of every person who has died as a result of the bombing is kept. every year on August 6th during the Peace Memorial service, the crypt is opened, and the names of those who have passed away the preceding year are added and sealed away.

while much of my experience in Hiroshima was not as moving as Nagasaki, perhaps because Nagasaki prepared me for Hiroshima, a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims brought the whole experience close to home and left me yearning for more answers.

inside is the name of every person who died as the result of the bombing. you can search through the names and see a picture and profile information. my paternal grandfather emigrated from Hiroshima before the war, so i have family i have never met in the area. out of curiosity, i searched the registry and found out that six of my relatives were listed there. i knew the possibility existed, but seeing their names and faces on the screen was a little more than i was prepared for.

this project has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning, a whole new purpose. it is sooooo much more personal now. despite its enormity, there is no possible way i can stop now. the journey has begun.

i feel extremely grateful and lucky to have met many people on this trip that are just as dedicated as i am to telling the stories of the hibakusha. because of their support, their willingness to help (because there is no way i can do this on my own) and this new found connection of the bombings to my family, as unfortunate as that may be, i feel like this is what my 43 years of existence has led me to.

the 25 years of taking pictures and the countless hours volunteering and helping others has trained me well for the road ahead. i still don't know where my journey will lead, but i'll never know unless i go. so go i must.