Ringing the Peace Bell


| September 2005


It was a day that promised rain and the onset of autumn, but the rural train station was filled with people en route to weekend destinations. Still exorcising remnants of sleep from my body, I dropped a hundred yen coin into a vending machine and watched the slim, shiny can of sweet coffee fall from the depths of the machine. The signature Shikoku train song blared out of the loudspeakers signaling the arrival of the early-morning train bound for Takamatsu. I was headed to the city of Hiroshima for the weekend from the island of Shikoku where I had been teaching English for the past few months.

After three hours of slicing through the verdant Japanese countryside, the train pulled into the bustling Japan Rail Station in Hiroshima. In Japan, the city of Hiroshima has two meanings, one couched in the other. The Hiroshima we see today is a city of islands, a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis. The other "hiroshima" is the legacy of atomic destruction. As I stepped off the train, I already could feel the heavy ghosts of the old bomb-struck hiroshima slipping up through the glittering skyscrapers and modern, Western coffee houses of the new Hiroshima. The city seemed too new, devoid of the timeworn temples and shrines that usually co-exist with the convenience stores, glittering neon signs, and high-rise office buildings.