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The title says it all. Is it culturally acceptable (to the Japanese) for an American to visit the memorials to the victims of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I realize that a Japanese person probably wouldn't actually tell me to leave, but would they think I was being rude or uncouth?

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Short answer: No one cares. Feel free to visit. –  MeNoTalk Apr 5 at 22:43
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IMHO, it's probably every American's moral duty to visit these memorials if feasible. That's the (or at least one) purpose of the memorial: to remind us what we are capable of, to let us know in concrete detail the full impact of decisions taken far away, and serve as a warning to us about directions to take in future. –  ShreevatsaR Apr 6 at 5:39
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Having been to the memorials in both cities, I can say with certainty it was built with the express idea that foreigners, and likely especially Americans SHOULD visit the memorial. Neither one is judgemental about the reasons why the bombs were used, just the consequences of it, and why that should never happen again. They also track nuclear proliferation and de-armament throughout the world, which are updated with some frequency. –  SplinterReality Apr 6 at 13:32
    
I'm baffled by the thinking that this could possibly not be ok. Every American should go there to acknowledge what their country did, and atone. –  Jim Balter Apr 8 at 6:28
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The museum attached to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, on the other hand... –  michel-slm Apr 11 at 3:59

4 Answers 4

up vote 32 down vote accepted

Here's an excerpt from Wikitravel:

Although many visitors, especially Americans, may feel apprehensive about visiting Hiroshima, it is a friendly, welcoming city, with as much interest in Western culture as anywhere else in Japan. Tourists are welcomed, and exhibits related to the atomic bomb are not concerned with blame or accusations. Bear in mind, though, that many hibakusha [the survivors] still live in the city, and even most of the young people in Hiroshima have family members who lived through the blast. As such, the average Hiroshima resident isn't likely to relish talking about it, although you needn't shy away from the topic if one of the chatty fellows around the Peace Park brings it up.

Despite this and @MeNoTalk's comment, another interesting story by Kate Berardo on Culturosity.com demonstrates that you can't be certain that no one will care or direct resentment toward you, but the circumstances of the story suggest it may have been a little bit of bad timing and luck on the author's part. Besides, it was really just a few angry words with a sidelong glance; nothing an American traveling abroad shouldn't be prepared for almost regardless of where one chooses to go.

Regardless of what some others might think, my opinion as an American FWIW: if you want to go to learn about the consequences of the bombings, go with an open mind and sympathetic attitude – I will if I'm ever lucky enough to get the chance. There is a museum in Hiroshima dedicated to memorializing the victims and promoting peace. One of their English newsletters describes a visit from American students positively, demonstrating a welcoming reception by the museum staff and local students. If you want to visit Hiroshima to appreciate the rest of the city as well, more power to you. It certainly has much more to offer than war history. I'm sure the same is true of Nagasaki.

I would only advise against going with an attitude like this guy's; I suspect few will be particularly eager to hear contentious opinions about the bombings from an American perspective (especially not an ignorant one). Make your mission one of learning and receptivity to the local culture and perspectives, not one of "truthiness" or "keeping it real", and you should be fine. You've already got the right kind of attitude in asking open-mindedly and cautiously about how your presence might impact others; keep it up, and go in peace kimosabe.

[BTW, I would welcome any general counterarguments from the community. I'm not sure I'm the right guy to answer, having never gone.]

