The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 — the first-ever atomic bomb dropped on a city — was often referred to as the “noiseless flash” by survivors. This was meant to be a descriptive account of the scene at 8:15 a.m. that day, but it’s also an eloquent reminder of what that day could become to future generations who don’t pause to learn, reflect, and respect the events of that day and those events that proceeded and followed. Failure to teach the younger generation makes Hiroshima and it’s infamous A-bomb just a noiseless flash to the future — a picture on a page of a history textbook — when it is so much more. American families stationed in Japan have a unique opportunity to feel the historical significance of that day and participate in the annual Hiroshima Peace Ceremony and Memorial firsthand, ensuring that the hope of peace carries from one generation to the next.
The account that follows is the experience of this American writer and my two young children at the 2018 Hiroshima Peace Ceremony and Memorial.
Attending the Hiroshima Peace Ceremony
Any American can vouch for the fact that crowds can sometimes turn hostile, protests can occur, driving in and around a major event is chaos brought to life, and for someone traveling solo with a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, having an easy out that still provided a view of the ceremony was non-negotiable.
I booked a deluxe corner twin room with a river view room at Hotel Sunroute. Our room was beautiful, and the view — which was breathtaking upon arrival in the daylight — proved to be the most incredible vantage point of the lantern ceremony after nightfall.
Having arrived around 5 p.m., we didn’t waste much time taking in the view after check-in. We headed straight down the sidewalk to the location of the reception tent where I’d researched that we would be able to purchase lanterns that would set adrift into the river during the ceremony.
The sidewalks were busy, bustling with Japanese families and tourists stopping to photograph the monuments and memorials, including the strands of paper cranes and water bottles left for the victims who died scorched and thirsty. We heard English and Australian accents, as well as foreign languages that hailed from various European nations. Once we were on the sidewalk among the other ceremony attendees, any fears I had about whether or not Americans would be welcome at this event were immediately squashed.
Part of the experience of the Hiroshima Peace Ceremony is purchasing paper to make a lantern and writing a personal message of peace.
Not surprisingly, the line was long but efficient. After being greeted by an English-speaking staff member, we paid a total of 900 yen (300 yen per lantern) and were able to choose our lantern paper color. Paper in hand, we were directed toward neighboring tables where we could write our messages of peace.
We turned in our completed messages and set off to find a spot to sit along the river where we could watch the lanterns float by as the sun set. There was another, free, more kid-friendly lantern option closer to the train tracks at the top of the park. Here, kids could use crayons to decorate plain, white lanterns and launch them into the water themselves.
Taking in the Sights
Now after 6 p.m., it wasn’t easy to find a spot with a good view along the river — there was an abundance of people, obviously, but also cameras and tripods. We eventually found a spot just big enough for the three of us to squeeze in. By positioning ourselves on the side opposite the A-Bomb Dome, we were able to see it in full view while the lanterns passed at our feet.
Lanterns were launched continuously throughout the evening, even before sunset, from the riverbank and from boats positioned in the middle of the river. Each lantern had a wooden frame and a candle illuminating it.
With a flame, wind, wood, and paper, it’s not surprising that not all the lanterns made the full voyage down the river. Some caught fire or capsized, but there were boats and paddleboarders positioned along the river to minimize those situations. As if to respect the messages of peace on each lantern, every effort was made to save capsized lanterns. Those that caught fire were doused and carefully collected.
Because it was August in one of the hottest summers on record in Japan, we weren’t able to see the entire ceremony from our carefully scouted spot. When my kids had their limit on heat and humidity and we ran out of water, we decided to slowly walk back to our hotel (after a quick stop at 7-11 for more drinks and some snacks).
After much stalling on my part, we were able to see the ceremony after dark from street level, and it was actually much more peaceful the closer we moved toward our hotel. We didn’t have large cameras pushing by us. The music from the loudspeakers was faint, and the indecipherable voice of a protest against nuclear weapons was even fainter.
The experience, to me, was incredible. I would encourage anyone with the opportunity to attend at least once. I did wonder, though, as my kids whined to “just go back to the hotel now” if they actually gained anything from being at the ceremony.
I got my answer once we were back in the room. We stood in our river-view window watching the lanterns drift down the river in complete silence (a rare occurrence for this crew) until it was time to tuck them in for the night. Once the lights in the room when out, I heard my son’s curious voice from the other side of the room. “Mom, how did the bomb get to Hiroshima?“
It was the first of many questions from two curious kids that night. For more than an hour, we talked across the hotel room, in one of the most significant spots in history. They understood, and I felt so proud of their interest and questions. The conversation we shared that night justified the traffic and the crowds and the summer heat. I was able to give them one of the most impactful history lessons of their lives.