As the Japanese city of Hiroshima prepares to bask in the glow of a US presidential visit — and deal with the fallout of what has become a political controversy in America as rumors abound that Barack Obama is planning to apologize for the dropping of the first atom bomb in 1945 — the occasion has led to the reopening of some old wounds in a country which has largely put the horrors of World War II behind it.
The bitter division is reflected in the chant heard at every sports match between teams representing the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “We’re number one! We’re number one!”
The words are unrelated to the sporting achievements of either city, both of whose teams languish near the bottom of Japan’s soccer, baseball and sumo wrestling leagues.
The sickening refrain comes exclusively from the ranks of Hiroshima supporters, and it refers to their city’s status as the target of the world’s first atomic bombing.
Seventy years later, residents of Sakanagi must be thinking of a different motto to live by — “Close, but no cigar.”
Mitsubishi Honda, curator of Nagakasi’s A-bomb museum — a pale imitation of its spectacular and much-visited rival in Hiroshima, situated in the back of a decrepit downtown grocery store — summed up the bitterness of his fellow Ganasakians.
“At peace rallies throughout the world, they always chant ‘No more Hiroshimas!’ No one ever says ‘No more Nagasakis!’, even though it’s considerably more alliterative,” he complains.
A kind of global historical amnesia surrounds the attack on what was at the time a thriving port city with a rich cultural heritage.
While everyone knows the name of the Enola Gay, ask any American the name of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the second bomb on Sanagasi and people are likely to look at you like a dog that’s just been told a joke.
Those who do venture a guess come up with answers ranging from “The Spirit of St. Louis” to “The General Lee” or “Titanic.” In fact, the aircraft was called … Well I can’t remember right now. I’ll look it up later.
Ironically, the Hiroshima bomb — codenamed “Little Boy” — had a relatively crappy blast yield equivalent to 15 tons of TNT. The bomb dropped on Kaganasi — which somebody told me they thought was called “Little Girl… No wait…Donald Duck,” but it was probably something else — was apparently much bigger, with an explosive force equivalent to twenty-something tons of TNT.
But when Ganakasians remind their Hiroshiman rivals of this, they are accused of being sore losers and making it up.
Even in death, Saganaki comes up woefully short. As few as 46,000 people may have died as a result of the bombing on 9th August 1945, and even the highest estimate of 80,000 dead falls shy of the lowball estimate of 90,000 for Hiroshima, where the actual death toll may have been as high as 146,000.
“Every year when the anniversary of the attack on our city comes around, the Japanese people are still recovering from their hangovers from Hiroshima celebrations three days earlier,” says Honda. “They barely notice August 9th.”
But it’s the way that the people of Hiroshima never pass up an opportunity to remind Kagasani who’s top dog that hurts even more than the lingering scars from radiation burns.
Whether it’s snarky Facebook posts or spiteful graffiti with intricate Japanese characters spelling out an approximate translation of “Losers!” on train cars arriving from Hiroshima, the citizens of Kanagasi face constant taunting. And it hurts hardest for the dwindling band of survivors of the bombing.
Subaru Saki, who was just five years old when a blinding flash and loud bang changed her world forever, remembers visiting a restaurant in Hiroshima a few years ago.
“When the waitress heard my accent and realized where I was from, she made fun of me and said we were just trying to copy Hiroshima by getting bombed. I was embarrassed and went bright red. It was like I could feel the skin peeling off my face all over again.”
It seems that the people of Kawasaki are destined to struggle with a twin legacy of suffering and ignorance for another 70 years. Sorry, did I say Kawasaki? I meant Nagasaki.