There are a number of words that often arise when I speak of the power of travel. ‘Inspiring’ and ‘uplifting’ are the two that I find truly embrace the awe of travel; they capture the essence of our world’s sheer beauty, majesty, hospitality, tranquility, and ultimately, harmony.
On a few profoundly important occasions, however, the inspiration of travel is awakened not by the beauty of a place, but by the pain that it represents as a place of tragic history.
Recently, I experienced one of those hauntingly inspiring times on the island of Honsu, Japan, in a city covering only 350 square miles and home to 1.1 million people; the city of Hiroshima. Even saying the name evokes a certain chill. This relatively-small (in Asian terms), million-strong city was effectively wiped off the map during World War II.
Hiroshima, once steeped in centuries of culture and tradition, has evolved to become a city of the future; though its past still haunts the present, never freeing itself from the terrors it experienced over half a century ago. Nor should the past be forgotten, because to forget the tragedy inflicted on Hiroshima would be to lose the painful lessons of just how far we as a human race can come to destroying the future of all that we hold dear.
Today, at the heart of the city, stands the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park which commemorates the fateful events of 1945. A ‘must see’ for any visitor to the city, it was there that I found the ruins of Genbaku Dome. As I stood in front of the Dome, also known as the A-Bomb Dome, everything which my eyes, ears and heart took in, served as a poignant reminder of the sobering reality of the harrowing ramifications of war. Standing before the ruins on a very warm, cloudless morning, I reflected on what life must have been like for those fighting around the world in one of the worst wars of our times. Within those noisy thoughts, I pondered the reality at that time, for residents of this city to be looking up as death fell swiftly down from the sky, and our whole world was changed in an instant.
As I contemplated all that was there right in front of me, it became obvious that this diverse destination, a city that has literally risen from the ashes, should be an inspiration to us all. To visit Hiroshima today is to see the infrastructure of life rebuilt, and it is truly inspiring. I saw examples of this when visiting other sites, such as Hiroshima Castle, a fortress surrounded by a moat and a park, and Shukkei-en, a formal Japanese garden, both of which have been restored to their former glory. Though what I found to be even more remarkable in its inspiration was to see how the spirit of the people has been rebuilt, stronger than ever.
This rebuilding required the faith and fortitude of the Japanese people. It also required a global effort which, at that moment and in that place, re-instilled in me a sense of shared responsibility; one that asks us to stare directly in the eye of history and demands that we do things differently so as to stop such tragedy and suffering from ever occurring again.
The past is present in any society; it shapes a sense of identity, purpose and possibility, shadows stretching long into our future, carrying the lessons of yesterday that we need to strengthen tomorrow.
Despite being newly built, the appreciation of the beauty and history of Hiroshima abounds. The country as a whole is a showcase of living heritage, with its vast landscapes accented by its rich expressions of history. Equally so, Japan’s skylines reveal a country is at the forefront of all that is shaping the future of technology, design, food and fashion.
Arigatō, Japan. Thank you, Hiroshima.