I know it sounds quite predictable as a title for a post on Hiroshima, but I have just realised that it perfectly summarises my feelings for the place.
Some years ago I happened to visit Hiroshima just before the big celebrations on 6 August.
The city is not really nice, not in the common meaning of the word; it is not Kyoto, with its grand temples and quaint little alleys; nor is it Tokyo, with its many faces and bright lights. But it's intensely alive, with people strolling around, young couples and groups of friends laughing, old people walking in the parks, the atmosphere is lively and the restaurants are full, there are lots of bars on the riverbanks.
Of course, I visited the Bomb Museum and it's something I will never forget. The experience is tough. Yes, you know that the Japanese had done horrible things while conquering Asia, you know that the high ranks of the army did not want to give up, that they wanted to fight until the last man alive, but the people of Hiroshima that were hit that day were just students, nurses, workers, normal people at the beginning of a normal day.
The bomb produced a heat wave so strong that the copper roof of what is now the atomic dome melted and fell on the people below. The wind it provoked was so strong that all the traditional houses which formed most of the city were blown away. The glass windows of the hospital exploded and killed or injured countless people inside. But that was not the worst yet.
In the museum you can read the stories of many people who survived the first strike, but died because of the radiations, and it was a horrible death. People who were unrecognisable even for their own families, because of the radiation-induced damages they suffered, people whose skin started falling off, people who just disappeared, evaporated.
As I said, it was tough, and it's meant to be like this, it's meant to hit you as its primary goal is to never let anything like this happen again.
When I came out, I strolled in the Peace Park and an old man stopped to talk to me. I think he was a survivor and he said many things, but I only understood part of them with my poor Japanese. Before we parted he gave me an origami crane. Sometimes I look at it to remember that life goes on, despite everything, like the flowers that started to bloom the year after the bomb exploded and changed everything. And that is the reason why I liked Hiroshima: it is a very lively city, but it doesn't hide its difficult past.