The Other Side of the World

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He works for Mitsubishi, one of the most prestigious companies in this prefecture.

We are walking together on this bright September morning, and all around us is the clamour of a huge modern city. But this is a place of reverence, an island of calm in a turbulent metropolis. A few metres away stands the ruined dome, an incongruous structure among the high-rise offices that surround this pool of green. Ahead of us, on its islet in the Motoyasugawa River, nestles the Peace Park of Hiroshima.

He is a gentle man, quiet but articulate. He was born here, only a couple of years after this place became the world's first Ground Zero. Though he wears a business suit, he strikes me today as almost sage-like. This time, this place, are so portentous. I've been here before, but it didn't feel like this.

We walk out across the bridge, towards the edge of the Park. 'Do you really think that Hiroshima still suffers?' I ask, wondering why my voice is hushed...

'Every year, billions of yen that might have come here go somewhere else', he says, simply. 'Our history still frightens business away; I'm sure of it.' He pauses for a moment, deep in thought. There are birds in the trees around us, where once proud buildings stood.

'We've always tried to move on', he adds. 'We remember and honour the families that were lost, and we remember the painful years that followed. But we try not to live in those times.'

The electronic sign on an office block across the river scrolls round to reveal a calendar. The days are counting down onto 9/11. My companion gazes toward the sign too, and I know that his thoughts have turned the same way.

'It's ironic, sure', he says. His accent demonstrates his familiarity with the United States, and gives a hint of his deep affection for them. 'The pilots who brought our pain were American. They believed they were fighting a just war, and doing God's will. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps their act halted an evil tide, and prevented still more destruction and suffering. But it was never going to seem that way to the people who were left among the ruins.'

We take a few more steps in silence, and then he begins to speak again. 'The burden of history that I spoke of, the mark that the Bomb left on our city. That was really America as well. What tainted us, what taints us still, was American guilt.'

There is another period of reflection. His eyes are bright, suggesting stifled tears. We are approaching the bridge at the other side of the Park, and my friend is the one who is whispering now.

'I have a dear friend, an American. He was in the North Tower that day. He came down fifty floors to escape. He told me that every night since he's woken up thinking he's buried alive. It reminded me of my mother. When she was dying, she finally told me how for many years she dreamed of waking to find her children burning.'

It seems like the city has stopped as I wait for him to continue.

'Americans must learn three things', he whispers. 'They must not confuse sympathy with self-pity. They must keep their sense of honour separate from their desire for revenge. And they must make their memorial in their city, never of their city.'

I am expecting him to add that Americans must remember that they were not the first, but he never does.

The green space is behind us, and towers of glass and steel are all around. His mobile phone rings. A bus pulls up in the Honkawa-cho, emitting a pneumatic hiss. That sound is a trademark of Japan, and the part of my mind that resonates with the country imagines the retreat of ghosts.

He returns the phone to his pocket and grins. 'They've agreed the price', he says. 'They want us to come and discuss the engineering. I think it's time to get back to the future...'

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