During our recent trip to Japan, we also visited Hiroshima. The majority of you may not know that I have a Political Science degree, with a major in International History… I love history and I was particularly interested in visiting a place that has become the symbol of the atrocities that wars can cause to innocent people. Whether you like history or not, I highly recommend a visit to Hiroshima as it is a beautiful city, so here you have my “Hiroshima guide”. It’s actually a very vibrant city, full of life and with lots of young people.
Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time to dedicate to the visit, so we decided to just see the Peace Memorial Park and Museum. We arrived to Hiroshima Station from Miyajima and had to go to Osaka later on, so we left our luggage in the coin lockers at the station and took a tram to the Peace Memorial area. The first thing you see when you get down from the tram is the A-Bombe Dome (Genbaku Dōmu), the only building that remained standing after the bomb exploded. It is actually the hypocentre of the bombing. When we visited, it was being restored, but you can clearly see the now famous dome, intact, surrounded by debris. On the other side of the river, on a little island, stands the Peace Memorial Park. It’s an area filled with monuments that commemorate the people who died the day of the bombing or the following years for the consequences of radiations. The Children’s Memorial is the most touching one. It’s filled with paper cranes in memory of Sadako, a 12 year old girl who died of leukaemia a few years after the bombing. She folded over 1,000 cranes during her illness as she believed she could get cured. In fact, a Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish. She has since become the symbol of what the bomb did to a generation of children. After the terrible earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 (at the time when we had first planned our trip) I too had folded a few paper cranes with the intention of taking them to Hiroshima. I did manage to take them there and I left them with all the others at the Children’s Memorial. Nowadays, the folding of paper cranes has become a symbol for a wish for Peace and a world free of nuclear weapons. While walking around the park, you can see the Flame of Peace, which shape symbolises hands held palm-upwards. The flame will burn until all nuclear weapons are removed from the Earth. The Memorial Cenotaph contains the register of all who have died as a result of exposure to the atomic bomb. It now lists more than 180,000 people. Through its arch you can see the Flame of Peace and the A-Bomb Dome. The Peace Bell is rung by visitors as part of their wish for Peace. The Museum is very touching and quite a “punch in the stomach”. Here is what the first lines of the Museum’s leaflet say: “At 8:15 AM of on August 6, 1945, the city of Hiroshima fell victim to the world’s first atomic bombing. The entire city was virtually levelled; thousands upon thousands of lives were lost. Many of those who managed to survive suffered irreparable physical and psychological damage and still suffer the effects today.” And then again on the atomic bomb: “When the bomb exploded, fierce heat rays and radiation burst out in every direction, expanding the air around the fireball and creating a super-high-pressure blast […] The intense heat rays and blast crushed and burned nearly all the buildings within 2 kilometers of the hypocentre. By the end of December 1945, when the acute effects of radiation had subsided, the bomb had taken approximately 140,000 precious lives.” And that, out of a population of approximately 350,000 people! We rented audio guides, but I must admit that I have skipped a few explanations, as they were really heartbreaking and mostly about children. Look at this burnt tricycle. It belonged to a 3 year old child who died. There were lots of burnt clothes and you can easily imagine the state of the people wearing them. You could also see plenty of melted ceramic and glass objects… even coins. There was even a shadow hatched on a wall! And black rain… You were allowed to touch a few objects to better understand the destructive power of the atomic bomb. There were explanations of what happened that day, but also of the long term effects of the bomb on the population. So many innocent people died for years because of the radiations. What impressed me the most though was the spirit of the Museum. There was no hatred or anger. It was all shown to simply explain the facts the way they unfolded, so that a similar tragedy doesn’t happen again. Just to make people “think”. I thought it was an amazing “gift” to the rest of the world. If only we learnt. I know that, to many, this seems like it happened a long time ago. In fact, this August will mark the 70th Anniversary of the dropping of the bomb. The reality is that there are still over 50,000 survivors who live between Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the city where the second atomic bomb was dropped a few days later)! While the atmosphere inside the Museum is quite sombre, the areas around it (even inside the Memorial Park itself!) were quite lively. There were plenty of happy people doing hanami and picnics under the beautiful sakura trees. Life really does go on. Though, every time I saw someone who could be in their 70’s, I couldn’t help but wonder what terrible things he or she must have experienced or witnessed as a child. Many people just concentrate in the Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto areas when they visit Japan, but I highly recommend a visit to Hiroshima (and Miyajima). If you are staying in Osaka or Kyoto… it’s just 1 and a half hour away. When you leave the place you will surely be sad and overwhelmed, but you will also feel richer and filled with hope for a better world.
HOURS AND FEES
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum Hours 8:30 to 18:00 (until 19:00 in August and until 17:00 from December to February) Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time. Closed December 29 to January 1 Fees 50 yen
Hiroshima is famous for its own style of okonomiyaki, which is characterized by only a thin layer of batter and a generous amount of cabbage on top of yakisoba noodles. The toppings include oysters, squid and cheese. The dish is then finished off with bonito flakes, green laver and okonomiyaki sauce. You can find many okonomiyaki restaurants in Okonomimura and around Hiroshima Station. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to taste this! We’ll have to go back to try it! 😉
RESOURCES ON MSM
TRAVEL IN JAPAN:
HOW TO GET THERE
You can easily reach Hiroshima by Shinkansen. It takes about 1.5 hours from Osaka/Kyoto and about 5 hours from Tokyo (with a change in Shin-Osaka). To go to the Peace Memorial Park, from Hiroshima Station, take tram line 2 or 6 to Genbaku-Domu Mae (原爆ドーム前) station. The ride takes 15 minutes.