When you think about Hiroshima what is the first thing that comes to your mind? First atomic bomb attack, right? Unfortunately that’s the introduction of Hiroshima. Yes, every year millions of visitors from all over the world come here to see the place where so many people were killed in this instant nuclear explosion. Hiroshima is so much more than its atomic legacy. It´s a modern city with lots of museums, parks, bridges, historical places and vibrant nightlife.
Before describing Hiroshima, I’ve written some of the facts about bombing Hiroshima which I found very interested and might help you understand more of its history and recovery.
- On August 6 1945 at 8:15am the US decided to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima and force Japan to surrender. Some 70000-80000 people were killed by the blast and firestorm and between 180000-200000 over the following years as result of after-effects, like burns, radiation sickness and cancer.
- The Uranium-based atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima was the equivalent of 20,000 tonnes of TNT and it annihilated about 80% of the cities buildings. The mushroom cloud climbed up to 25,000 feet in the sky.
- Nearly everything within 2 km radius was destroyed.
- The names for all three atomic bombs were created by Robert Serber, a former student who worked on the Manhattan Project. According to Serber, he chose them based on their design shapes. The “Fat Man” (Nagasaki) was round and fat, and was named after Sydney Greenstreet’s “Kasper Gutman” character in The Maltese Falcon. Little Boy (Hiroshima) came last, and was named after Elisha Cook Jr’s character in the same film, as referred to by Humprey Bogart.
- A man named Tsutomu Yamaguchi survived the atomic blast at Hiroshima, dragged himself into an air-raid shelter, spent the night there, in the morning caught a train so he could arrive at his job on time (killing time synonym) in Nagasaki where he survived another atomic blast. He died of stomach cancer at the age of 93. Although at least 69 people are known to have been affected by both bombings, he is the only person to have been officially recognized by the government of Japan as surviving both explosions.
- The oleander is the official flower of the city of Hiroshima because it was the first to bloom again after the explosion.
- The Gingko Biloba species of tree is 270 million years old. There are known for their tenacity. Six trees growing between 1–2 km from the explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast. The ginkgos, though charred, survived and were soon healthy again.
- Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not radioactive anymore mostly because the bombs didn’t touch the ground, but were detonated in the air.
- The creature Godzilla was used as a metaphor for nuclear weapons.
First place we saw was Peace Memorial Park. It was built in 1950s as a commemorative place and a symbol of peace, covering an area of 122,100 m2. Our starting point was Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It consists of the East Building (which was open) and Main Building (closed for renovations until July of 2018). It opens at 8:30am and closes at 5pm at winter time or 6pm summer time. Admission is 200¥ for adults, high school students 100¥ and children 12 and younger can see it for free. Plan to spend at least two hours here. You will learn about daily lives of the people in Hiroshima before the bombing, about development and dropping of the A-bomb, the consequences of the bomb on the city and its people and effort towards the abolition of nuclear weapons. Special Exhibition Room displays artifacts and donated belongings of the victims like a watch that stopped at 8:15 am, or burnt school uniforms. This exhibition will have a big impact on you . You’ll never forget photographs of woman and children with burns, soldier with purple spots from bleeding under the skin, or stories of victims who survived.
Phoenix trees (Chinese parasol trees) are located outside of the museum on the right side. They were located 1.5 km from the hypocenter and survived. Still showing scorch marks.
At the center of the Park, at the pond, there is a Cenotaph. It was designed by Tange Kenzo (who also designed the Peace Museum, Flame and National Peace Memorial Hall) and it holds the names of all the known victims of the bomb. The Flame of Peace has burned since 1964 in honor of the victims and will be extinguished only when all nuclear weapons are removed from the world and the Earth is free from nuclear threat. If you look through the Cenotaph it will align with the Flame and the Dome.
New part of the Park is Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. It was established in 2002 to remember and mourn the sacred sacrifice of the atomic bomb victims. You can search and view photos of the deceased and read notes about the experience. The bombed city scape seen from the proximity of the hypocenter is reflected on the wall surface with about 140,000 tiles, the number of victims as of December 1945.
At the north entrance there is the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound. Ashes of unidentified victims are interred in a vault below. Also you can ring a Peace Bell by yourself.
Something that I will remember forever is a story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who was exposed to the A-bomb at the age of two, but she grew into a strong and healthy girl. Unfortunately nine years later she contracted leukemia. She believed that if she could make 1000 paper cranes she would recover from her illness (paper cranes in Japan are symbol of longevity and happiness). She died before she could finish her goal, but her classmates folded the rest. Her story is known all over the world and children from over the country and world send paper cranes which surround the Children’s Peace Monument.
Perhaps the most significant reminder of the destruction is the Atomic Bomb Dome. It was built by Czech architect in 1915 as a Industrial Promotion Hall. The Bomb exploded almost directly above it, 600m above and 160m southeast of the Hall and it instantlykilled everyone in it. The building was one of very few left standing near the epicenter and it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1996.
On 6 August, the anniversary of the atomic bombing, a memorial service is held in Peace Memorial Park. A moment of silence is observed at 8:15 am and thousands of paper lanterns for the souls of the dead are floated down the Kyuota-gawa River.
Being here, standing on the place of such a huge destruction, where so many people have died was overwhelming. You feel humble, angry, sad… You feel the transience of our existence. The world should be more determined and willing to stop something like this from happening again. The debate over the bomb continues to this day. Let´s all hope that The Flame of Peace in Hiroshima Memorial Park will be extinguished.
After all this very emotional sightseeing we decided to find a nice place to have a drink (me) and watching the Pittsburgh Penguins beating the Ottawa Senators to advance to the Stanley Cup. We didn’t have to look far, “Akushu Café” has a great selection of Japanese wine, smoothies, burgers and sweets. It´s located north from Dome on the ground floor of the Hiroshima Orizuru Tower.
After having a couple of drinks celebrating Penguins victory we headed north to see Hiroshima Castle. As everything else, it was destroyed in 1945 but reconstructed in 1958. Admission fee is 370¥ for adults and 180¥ for senior and high school students. Junior high school students and younger are free of charge. It´s open from 9am till 5pm (winter time ) or 6pm (summer). Lots of ruins, stone walls, couple of trees surviving atomic bomb blast, old stone steps…. Castle tower has some awesome exhibits: Weapon-Armour Exhibits, Castle History, Samurai culture. On the 5th floor there is an Observation Platform.
Beautiful Shukkei-en (garden) was built in 1620. It´s name means “shrink-scenery garden” and it was modeled after West Lake in Hangzhou, China . Miniature bridges, ponds, streams are all connected by a path which you can stroll around (find a way around) the entire garden.
Unfortunately that was all we were able to see in a day. There is so much more: Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Manga Library, Children´s Museum, Mazda Museum…
I was really hoping we could visit (idioms dictionary) Miyajima Island (Itsukushima) which means shrine island. It´s less then hour away from Hiroshima and it´s famous for its giant torii gate which at high tide seems to float on the water. The Itsukushima Shrine and its torii gate are unique for being built over water, so put it on your list.
And don´t forget to try some sake. A short ride east of Hiroshima is the town of Saijo , also known as “The Sake town”, one of Japan’s three great sake-producing areas.
Most sights are accessible on foot or you can use a tram (street car). They will get you almost anywhere for a flat fare of 160. You can also use Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus (200¥ single ride, 400¥ for an all day pass or if you have JR Pass you can ride for free).
Hiroshima is a city with a huge message – that of hope for peace.