Jizo is the protector of women and children, particularly the unborn child. In Hiroshima he stands at the site of the old maternity hospital which was at the epicentre of the blast on 6 August 1945.
When I arrived in Hiroshima a baseball match was about to kick off in town and there was great excitement. It seemed a far cry from the memorial site I was about to visit. But a short tram ride away the mood was somewhat reflective and not the excited scenes I encountered at the train station.
Today, the hypocentre of the atomic blast is marked by a plinth. Close by is the statue of Jizo, the protector of women and children. A singe marks his cheek today- left by the blast 75 years ago. The hypocentre was next to a hospital for women and children which was obliterated by the atomic bomb. In Japanese culture the Jizo statues are found in parks and on street corners. They are the protector of children and of the unborn child. They also look over the souls of dead children. They wear red as it protects against evil spirits. Jizo stands on a street corner today, the only reminder that the hospital existed.
Across the road is the famous Peace Park, dominated by one of two remaining buildings of the old Hiroshima. I rang the peace bell which reverberated around the park.
At the Children’s memorial there are thousands of paper cranes, adding rainbows of colour to the park. When Sadako Sasaki was two years old the atomic bomb fell on her home city of Hiroshima. She survived but developed leukaemia at 11 years old. Sadako decided to inspire people by making 1000 paper cranes. In Japan the crane is a symbol of happiness and longevity and Sadako felt it would help with the healing process. Sadly she died before the 1000 cranes were made but her classmates folded them instead. Today, strings of paper cranes fill the children’s memorial sent by schoolkids from all over the world.
Hiroshima is a reflective place, but one that made me think about the unintended consequences of war.