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Only in the past two years, since he was appointed director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, has Kawamoto begun to tell the story of his days of survival. Before then he did not want publicly to declare himself a hibakusha, a survivor of the bombing. He is aware of the unspoken stigma attached to being a hibakusha, that people often treat the survivors with a sort of sympathetic shunning. It is also unlike Kawamoto to do anything without a clearly defined reason. The museum directorship provided a reason. Kawamoto now recounts his experiences to museum visitors and groups of schoolchildren. He believes in his new role; people must know the facts, he says. At the same time, this retelling of the August days has caused Kawamoto deep uneasiness. He had given little thought to Ota before the past two years. Now Ota appears in his dreams. Kawamoto explains that much guilt is connected to surviving the bombing. In the days following Aug. 6, he lost Ota's student handbook.
Kawamoto spoke of that time, Aug. 6-11, over a recent five-day period, telling part of his story in his office across the hall from the Peace Museum, and the rest "on location," in various places where the story occurred. His office and the museum are in a long, silvery modern building that looks like a harmonica, situated at the broad end of the triangular Peace Memorial Park. At the point of the triangle sits the Aioi Bridge, a T-shaped structure spanning the Honkawa, the river that served as the aiming point for the Enola Gay. (The Bomb missed by only a block or two.) Between the point and the broad end of the triangular park lies a grassy area dotted with various memorials to peace or to specific victims of the bombing, the most sought-out of which is a rocket-shaped sculpture dedicated to a little girl who in 1955 died of leukemia attributed to radiation poisoning. According to one account, the girl made more than 900 paper cranes before she died, trusting that if she completed 1,000, her life would be spared. In Japan there is an old belief that a crane can live for 1,000 years, and that if you fold 1,000 paper cranes, they will protect you from illness. Thousands of green, red and yellow paper cranes made by schoolchildren billow out from under the rocket like the undergarments of a skirt.
At the center of the Peace Park is a stone cenotaph that looks like a covered wagon from the American prairie. It contains the names of the Hiroshima dead who have been identified--113,000 names to date. In an oblong pool before the cenotaph burns an "eternal flame" in an odd metallic structure resembling a headless figure with its arms extended; the flame burns where the head would be. On either side of the pool are red-orange and pink roses of enormous size, and trees that look as if they were formed by stacking bulbous tire-shaped hedges on top of one another. On a typical afternoon couples stroll, mothers push babies, children hand out peace buttons, pigeons swoop in low arcs like confetti, then up again over the water, the monuments, the museum.