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Japan on $1000/day
Day 1: Sticker Shock
Day 2: Among the Dead & Dying (Fish)
Day 3: Budda & Broken English
Day 4: Magic Toilets & Poisonous Fish
Day 5: Aircraft and Elevators
Sidebar: An Attitude of Quality
Day 6: Squirming Shrimp & Karaoki
Day 7: Pirate Ships & Long Flat Silver
Day 8: Country Inn at City Prices
Day 9: The Inside Scoop
Day 10: Hot in Hiroshima
Day 11: Castles in the Sky
Day 12: Where the Deer & Bon Jovi Play
Day 13: Doom
Day 14: The Summer Cottage
End: Have Toilet, Will Travel
Japan on $1000 per Day

Day 10: Hiroshima

The last thing I would have expected that day was to end up in Hiroshima, but that is exactly what happened.
kurashiki   Kurashiki, where we had stayed overnight, rates high in the guidebooks because of its old town. It has a different, more Mediterranean architecture that Takayama or Kyoto, drawing more than 2 million visitors a year. With that kind of turist influx, there is not a lot of spirit in Kurashiki, even if there are a lot of souvenir stands and soda fountains. It also did not help our receptiveness that we were once again in 150° weather. By late morning, we were ready to retire to our hotel room and our very best friend, the air conditioner, except said air conditioner was just a bit undersized for the task at hand. (It was now 175°.)

We fled to the one cool place we could always depend on in Japan: The bullet train. In a matter of minutes, in desperation, we had climbed aboard the very first train that stopped and were speeding Eastward, no, Westward toward, now let me see... Ah, yes, Hiroshima.

Everyone who had visited Japan had told us to go to Hiroshima. "It was so moving. I cried my eyes out." "Gosh, it was wonderful. I just sat there and sobbed." Just my idea of a great time. My old friend Morris had had a lot to say about Hiroshima, but most of it was aimed at the fact that after reading all the placards that line the Peace Memorial Museum, it was impossible to tell that Japan had had any responsibility for World War II at all. I really did want to see how they worked their way out of this one.

On August 6, 1945, at 8:30 in the morning, the Enola Gay, an American B-29, nosedived toward Hiroshima, then pulled into a sharp climb before releasing the bomb upwards, turning the world’s first atomic bomb fired in anger into a pop fly that eventually detonated at 1900 feet above the city. (The strange release procedure gave the aircraft extra time to flee the scene.) 75,000 people died and a large percentage of the city was flattened. The shells of a handful of concrete buildings did survive the blast, including the Industrial Promotion Hall that had laid at Ground Zero. The Peace Memorial Park, with its museum, has been built with the Industrial Promotion Hall as its point of focus.


Having now studied the placards in Peace Memorial Museum in some detail, I am now prepared to say that yes, indeed, there was a war. Japan was in it. Japan did not want to be in it. There had been some trouble in Manchuria, and it appeared that either some Chinese shot themselves with Japanese guns, or some kind of soldiers that may have been from Japan actually shot them. The passive voice made it a bit unclear. Then, someone launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. We don’t have any idea who. But we do know that after the attack that Japan was "inescapably drawn into war with America."

We also know that among the reasons the Americans dropped the bomb on Hiroshima was that the US military wanted to find out just exactly how much damage their new toy could actually cause, and, to prove it, they display one of the radio-telemetry instrument packages released by the Enola Gay’s two companions for just this purpose. Way to go, guys.

There are a few facts not in dispute that I think can help put the bombing of Hiroshima in perspective:

By the time of Hiroshima, we had bombed just about every other Japanese city out of existence. Still, the Japanese were showing every sign of fighting us hand to hand for every inch of Japanese soil. In fact, the Japanese leaders had called for "100 million glorious deaths" during the expected American invasion. It was a situation not unlike the Black Knight in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie who, after one of his arms is hacked off by his opponent claims, "it’s only a flesh wound," and who eventually ends up just a head, lying on the path, still claiming he’s perfectly fit to fight and if his opponent weren’t such a coward, he was stay and continue.

According to the Peace Memorial Museum, by this late stage in the war, Hiroshima was very much a military target, with its entire harbor and most of its industry given over to the war effort.

On the other hand, the American military had a new weapon it was just dying to try out. Truman wanted to end the war before the Russians could move in, and he probably wanted to scare the hell out of the Russians, too. We had a lot of bad reasons for wanting to bomb Hiroshima. Our motives were less than pure. In hindsight, it was probably pretty foolish of us to use the bomb at all. We might have succeeded to causing a surrender just be inviting them out to watch us remove forever some uninhabited island off the coast of Japan. Some will argue that such a strategy wouldn’t have worked. Had we tried it, we would know. Since we didn’t try it, we’ll never know.

It was probably completely unnecessary to destroy Nagasaki. It appears now the main reason the Japanese didn’t surrender right away after they figured out we had the bomb was that they had no procedure for surrender. And in Japan, if there is not procedure for something, you have to develop a procedure, and that takes a lot of meetings and a fair piece of time. Considering they didn’t even know what hit them until someone discovered the X-Ray film stored in the basement of the hospital had been mysteriously exposed, they only had a few days to even realize what was going on before Nagasaki disappeared without a trace.

More tons of TNT were released on Dresden, Germany, than the A-bomb equivalent in Hiroshima, Japan. In the American air raids on Tokyo on the March 9 and 10, 1945, more than 80,000 people were killed, and over 1 million were left homeless, with far more property damage than in Hiroshima. In the final analysis, Hiroshima has received so much attention not because of the quantity of the damage, but because nuclear weapons, like chemical and biological weapons, are not fashionable. (Thank God.)

The Hiroshima A-Bomb was a tiny little thing. Today’s multiple-warheads are thousands of times more potent. The museum that would open after a similar attack today would not show a map of destruction limited to the central portion of a single small city, it would show destruction spread across the entire Southern half of Japan. And the land would be too radioactive for the museum to open there for around 1000 years.

Any feelings of superiority at America's natural tendency toward openess and lack of denial were shattered only a year later when the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D. C. anounced they would be putting the Enola Gay on public display. Attempts to tell a "neutral" story of why and how we bombed the city were met with outcry, and the placards that eventually appeared on the USA exhibit were missing any hint of criticism of our decision to bomb.

Previously: Day 9: The Inside Scoop: What really goes on in Japan from insiders who lived there.

Next month: Day 11: Castles in the Sky

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