I returned a couple days ago from a week of traveling around western Japan, specifically Hiroshima and Kyoto, as well as a number of smaller, less known locations. As I walked around various memorials, shrines, etc., I wished that I could have blogged about it all at the moment. But the thought of doing so with my thumb on an iPhone didn't appeal to me. So even though this is a bit late, I'd like to share some of my thoughts on these experiences.
Why Kyoto and Hiroshima?
Although all my English students warned me that Kyoto and Hiroshima are just too hot to visit in the summer, I chose to visit these cities because I love history -- I was a history major in college. Both cities have rich, long histories; perhaps Hiroshima's earlier history is now overshadowed by the atomic bomb, but this is arguably the most significant moment in their history.
As a lover of history, I've long wanted to visit Hiroshima. I often thought that I would experience feelings of American guilt, or awkwardness just for being an American in Hiroshima. However, I really felt like I assume everyone else did: somber at the thought of so many lives lost in an instant. Genbaku Dome
Visiting the Genbaku A-Bomb Dome was a bit surreal. The decimated skeleton of the building was both haunting and oddly beautiful, especially after sunset. The sight demands quiet, solemn respect. My thoughts went to the horror of the moment when the atomic bomb exploded, vaporizing many victims near the hypocenter, and sending out a shockwave of heat, fire, and radiation that killed approximately 80,000 people on August 6, 1945 (an additional 60,000 died by the end of that year). Eternal Sadness The monuments, memorials and the peace park as a whole were created with respect and intended to help the world remember the victims and the horror of that terrible day. Monuments to the victims wish them peaceful repose. Many visitors can be observed praying to these victims, and even leaving bottles of water for them. Yet in this land where so few know the God of heaven and earth, a deep sadness filled me with the knowledge that very few of the bomb victims are truly resting in eternal peace. How very sad to know that not even death could bring an end to their suffering on that day. How very sad to know that the same is true for people all over the world when they do not trust in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation. Nuclear Free World?
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum tells the story of Hiroshima in World War II and the atomic bomb. I was a bit surprised that it does tell (although not in depth) the story of Japan's aggression and atrocities against its enemies, particularly against the city of Nanking as well as the forced labor of Koreans and the attack on Pearl Harbor. It vividly reveals the effects of the atomic bomb on the city and on the people. Perhaps a quarter of the museum personalizes some of the victims, telling their names and their stories -- where they were when the bomb detonated, what they were doing, and the resulting physical effects which was often death, but sometimes survival. This section of the museum was particularly sad. The last quarter of the museum was dedicated to the elimination of all nuclear weapons. While I can certainly understand why the people of Hiroshima would advocate a nuclear free world, I believe it to be a very naive stance. Practically speaking, with the proliferation of nuclear weapons among radical, even terrorist nations, the USA must retain its nuclear weapons as a deterrence to these nations. Humanists hope that the citizens of earth will evolve into a peace-loving world. As a Christian, I know that until Christ returns at the end of this age, sin will remain, and wars will continue. A nuclear free world would be a wonderful thing, but it will not be something we see on this earth; we will see it in heaven where there will be no tears, no pain, and no weapons of any kind.
My Thoughts on the Use of the A-Bombs
Although it may not be a popular opinion, especially here in Japan, I believe that the use of atomic weapons was necessary and was ultimately beneficial for both the USA and for Japan. The battles in Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and many other Pacific islands had demonstrated that the Japanese soldiers would not surrender, but fight to the last man. In fact, when it became apparent to military leaders that defeat was imminent, they ordered all of their soldiers and their civilians to commit suicide. They were told that Americans would torture and cannibalize anyone they caught alive. Those who did not kill themselves were killed by their own countrymen. Had America not used the atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war would have continued for many more months or possibly years. Fighting on the mainland of Japan would have been more fierce than on the remote islands, and would have claimed thousands, perhaps millions of lives -- far more than those who died from the atomic bombs. Additionally, following Germany's surrender, the Soviet Union had declared war on Japan. Had they actually entered into the battle in Japan, their influence would have split Japan like it did Germany, and millions more would have died in Soviet gulags. The atomic bombs were awful. The American motivation to use them specifically on Japan, and not on Germany, was racist. But I believe their use saved more lives than they took.
