(AFP) – Aug 4, 2008
HIROSHIMA, Japan (AFP) — Few visitors to Hiroshima's memorial museum linger long to look at the photos of scorched victims, a child's burnt lunchbox or the shadow of someone who was incinerated.
Perhaps the images are too harrowing, or maybe they are just short of time.
More than 50 years after it opened, curators of the museum are reviewing the exhibition to try to convey a stronger message and stop memories of the devastation of the August 6, 1945 atomic attack fading from the public's mind.
The move comes after the city discovered that visitors spend less than 20 minutes on average viewing the core displays, which contain the most chilling photos as well as clothing and personal effects worn by victims.
"We decided to improve the display so that visitors spend more time to learn the horror of the bombing," said Mizuho Inaba, the chief curator of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
About 1.25 million people visit the museum each year, spending an average of 45 minutes there, far short of the three hours that is necessary to fully view the exhibitions, according to museum officials.
Visitors first pass through a newer wing which explains the history of Hiroshima before the attack, as well as the background about the bombing and a model of the flattened city.
One idea is to move the most horrific images closer to the start of the exhibition so that people have longer to study them.
"To me and to many of the survivors, this museum has become way too clean and pretty and not shocking," said Steven Leeper, an American who is the first foreigner to head the foundation that administers the museum.
"When this museum was opened in 1955, it was much more shocking and it has been gradually cleaned up, and made more like a professional museum," he told AFP in a recent interview.
"When you go through here you should be shocked. You should be frightened," he said, adding that any changes would be decided by a committee, not him.
The museum is calling for people to offer any evidence they have of the damage caused by the bombing, especially photographs.
One man has offered photos taken by his late father, apparently just a few months after the nuclear attack.
They show an obliterated city strewn with rubble and the ruins of buildings, but devoid of life.
"As I get older, I feel more strongly that we have to hand down our experiences to the next generation, the message that war is horrible," said the son, Yoshihiro Nakamae.
His father, who was aged 38 at the time, is believed to have taken the photos two months after the attack, although he had visited the city centre before then, Nakamae said.
"On the day of the bombing, my father immediately went to the centre of the city to save and search for people. But he didn't say a word about it before he died in 1988," said Nakamae, who is 67.
Nakamae himself, then four years old, remembers the day when he saw badly burned evacuees near his home in the suburbs of the city.
"They were trudging toward us, some putting bandages on, some using crutches. Some stopped walking and fell down. They were like ghosts. It was a cruel scene that I will never be able to forget my whole life," he said.
Only recently did he begin talking about his experience. Asked why, he fell silent for a while, before answering: "I was too scared to talk about it. But that scene keeps haunting me throughout my life."
On the morning of August 6, 1945, a US bomb instantly killed more than 140,000 people in Hiroshima and injured tens of thousands of others who died later from radiation or horrific burns.
The world's first nuclear attack was followed by the dropping of a second atomic bomb on the city of Nagasaki three days later, leaving another 70,000 people dead. Japan surrendered on August 15, ending World War II.
The number of people who come to the museum with their own mementos of the attack on Hiroshima has been increasing in recent years, said another curator at the museum, Mari Shimomura.
"But Mr Nakamae's photos have remarkably clear images, which is rare for those taken and offered by ordinary people," she said.
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