[I said in an earlier post that I would talk about my trip to the 原爆ドーム / A-bomb Dome and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. This is that post. Mind you that I am no expert on the events that unfolded on August 6, 1945. Most of the facts I provide in this post can be found in the Hiroshima Peace Reader, which I purchased at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. You can purchase a copy here or at the museum. Any other facts I provide will be followed with their corresponding source.]
[This post covers a very sensitive topic, one that many people have a difficult time discussing. While I spend most of the post recalling my thoughts and feelings of the visit, hateful comments and statements of blame regarding WWII, the bombing and anything before/after/in between will not be tolerated. I have done my absolute best to avoid using such language in this post and would appreciate if the readers/commenters do the same.]
It was my third and final day in Hiroshima and my tutor [and her friend whose family kindly hosted us for the visit] saved the one place I most wanted to visit for last.
Prior to visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Peace Park, and Museum, we had explored nearly every corner of Hiroshima that is highly recommended by everyone who has ever set foot there.
We traveled out to Miyajima, an island about an hour outside of the Hiroshima city center and home to the world famous Itsukushima Shrine; the one with the big, red tori gate standing out on the shore.
The shrine itself is a registered UNESCO World Heritage sight and one of a kind. I haven’t been to many Japanese shrines, but I can be almost certain that the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima sets itself apart from the rest as it sits atop the shores of the Seto Inland Sea.
[Picture spam because I can]
The tide was low when we visited. When it’s completely dry, visitors are allowed to walk up to the tori gate.
We also had the privilege of taking a boat tour of the shrine at night, to see the famous “Light Up” of the Itsukushima Shrine.
[Sorry guys, even with my semi-fancy camera, night pictures are just too difficult to take]
Behind the shrine [and stores selling delicious Hiroshima-style food] is Mt. Misen, which stands at about 535 meters above the sea. Visitors can take the ropeway halfway up the mountain and climb the rest from there. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the top from the halfway point.
I was in no real rush to make it to the top.
Those who remember the topic of this post, I’ll have you know that this island was, for the most part, untouched by the atomic bomb.
However, Miyajima played its part. Particularly in the re-build of Hiroshima and creation of the Peace Memorial Park.
Especially at the Reika-do Eternal Fire Hall [which is located about 10 minutes from the summit of Mt. Misen], whose flame lit the eternal flame that burns at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
The day after Miyajima consisted mostly of shopping and eating, which I’m not complaining about since I love both of those activities equally.
I’ll bring this blog back to the original subject.
Although it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I decided to become a peace & justice minor and began to focus on peace building issues seriously, I have always had this urge to visit Hiroshima. The bombing in 1945 always intrigued me, but was never covered much in high school history classes. It was always more of a,
“Well, this happened and the war the ended shortly after. Shall I mention that many people died?”
Okay, there was more than that, but you get the main idea. For the most part, I did my own, half-assed-because-I’m-a-high-schooler research on the atomic bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And then some more in college.
Particularly with some of my college’s children’s books that cover the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, almost entirely from the perspective of a child.
With some of the most graphic illustrations that you would never imagine seeing in a book meant for kids.
If that was not a punch to the gut, I didn’t know what was.
Until you make your own pilgrimage to Hiroshima.
I started my day at the Hiroshima Castle, the fortress that helped put Hiroshima on the map as a large Japanese city and ultimately led to its position as a strategic military port.
I should mention that this historic building may look old, but it was actually only built in the 1960s.
Because the original, the one built in 1591 and named a national treasure in 1931, was completely destroyed by the atomic bomb. For the most part, it was flattened by the blast; some of it burned.
We made our way all the way to the top, which was completely work the hike.
You could see most of Hiroshima City from atop the castle.
Even the budding sakura trees and the families picnicking under them for the afternoon.
If you squint hard enough, you can spot the top of the 原爆ドーム / A-bomb Dome among the green trees of the Peace Memorial Park.
We climbed down, smelled the cherry blossoms and made our way to lunch. Climbing up and down castles ain’t easy my friends.
It’s not too far of a walk to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Park from the Hiroshima bus station.