From Mortal Enemies to Closest Allies
Since I first visited Japan, I have been amazed how Japanese society loves all things American. This is even true in Hiroshima where I saw more US flag shirts than anywhere but a Fourth of July party in America. While I think it is a little sad that they idolize American culture, it is also telling of the respect that the Japanese quickly gained for America in the days following World War II. The horror stories they were told by their leaders of American savagery were quickly defused by the compassion of the American soldiers. Not all Japanese people love America, and there have been some ugly situations, especially between a few American soldiers and the Japanese civilians. But overall, Japan and America are very close allies and friends. That is amazing considering all that transpired just sixty-six years ago.
Final Comment on the A-Bomb
Perhaps adding to a sense of surrealism is the fact that I lived one year in the city of Los Alamos, New Mexico, the birthplace of the atomic bomb. Surrounded by incredible natural beauty, it is a city with a controversial history. Yet it played a crucial role in the Allied victory and ironically in the establishment of one of the greatest international alliances in modern history. Los Alamos and Hiroshima are worlds apart in so many ways. And yet they each played a role in bringing together our two great nations.
Hiroshima Outside the Bomb
More than 500 years old, and with a population of more than a million people, Hiroshima is a city worth knowing outside of its World War II role. It has great natural beauty in nearby mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and nearby islands. The city was modernized after the war with wider streets and beautiful parks. And the city has people who are friendly and helpful. It is a wonderful city!
A short twenty minute ferry ride from the port of Hiroshima is the island of Miyajima. It is best known for it's Torii gate (an orange-red wooden gate common at Shinto shrines) which is built out in the water. It was a beautiful scene. And yet it was built in honor of false gods. The island has a rope-way cable car to bring visitors near the top of Mount Misen. It offered incredible views of the island, Hiroshima, the Seto Inland Sea, and many other nearby islands. It was sobering to think that this entire island is considered holy in the Shinto religion. Only a very small handful of the island residents know the God who created the beauty surrounding them. Kyoto - City of Temples
After a day trip to the island of Shikoku and the city of Matsuyama, where I toured one of Japan's oldest castles and experienced the oldest onsen in Japan, I arrived in the former capital of Japan, Kyoto. A beautiful, historic city, Kyoto was spared from American bombs during World War II because Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who had honeymooned in Kyoto, prevailed upon FDR and Truman to spare the city from conventional bombs and to remove it as the first target of the atomic bomb. As a result, the city has far more historic buildings, temples, and shrines than any other Japanese city -- more than 2,000 temples and shrines, in fact. By the time I arrived in Kyoto, I was tired and "templed out," although I had only seen a couple of temples on this trip. However, I had to visit Kinkakuji Temple, the most famous temple in all of Japan as it is covered in gold leaf. It is a beautiful sight, and like so many other Japanese temples it is on the list of World Heritage sites. As a Christian missionary in Japan, I pray for the day that Japan will turn to Jesus Christ. As I took dozens of photos of this beautiful gold temple, I wondered whether, in the event that God answers these prayers and turns the hearts of Japan toward Himself, what should happen to this and other temples? They are beautiful and historic, and UNESCO has declared them to be world treasures. There's nothing wrong with their architecture; perhaps they could be repurposed to honor the God of heaven and earth? No, I don't believe so. God was very clear in the Old Testament regarding temples and alters built to false gods -- they were to be utterly destroyed. But these are so beautiful! I'm sure the Old Testament pagan temples were beautiful also. Yet before God, they were repugnant. They were built to honor false gods, and they cause people to worship objects of wood and stone. I now pray that God will bring about a great awakening in the hearts of the people, and that these repugnant alters will be utterly destroyed, and in their place Japan will build alters to the one and only God.
I finished my one week journey with a Sunday in the city of Nagoya. There is an MTW team of missionaries in Nagoya, so I was eager to see a bit of their ministry. I had lunch with Michael and Cathalain Carter (with whom I had gone through a week-long retreat back in 2009), then went to an afternoon English worship service at All Nations Fellowship. I ran into a Japanese Belhaven alumnus whom I hadn't seen in several years. During his first year at Belhaven, God brought about significant spiritual growth in his life; it was good to see that this had continued and he is walking with the Lord and is active in the life of the Nishin Church. After church, I enjoyed fellowship and dinner at the home of Wayne and Amy Newsome, team leaders in Nagoya.
I'm thankful that God allowed me this time of refreshment and reflection. Although it was some of the most exhausting refreshment I've experienced! But He is good, and his grace is evident even here in Japan. Soli Deo Gloria!