Keiko’s husband is a Buddhist priest, and a day like this—the 69th anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, when the Americans summoned a circle of hell alongside the Motoyasu River—would seem to call for priests more than politicians. But he is not here. “It is too much of a circus for him,” she says, as she walks along the banks of the river with me. “He thinks it should be a time for prayer.” Instead, the morning’s memorial services were overrun with notabilities in clear rain ponchos who stood solemn and useless as the bell rang at 8:15am to mark the time of detonation.
By the time I arrive later in the evening with Keiko—an old friend from previous trips to Hiroshima—many thousands of visitors and locals are lined on the banks of the river to watch candlelit lanterns float downstream from the hollow Genbaku dome, the iconic ruin of the attack.
About a thousand people are queuing in line in front of the Peace Museum itself to light incense, clank a heavy coin in the alms box, maybe take a cellphone picture of the Genbaku Dome—perfectly framed in the distance by the memorial and its reflecting pool. Along the side of the memorial are dozens of elaborate wreaths from places like the Rotary Club of Hilo, or with personal greetings from the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.