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+1, but I don't like the mention of "truthiness" and the like in the last major paragraph. It seems a little trivial. –  Andrew Grimm Apr 6 at 0:12
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Overreliance on "gut instincts" and tactlessly unrestrained expression of insensitive attitudes in sensitive situations are nontrivial issues in American culture, especially among the worse-behaving half of our tourist contingent. I raised these points in a tongue-in-cheek manner because I'm not worried about the OP misrepresenting us abroad, but I'm less confident about others navigating to this question from random corners of the internet like PMandS.com. Clearly there are those among us with attitudes that, if brought to places like Hiroshima or Nagasaki, ought to be kept to oneself. –  Nick Stauner Apr 6 at 0:30
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Are you implying that the argument put forth in that PMandS article is ignorant? It seems rather informed, measured and well thought out to me. –  JLRishe Apr 6 at 17:20
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Hard to say. It's clearly not the most balanced or considerate article. Whether the author is aware of (let alone has seriously considered) counterarguments is unclear because he's so unequivocal (and as a result somewhat simplistic) about the issue...but that could've been a conscious choice for the sake of brevity and persuasiveness I suppose. My use of "ignorant" was directed at anyone who might arrive at the same conclusion by conferring not with history but with one's own "gut". The just world hypothesis and self-serving bias make this outcome all too likely (see Wikipedia on these). –  Nick Stauner Apr 6 at 17:34

A quick scan of Wikivoyage's guide to Hiroshima sights indicate that memorials and museums to the attack have English-language information. If they didn't intend non-Japanese to visit the place, they wouldn't have such information.

I seriously doubt that they'd regard the USA differently from other non-Japanese countries in this context, even though the USA was the country that dropped the bombs, or even be able to tell whether you're an American versus a Canadian or an Australian.

I remember reading once about an atomic bombing victim who is a volunteer at some museum or memorial wanting to learn English so that he could relay his experiences to English-speaking visitors. Unfortunately, I can't find a link to it.

What may surprise you is that even museums at the other end of the "International Peace and Tolerance" spectrum have some support for English, and therefore expect foreigners to visit. The Yasukuni Shrine, which hosts the spirits of those who died for the Emperor in war, is criticised for including the spirits of Class A war criminals, and for its nationalist take on history. And yet, there are limited English-language explanations within the museum, and also has an English-language pamphlet. And this far-right blogger mentions foreigners visiting the shrine, including those involved in war.

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Surely, anybody who couldn't tell the difference between an American, a Canadian and an Australian would just assume that any such person was American, by sheer weight of numbers. Canadians are always saying that people assume they're American; you don't hear the converse very often. –  David Richerby Apr 6 at 12:41
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I visited 6 (?) years ago, and there was a 被爆者 (survivor) in the first room of the Hiroshima museum explaining the events leading up to the war explaining to foreign tourists (including Americans) in English about the experience living in Hiroshima during the war prior to the bomb. –  jmac Apr 18 at 0:22

It's perfectly fine. I've been to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in my (Japanese) high school trip including multiple sessions with hibakushas.

There is really no animosity in general. The emphasis of these museums and parks are solely on how horrible nuclear attacks and war is, and how we need to achieve world peace and eliminate all wars.

I think most Japanese would find it a good thing. Of course, you'll always be able to find people who disagree, but such views are rare IMO.

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Absolutely not an issue. Just to give a first-hand perspective (though the other 2 answers both excellently cover the 'why not'), I visited the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and the Peace Park a few years back, and at no point did I feel any ill-will or awkwardness. As with any similar place as long as you are respectful you are welcome - the staff were as polite and welcoming as one would expect of a Japanese visitor centre or attraction.

It's a sobering experience, but one well worth doing regardless of nationality.

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"as long as you are respectful you are welcome". Absolutely. I once visited Dachau concentration camp in Germany. In the information centre there were huge pictures of piles of corpses. A bunch of American teenagers were larking about in front of the pictures, pulling grotesque "death" faces. Such grossly insensitive and obnoxious behaviour sadly sullies the general reputation of American tourists. –  toandfro Apr 7 at 1:30
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@toandfro: Of course, teenagers from any country may behave badly, but certain countries' reputations are more easily damaged for their visibility and prominence in global affairs. Harder to identify tourists from Liechtenstein, and rarer to see them too, for example...therefore they're less likely to develop a bad reputation. Still, tourists from USA might be worse than average, but who could really say for sure? Just a tangential thought...and further cause for Americans to hold ourselves to very high standards as a matter of responsibility. –  Nick Stauner Apr 7 at 1:45

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