Quite by accident, our family spent Easter Sunday in Hiroshima, wandering among the cherry blossoms and visiting the Peace Park. We had planned to visit this historic city but did not realize that we would reach it on Easter. There was poetry in this &

that we spent the Christian day of renewed hope visiting war memorials in a Buddhist country.

"Nothing will grow in Hiroshima for 75 years," they said after the U.S. Enola Gay decimated the city with an atomic bomb, but it was rebuilt and growing trees within 20 years. On this day extended families picnicked under the cherry trees lining the Motoyasu-gawa River while a cherry pink bateau-mouche toured up and down the river. Hibachis overflowed with noodle dishes and children played baseball in the park, with a waterfront music festival providing the sound track. We walked for several miles, joining the stream of humanity on parade and sitting on benches to eat out of paper bags. Our unassuming meal paled in comparison to the elegant and ubiquitous boxed lunches, with a compartment for each dish, preferred by the locals.

Across the river the A-Bomb Dome, or Gembaku Domu, stands on the site of a former government building. The atomic bomb exploded almost directly above it on August 6, 1945; all of the workers died instantly, but many of its walls remained intact. The ruins, crowned by a skeletal dome, provide a moving reminder of the tragedy.

At ground level at the Peace Memorial Hall is an abstract clock statue, surrounded by rubble from 1945, permanently set at 8:15, the time of detonation. We descended the spiraling ramp into the meditative memorial, our voices catching in our throats as we read the informational plaques describing Japan on a path of war as well as the atrocity of the bombing.

We entered the softly lit Hall of Remembrance, a round room with a pleasant water feature in the center. Sitting in silence on a small bench, we gazed at the photographs on the walls: 360 degrees of neighborhoods decimated by the bomb. It is a grisly panoramic view from the hypocenter. The photographs are made from 140,000 square tiles &

one for each person who died between August and December 1945 as a result of the atomic bomb.

All of the victims' names are engraved on the arch that frames the eternal flame. Japan will extinguish the fire only when the last nuclear weapon has been dismantled. An atomic weapon is indiscriminate killer. Among the victims were Japanese civilians, Korean slave laborers, and American prisoners of war. At the Peace Memorial Hall, one can see portraits of all the victims by inserting the guide pamphlet into a touch-screen computer kiosk. Our 8-year-old scanned photographs for a long time, finding a human connection that was lacking for her in the concrete and flames.

Familiar with the book "Sadako and the 1,000 Cranes," our 12-year-old made a poignant connection to this atrocity at the Children's Peace Memorial. Sadako developed leukemia at the age of 10 from the radiation exposure. According to Japanese custom, if a person folds 1,000 cranes, her wish will come true. Sadako did not complete the 1,000 cranes before her death, but her story inspired this monument and continues to inspire origami crane folding across the world. Display cases exhibit donated cranes by the thousands, folded in vivid colors and strung up like leis.

While I was admiring the Sadako monument in a particularly contemplative mood, an elderly Japanese woman approached me with a handwritten card that said in multiple languages, "Do you mind if I pray for your happiness?"

"Please, by all means." How could I refuse such a generous offer?

So we inclined our heads, closed our eyes, and stood quietly for many moments. I thanked her with a bow and a poorly accented "Arigato," and she asked me one more question.

"American?"

She smiled broadly at my positive response and walked away.

The people of Hiroshima are serious about spreading peace; and on our short visit, they appeared to live the mission of the Peace Memorial: "Mourning the lives lost in the atomic bombing, we pledge to convey the truth of this tragedy throughout Japan and the world, pass it on to the future, learn the lessons of history, and build a peaceful world free from nuclear weapons."

Their goals have recently come into conflict with elected officials who want Japan to become a nuclear power. The youngest survivor, or hibakusha, now 62, was in utero when the bomb exploded. With fewer hibakusha to tell the story and political realities changing this peaceful nation, the nuclear atrocity of Hiroshima is in danger of fading into the dusty recesses of history.

As we returned to our hotel that evening, fatigued by celebration and somber reflection, our daughter asked, "Mom, why isn't war illegal?" It's a very good question.

is on leave from her position as director of educational services for the Ashland Public Schools to travel around the world with her family for four months. She can be reached via e-mail at sundial@jeffnet.org.