We got to the park in the afternoon, allowing the sun to catch the 原爆ドーム / A-bomb Dome just right as we entered the park.
Entering the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Peace Park can be compared to entering Central Park in New York City. A few feet in and you’re met with this silence that you would not expect to see in a large city.
[Photo from the A-bomb Dome Visitors Site]
The history of the building would need it’s own post, so I’ll just give you the fly-by ver.
At the time of the bombing, this building was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall and construction for it was finished in 1915 (Kosakai 2007). It’s name and purpose changed a number of times until 1933, when it began the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, housing important government offices and exhibits relating to the war (Kosaki 2007).
It is thought that about 30 people were in this building the morning of August 6, 1945. However, we can not be entirely sure because everyone inside perished, since it was located 160 meters away from the hypocenter.
[Photo from the A-bomb Dome Visitors Site]
I don’t know about others who have visited the A-bomb Dome, but it was not easy for me. This place where I stood, once a bustling city center, would’ve been comparable to hell. A blast so strong that nearly all infrastructure would have no chance in being able to stand. Heat so incredibly hot [the ground beneath the hypocenter estimated to have been at least 6,000° C] that even jumping into the neighboring river would not save you, since the river became a boiling body of water (Kosaki 2007). Radiation so extremely alien to this planet, that anything that was not completely obliterated was twisted and reshaped into an unnatural form.
Families of victims were considered lucky if they had even the smallest of remains of their loved ones returned to them. Sometimes people would find an article of clothing, but not its owner.
In the museum, near the end, there was an ever-so small exhibit highlighting the personal hell that families of victims suffered through shortly after the bomb dropped. Mostly in diary form.
One that particularly touched me was a diary of a mother whose child never returned from school on August 6th. I apologize for not being able to find an internet copy of it.
She spoke of her dreams at night in which her child was walking home from the disaster area. Other times, she dreamt of her child scared, hurt and alone, somewhere in the still burning city center. She told her child that it was okay now and it was safe to come home.
That child never came home.
Watches that stopped at 8:15am- the time Little Boy exploded above Hiroshima. Articles of clothing that managed to be saved from both the flames and radiation. Body parts in abnormal states preserved to show the effects of radiation. Shadows of both things and people, burned into concrete and metal surfaces (Kosaki 2007). Explanation and documentation of the “black rain” that poured upon Hiroshima and the surrounding area, bringing about even more destruction. Children born after the bombing, either having suffered a premature birth [often dying shortly after] or growing up with physical deformities and [in some cases] severe mental disabilities.
The museum was a never ending haunt of what had happened that day.
The letters exchanged in the planning and building of the atomic bomb by the Allied Powers was an especially difficult part.
In hindsight, everything hurts 100x more.
The counting of the dead was extremely hard and is still disputed to this day. There are numbers starting at 70,000 and going up to nearly 120,000 (Kosaki 2007). This is excluding military personal and those who were undocumented, like forced laborers [many from South Korea] and prisoners of war.
It can be estimated that over 300,000 people were exposed and effected by the atomic bomb (Kosaki 2007).
I know people will mention the fact that more people died and greater infrastructure was destroyed in the Tokyo Fire Bombings in March 1945 than who and what was swept away by both of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I am not here to say one was worse than the other. Both atrocities were so high on the destructive scale.
However, I think we can all agree that our future as human beings drastically changed after August 6, 1945.
Outside the museum, in the surrounding park, lie a number of memorials to various groups of people affected and victimized by the atomic bomb. 1/3 of the Hiroshima Peace Reader describes each and every monument.
It does not, however, include the hundreds throughout Hiroshima.
Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students: for the over 10,000 students of Hiroshima Prefecture who died when they were mobilized during WWII. It is estimated that nearly 7,000 of those students died on August 6, 1945 or shortly after (Kosaki 2007). Inside the tower are the names of the students who perished. On the rear of the tower are the names of all the Japanese schools that had students who died during the war.
[“This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in this world.”]
