Speeding northward and the eastward toward Hiroshima, I pondered the tufts of pink dotting the hillsides outside the window of the Shinkansen. Certainly, I reassured myself, these occurred naturally. No one has time to manipulate the landscape like that.
It’s not happenstance that nearly seven years have passed since I last visited Hiroshima. The city left me cold during the three nights I slept here during my first trip to Japan, in 2014: I simply never felt compelled to come back.
If I’m honest, I’m not sure why that changed in recent weeks. Well, apart from learning two weeks ago that Hiroshima’s cherry blossoms would be freakishly early—as in “first in the nation” early—this year.
This was the forecast, anyway. In reality they weren’t, at least not the riverfront trees just opposite the A-Bomb Dome. These were at least a few days, maybe even a week shy of mankai.
Now, you would think that this would’ve been the end of my trip, or at least my chances of enjoying it. I never much liked Hiroshima, even when I was in town right at 2014’s full bloom (which, for the sake of comparison, came much later than this year’s, even accounting for the dissonance I describe above).
Yet as I continued my walk around the city center, my heart felt as soft as the perfect early morning light. And not because of the energy at Ground Zero or the twisted eucalyptus at the rebuilt Hiroshima Castle, in spite of the subtle sadness that still hangs in the air at places like this almost 80 years after the blast.
Nor did the rudeness of the staff at Shukkeien garden, where most trees were in a state of patchy pinkness, make me feel I’d been wrong to reverse almost a decade of precedent by returning to Hiroshima at long last.
“You can’t take your coffee cup inside,” the security warned me in a mixture of Japanese and English, which the lady who sold me my ticket echoed in a similar sort of melange. She told me she didn’t have a trash can, so I left the cup on the counter. “Anata wa totemo shinsetsu desu,” I said, and winked at her as I walked off.
It was a mindful, calm irreverence, which mirrored the conclusion I came to as I strolled along Hiroshima’s various glassy waterways: Kyushu, it seems, had been something of a false alarm about the freakish earliness of this year’s bloom.
It might be better to slow your roll, I reminded myself. Avoid the disappointment of false bloom in other places, right?
I structured the rest of my day around the famous flowers, but declined to define my enjoyment by how open or closed they were. I ate okonomiyaki for both lunch and dinner, at restaurants run by people who spoke as little English as I did Japanese.
The owner of the second, a shop with a strange and slightly overbearing anime theme, used chocolate sauce to drawn the A-Bomb Dome on a plate, which he topped with a scoop of ice cream and presented to me as a dessert-meets-omiyage.
The day ended with a brief and bright flash of color, followed by a cobalt blue hour that made me wonderful if I’d hallucinated the cerise sunset.
As I walked along the water toward the Peace Memorial Park, doing my best all the while to ignore the anemic aesthetic of the half-bloomed trees, I wondered why I’d never felt profoundly sad at the place where the bomb went off here 40 years before I was born.
I couldn’t come to a satisfying conclusion, particularly since I’d experienced the feeling people always claim to get in Hiroshima on on more than one occasion, in Nagasaki.
Perhaps, I thought to myself, this is for the best. Whether looking back almost a century on world-changing cataclysms, on fateful trips nearly a decade ago or on a day where expectations don’t quite match up with reality, isn’t it better to have maximum awareness, but minimal impairment?
Grief, disappointment, devastation—why can’t these emotions mobilize instead of paralyze?