In 1945, the first atomic bomb in history was dropped on Hiroshima. The destructive power of the bomb obliterated nearly everything within a two kilometer radius. Since then, great efforts have been taken to rebuild the city. Maybe it’s something embedded in our psyche that gives us a desire to go somewhere where such great destruction occurred because, like so many others, Dan and I wanted to experience the city. We caught a morning train from Osaka and booked one night in a hostel. In retrospect, we could have day tripped, although the change of scenery, not to mention upgraded accommodation was a nice change.
In the center of Hiroshima is Peace Memorial Park, which, at over 120,000 square meters, is one of the cities most prominent features. The area, which was previously the political and commercial heart of the city, was chosen for strategic reasons as the pilot’s target for the atomic bomb. Years later, it was decided to not re-develop the area, but instead devote it to peace memorial facilities.
“At 8:15 am, August 6, 1945, an American B29 bomber carried out the world’s first atomic bombing. The bomb exploded approximately 600 meters above and 160 meters southeast of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, ripping through and igniting the building, instantly killing everyone in it. Because the blast struct from almost directly above, some of the centre walls remained standing, leaving enough of the building and iron frame to be recognizable as a dome. After the war, these dramatic remains came to be known as the A-bomb Dome.”
Another prominent structure in the park is the Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims. The Cenotaph is an arched tomb for those who died as a result of the bomb – both directly from the blast and from radiation exposure. The names of the over 220,000 victims are held in a stone chest below the arch. If you look directly through the arch, it frames the A-bomb Dome.
As we walked around Peace Memorial Park I felt solemn and deep in thought. It was the first time I’ve really made myself think about the impacts of the atomic bombs used in WWII and the potential devastation that can be caused by nuclear weapons.
The Peace Memorial Museum was established in 1955 and is one of the more sobering museum exhibitions I have visited. The Material Witness display is particularly upsetting as it shows clothing, watches, hair, and other personal effects worn by victims of the bomb. Of course, the displays are meant to evoke anger and pain and act as a reminder that we should not take peace for granted.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum’s English guide introduction reads: “The Peace Memorial Museum collects and displays belongings left by the victims, photos, and other materials that convey the horror of that event, supplemented by exhibits that describe Hiroshima before and after the bombings and others that present the current status of the nuclear age. Each of the items displayed embodies the grief, anger, or pain of real people. Having now recovered from the A-bomb calamity, Hiroshima’s deepest wish is the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community.”
Following our afternoon at the Peace Memorial Park, we walked to the Hiroshima Castle. The castle, also referred to as Carp Castle, was originally constructed in the 1590’s but was destroyed by the atomic bombing. A replica of the original was built in 1958 which now serves as a museum of Hiroshima’s history prior to World War II. We chose not to go inside and visit the museum as we had just spent quite a bit of time in a museum. Instead, we enjoyed the beautiful palace from the outside and admired all of the cherry blossom trees in full bloom.
We spotted a family picnic in the park, and couldn’t help but laugh at the keg they had set up!
As we walked around the palace grounds it started to rain. Luckily, our previous days in Japan had taught us not to go out without an umbrella. Not necessarily because it rains a lot, simply because everyone carries an umbrella and you just wouldn’t fit in without one!
We made our way back to our hostel to cook dinner. It was one of the only times we had booked accommodation in dorm beds (it was the only thing available in the city) but it turned out to be one of the cleanest and nicest stays we had in all of Japan. The hostel was amazingly organized, tidy and clean and had a huge and well-equipped kitchen. A much welcome change from our filthy guesthouse in Osaka.
There are plenty of other things to visit in and around Hiroshima (such as gardens, shrines and temples) but with our limited time we had decided to concentrate on the Peace Memorials. Had we planned better, or had better weather we probably could have done a lot more but we aren’t the type to try and fit everything in! We also skipped the famous Himeji Castle (between Osaka and Hiroshima) as it had just reopened after renovations and the website called for massive lineups…maybe next time!