Children’s Peace Monument: built after the death of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who contracted leukemia at the age of 12 due to exposure from the atomic bomb [she was 2 years old at the time]. In hopes that folding a thousand paper cranes would grant her her wish of getting better, Sadako folded cranes until her death on October 25, 1955. Inspired by Sadako’s life, her classmates reached out to people from all around the world in hopes to erect a memorial in her honor- one that speaks their desire for world peace. It was finished in 1958 and houses paper cranes [senbazuru] donated from all around the world.
I could’ve spent a day and half looking for each monument at this park, but there was only so much time during my trip.
At the center of the park and located behind the museum is the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims.
After the A-bomb Dome, this is one of those monuments you must see when you visit.
With the Flame of Peace and the A-bomb Dome as its backdrop, the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims holds [inside the coffin underneath the granite-like stone in the shape of an ancient house] all of the names of those killed by the atomic bombs. Due to the difficulty of identifying victims, names are still being added to this day (Kosaki 2007).
[“Let all souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the evil”]
While we were taking it all in, a man kindly asked if I wanted a picture with the cenotaph. I declined and felt a little bad as he walked away; maybe since I was feeling emotional I came across as upset with his offer. I wasn’t upset.
However, I just didn’t really desire a picture of myself in front of this special monument. What would I do, smile?
Maybe I was too serious. I’m not entirely sure. The day was ending and everything was becoming a blur.
The flame behind the cenotaph can be considered an eternal flame, but in its creators do not wish for it to burn forever. As long as nuclear weapons stay on this planet, this flame will burn (Kosaki 2007).
Let’s put this fire out.
This post is already long and thank you so much for sticking with it for this long. I’m almost done, I promise.
Our last stop was the museum and when we were done, we decided it was a good time to head home for the evening and enjoy one more night at the house with a traditional Japanese dinner and some drinks.
We walked through the park towards the station, taking it all in one last time.
I was feeling emotional, like I said before, and it was particularly strong after the museum.
However, the mood changed.
The sun was beginning to set at the park. People were getting off of work and school. Those with time to spare bought some snacks, met up with friends, and enjoyed the sanctuary that is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Folks relaxing on the benches or grass, underneath the newly bloomed cherry blossoms.
Smiles, laughter. Everyone sharing life with one another.
I began to smile. This city rose up, literally, from the ashes. Without hate or blame [which could very well be due to American occupation during the re-building stages, which called for no anti-American protests whatsoever], this city became a mecca of peace.
Each year, the mayor of Hiroshima drafts and presents the Hiroshima Declaration of Peace.
“Look squarely at the future of the human family without being trapped in the past, and make the decision to shift to a system of security based on trust and dialogue.”
– Mayor Kazumi Matsui (2013); directed towards the policy-makers of the world
This place where, so many focus on the destruction of the past, is tirelessly paving the way towards a peaceful future.
Whether their methods are working or not, does not matter. They are at least trying.
Hiroshima will change you. The sights are phenomenal, the food is delicious and the people. They’ll change you too.
The family I stayed with was so incredibly kind that it was extremely hard to leave. My last evening we shared some Japanese-style meatloaf [ハンバーグ] and beer. We spoke a little bit about August 6, 1945 [the cloud could be seen from the home I stayed at], but also about life in general. What home back in the States is like. Why it was funny that I had to duck everywhere in the house because the ceilings are too low (or I’m just too tall).
Back at the Peace Memorial Park, I got one last look at the A-bomb Dome. This time, with some cherry blossoms as well.
Life can persevere. Life can be beautiful, even after facing indescribable destruction.
August 6, 1945:
At 8:15am, it seemed like the concept of world peace disappeared forever from the face of this earth.
Once the smoke cleared, the rain stopped and the plants began to grow again,
Peace was born once more.
Go in peace,
Thank you so much for reading. I spent quite the time on this post and would love to hear your thoughts.
You can find information about the Hiroshima Peace Reader below:
Kosaki Y. (2007). Hiroshima peace reader (A. Tashiro, M. Tashiro, R. Ramseyer & A.R. Ramseyer, Trans.). Hiroshima, Japan: Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation. (Original work published 1980)
As I parted from Hiroshima, I left an ema at a local shrine. Feel free to read it below.