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  • Kiana

Facing the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum With My Partner who is the United States Navy

I will be living in Nagasaki starting next year due to the transfer of my American partner, who works for the US Navy. His ship stopped at the Sasebo Port, so we decided to take a day trip to Nagasaki for the first time.

I had never been to either the Hiroshima or Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museums. On this day, I was scheduled to take the first flight to Nagasaki and then take the last flight back to Tokyo, so I only had half a day to stay. But before I moved to Sasebo, I wanted to visit the Atomic Bomb Museum. I wanted to go there and learn about each other's values. I wanted to know what I thought about it.

My partner grew up in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, home to a U.S. Marine Corps base, and has been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So he has seen and learned more about World War II than I have. I think I know much less about the atomic bomb than he does.

After eating a Sasebo burger and taking a breather, I looked at the city of Sasebo from Mt. Yumihari. It is a beautiful little town. From Sasebo, we went over the mountains and entered Nagasaki City.

The Atomic Bomb Museum is located in the center of Nagasaki City. If you look at the timeline drawn on the spiral-shaped slope and go back in time, you will be led to “Nagasaki on that day” in 1945. 

Photos of destroyed buildings, faceless statues of the Virgin Mary, and charred figures.

I went inside and met several of his ship's colleagues. He said there were several people he did not talk to, even though he worked with them on the same ship or fleet.

I was a little surprised. Surprise that was also happy and complicated. I was glad that they, Americans, were interested.But it was a little scary to find out what they came to see.

He asks, “What did you think?” every time he meets someone he knows.

They all looked at me, trying not to make any eye contact with me.

One said, “Just sad.”

Everyone else said nothing.

I knew he was asking the question for me, but I thought it was a little harsh. “Hey, you were asking them because you thought I was interested in what they thought, right? But, it's difficult for them to give their honest impressions in front of me, a Japanese person. So you don't have to ask. Just hearing your opinion is enough for me.”

He says, “Okay. If you say so, I won't ask anymore. It's certainly difficult to answer. But unfortunately, I think few people have the same opinion as me. By the way, what did you think?”

I...I wasn’t sure. “Like you, I think the enormous damage caused by the atomic bomb is very sad, and I can’t forgive that there were two atomic bombs. The grief, hatred, and suffering of the atomic bomb survivors and their families are immeasurable, and it should have never happened. But, I still don't know enough about the atomic bomb or whether there were other ways to end the war between Japan and the United States at the time. I'd like to think that they could have used something other than the atomic bomb, but I have no idea what Japan and the United States should have done.”

Although I couldn't tell him at the time, my position became more difficult because I became the wife of an American military man; I was no longer a person who should only think from a Japanese perspective. Especially being the wife of a military officer for the country that dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, I am now in a position where I should understand a little bit of both sides of the story. There is no easy answer because we know how different the two countries are.

I can’t find my answer yet. I do not have a clear opinion like my partner yet. However, I still want to find the answer, even though I do not know if there is an answer.

When I left the museum, I remembered something.

When I was in college, a political science professor told me this.“You know, people often ask if it’s fun to study history and research the past or if there is any progress that can be made. But I think like this: One can only learn from the past because no one knows the future. So we need to learn from the past as much as possible in hopes of never repeating if they are mistakes and recreating if they are wonderful things."

To see it as a mistake or a wonderful event is up to each person. Even though the atomic bomb killed hundreds of thousands of people and injured millions, it is an object of hatred to some, while it is a hero who brought the war to a quick end for others.

Everything may depend on how you perceive it, whether that be past mistakes or glories. But there is a meaning to learning about and facing history by thinking, “What do I think about this event?” and “What would I do if I were them?” 

Looking at the idyllic city of Nagasaki from Megane Bridge, I feel sad.I can’t believe there were days when this beautiful little town was covered by a mushroom cloud, resembling a world of death. 

My partner says, “I wonder if the atomic bomb is a bit similar to 3.11. Of course, the atomic bomb was caused by humans, specifically Americans. So there’s a clear difference in that, but I felt that it was an iconic or symbolic presence for the Japanese people. Because we all share the same sadness and it's something we don't want to repeat.I was also in Iwakuni on 3.11, so I understand since it remains as my own experience. Regarding the atomic bomb, though, I feel that I’ll never feel the same as the Japanese people no matter how much I think about it.I've also been to Hiroshima, and both Atomic Bomb Museums have a very similar feel to the 3.11 museums and exhibits I saw in Ishinomaki and Yuriage in Tohoku. How about for you?”

“I experienced 3.11 myself, so I still clearly remember that day. As for the atomic bombing, I have no family members who were survivors of the atomic bomb, so I can only imagine it. The atomic bomb, which only Japan experienced, and 3.11, which caused severe damage that shocked the entire world, may certainly be symbolic events for the Japanese people.For me, both are events that I should never forget and that I am afraid of forgetting. I am afraid of forgetting because I am afraid of repeating it. It might be an event like that for me.”

I will continue to think about this.Facing a sad event means feeling pain, as well as sadness, and thinking about it without an answer may leave you confused and questioning the point of thinking about it. Even so, if you can still think about things like the Days of Atomic Bombings every year, March 11th, or the anniversary of the end of World War II, I think that means that you are “facing” it in your way.

Written by Kiana

Translated by Rio Ishida

Edited by Emiru Okada

Graphics by Satomi Shikano


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