I started thinking about Hi roshima again last month, when John Kerry went to the city—a prelude to President Obama’s visit last Friday, the first time a sitting president has been there. But I usually think about Hiroshima this time of year anyway.

I visited nine years ago. I had gotten a travel grant from my university. The grant was intended for offbeat travel, and I told them I wanted to go to Japan and see as many baseball games as I could. This was sufficiently weird, so I was awarded the funds.

I set up an itinerary that went from Sapporo in the north to Fukuoka in the south and Tokyo in between, and in two weeks I saw seven games at six stadiums.

One of those was Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, where the Hiroshima Toyo Carp play. The team’s colors are red and white. The Carp mascot looks like the Philly Phanatic’s pink-furred cousin. The stadium has since been completely renovated, but like most Japanese stadiums it still has an all-dirt infield. I ordered udon using a vending machine at that ballpark, puzzling out which characters meant tofu and which meant pork, and then the noodles were served up from a neighboring stall.

The Carp played the Yakult Swallows that day, but I don’t remember who won.

I made sure to include Hiroshima on the itinerary because I thought that if I was going to be in Japan, it was important for me to go there. I didn’t know if I would ever be back.

A somewhat startling thing about Hiroshima: If you didn’t know what happened, it’s not something you’d guess just by showing up in the quietly vibrant city, where streetcars roll through the downtown and the train station’s gift shop is stocked with Carp gear and keychains with deer on them. Nearby Miyajima Island has a friendly deer population.

On May 17 and May 18 I went to Peace Memorial Park. There were gray clouds overhead, leftovers from a downpour the night before, and school groups, recognizable by the navy uniforms the kids wore, with their teachers. Green grass covered the riverbanks.

On the east bank is a building that at one time was called the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall but now is usually called the A-Bomb Dome. You can see it from the central portion of the park, and you can cross a bridge to the other side of the riverbank. From there you can stand outside, look down at the plaques showing what it used to look like, and look up at the darkened exterior and the metal bars that form the dome that is now open to the sky.

Some describe the A-Bomb Dome as ghostly, but ghosts have no body. In my journal I wrote that it was a “shredded concrete skeleton.”

On the second day, I went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. An eternal flame burns across from the museum entrance, and the museum looks like an office building from the outside.

Inside, I stood for a long time in front of the wall-sized aerial photographs of the city before and after, miles of buildings and miles of nothing. My stomach twisted, as if it were trying to get away. I walked through the dark rooms and read about the fallout and the firestorms. Fireballs churning with heat so intense that scientists described it a year later as “virtually inconceivable, millions of degrees centigrade.”

When I walked back outside I could see the A-Bomb Dome in the distance.

I wrote that I was glad, in an awful, terrible sort of way, that it was left there in its jarring ugliness among all of the new buildings. It is unavoidable, not put away in a museum.

When I read my journal now I wish I had written down more. I wish I had written down everything.

I learned about Hiroshima the same way a lot of American kids did. One of my elementary school teachers read us Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, a thin book with a pale blue cover. It is about Sadako Sasaki, a Hiroshima survivor who died at age 12 of leukemia; cancer from radiation poisoning. She folded more than one thousand paper cranes while in the hospital, spurred by a Japanese legend that anyone who did so would be granted one wish.

People bring long strands of colorful origami cranes to hang at the park’s Children’s Peace Memorial, which is a statue of Sadako, arms outstretched. Some of her actual paper cranes are on display inside the Peace Memorial Museum. They are much smaller than the ones we folded out of crisp-cut origami paper in class, since Sadako was using any materials she could find when she was making her set and hoping for her wish.

Near the crane display a stand holds a single wristwatch, which is stopped at 8:15 a.m.

During his visit to Peace Memorial Park, President Obama wrote in the guestbook, “We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.”

One of the New York Times articles about the President’s visit ended with this line: “. . . Soon the only ones who will be debating the legacy of Hiroshima will not have felt the urgency to drop the bomb, or lived the horror of the result.”

To me this is a horror of a different sort, when an event collapses into symbolism, which inevitably happens as time moves forward and events become history or mere lines in a textbook told in a dispassionate way.

There was a small gift shop in the building next to the A-Bomb Dome. This building, the Rest House, was also a remnant. But it was restored in a way that its neighbor was intentionally not restored, to the point where I didn’t realize until later, when I was back home and reading more, that anything had happened there.

The Rest House roof was crushed by the explosion’s force and the inside gutted by fire. Thirty six people died. One man who was in the basement survived into his 80s because the radiation didn’t penetrate the concrete.

Remember, people say. Don’t forget.

I didn’t go to Hiroshima to remember, because I didn’t have anything to remember. I wasn’t there, I am not from that era. Instead I wanted to push away from the comfortable abstraction of the present, in order to make something vast and immeasurable into something that maybe I could grasp. Maybe, if I just stood outside of the A-Bomb Dome long enough.

At the gift shop I bought a small glass paperweight with a crane etched inside of it. I don’t keep it anywhere special. I find it every now and then unexpectedly. It makes me think, and this seems to work well.

Ivy Ashe is a former Gazette reporter and photographer who lives in Hilo, Hawaii and works for the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.