On August 6, 1945, at 8:15, an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over Hiroshima. The bomb detonated about 580 metres (1900 ft) above the city centre releasing the equivalent energy of 16 kilotons of TNT. 80,000 people, or 30% of the population of Hiroshima, were killed by the blast with thousands more later dying of radiation exposure.
After the war, much of the city was rebuilt and today it looks like any other Japanese city. Walking through the streets of the city, it’s hard to believe that over 70 years ago that these streets were completely destroyed. It speaks to the resilience of the people of Hiroshima.
One of the main reasons people travel to Hiroshima is to pay their respects and to learn more about what happened there on that faithful August morning so many years ago.
A-Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome)
At the centre of the city’s history is the Atomic Bomb Dome. Despite being located almost directly underneath the explosion, it avoided complete destruction. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and stands as a reminder of that day and the destructive power that can be created by humans, but also as hope for world peace.
The building is well preserved. All of the structural elements of the building remain in the same state as they were on the day of the bombing.
You can easily walk all the way around the building, seeing it from all angles. It’s quite the juxtaposition – this war torn building, a reminder of the past, set within a beautiful park and a bustling modern city.
Peace Memorial Park
While the Atomic Bomb Dome is easily the most identifiable symbol of Hiroshima, it sits within the Peace Memorial Park at the centre of Hiroshima. It is lush, green and peaceful. Within it, there are many memorials and buildings commemorating the lives that were lost and provides a gathering place for those wanting to pay their respects.
Children’s Peace Monument
This monument is a memorial to all the children who died due to the atomic bomb. Surrounding it are hundreds of thousands of folder paper cranes as a call for peace and a remembrance to one particular girl.
Sadako Sasaki was exposed to radiation from the bomb at the age of 2. While she survived the initial bombing, she later passed away due to leukemia at age 12. Through her hospitalization, she folded paper cranes setting out, and then exceeding, her goal to fold 1000 cranes. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds 1000 cranes will be granted a wish from the gods.
Sadako has since become a symbol of the impact of nuclear war and her folder paper cranes a symbol for peace. At the centre of the monument, there is a statue of Sadako holding a crane and even today, folded paper cranes are sent to the monument from around the world. You can find them folded into long strings or turned into artwork like the image above.
Flames of Peace
This flame, lit on August 1, 1964, will continue to burn until nuclear weapons are abolished worldwide.
Cenotaph for Atomic Bomb Victims
Officially known as the “Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace”, all of the names of those who lost their lives are inscribed on the monument. Ever year, new names are added to the list. The arch of the monument represents a shelter for all of the souls of the victims.
Peace Memorial Museum
Within the Peace Memorial Park is also the Peace Memorial Museum which documents the atomic bombing through a series of displays and videos. It covers the bombing from what life was like in Hiroshima before and the development of the bomb to the immediate aftermath and long term impact of the bombing to messages of peace and nuclear disarmament in the future.
Seeing all the artifacts – clothing, personal effects, photos, and first person stories – was shocking. Never before have I been so moved by a museum and I highly recommend a visit. Sure the subject is rather grime, but it documents such an important moment in history and worth learning about first hand.
During my visit, I saw one older Japanese lady sobbing through the exhibits. I don’t know her history and what Hiroshima is to her; I don’t know what was going through mind, but I do know, that this kind of pain inflicted by humans on other humans just shouldn’t exist. I understand all that lead up to the decision made by President Truman at the time, and maybe I’m being naive, but after reading and seeing its destruction it seems so simple to just not unleash this type of horror on another nation.
A Call for Peace
Along with all the sadness was a message of hope and peace – that humanity would learn from the destruction of Hiroshima (and the subsequent bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945) so that atomic bombs would never be used again in combat. Everywhere I went there were calls for peace and strong message for nuclear disarmament.
After exploring the various sites, memorials, and the museum, seeing what remains and hearing the stories, I’m there with them. Isn’t this the point of traveling? To go somewhere else, view their history, experience their culture and learn? Allowing yourself to broaden your worldview, challenge your misunderstandings and hopefully gain some compassion for a different way of life.
When people visit Japan, they typically head to Tokyo, Kyoto and possibly Osaka. That’s a great way to get a taste of the country – I visited those cities on my first trip to Japan and I had a wonderful time. However, I challenge you to take an extra day or two and head further south to Hiroshima to see and experience a different part of Japanese history.
Have you been to Hiroshima – how did it make you feel? Were you as affected as I was? If not, have you been to other memorials and similar places? What were those experiences like?