On August 6th, 1945 at 08:15 hrs an atomic bomb was dropped over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It detonated at 600 meters above ground and formed a 230 meter wide firebomb, sending out radiant heat at 6000 degrees Celsius and creating a powerful blast wave.
The net result was everything incinerated or flattened. 70,000 people died instantly. Many survivors were terribly burned, or severely injured, so there were many more deaths in the next few days. Then, people who seemed to have survived unscathed, started to die of radiation sickness – basically all their active growing cells were killed. The gut and bone marrow were hardest hit, resulting in diarrhea and hemorrhage, leading to death. Other survivors succumbed to malignancies in later years. A terrible thing. * Overall, more than 140,000 souls lost their lives.
We were reminded of these sobering facts while visiting the Peace Memorial Museum, in the city of Hiroshima. It will take you about an hour to walk through this eye-opening display. We paid special attention to the testimonies of the survivors which were harrowing tales. The museum is well thought out, emotionally moving and done in a language of neutrality. Just the facts – no blame.
We then walked through the Memorial Park to “The Atomic Bomb Dome” (Genbaku) – the stone and rusted steel remains of a large building which was only 130 meters from ground zero. The citizens of Hiroshima debated about razing this structure but decided that leaving it would be an ominous reminder to all who gaze upon it about the devastation that took place in this city. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Peace Memorial also has a Cenotaph which is a monument that honours those whose remains are located elsewhere. The structure is designed in Shinto style with a vault underneath that contains a list of the names of those who died.
Each year on the anniversary of that fateful August 6th morning, a service is held in front of the cenotaph. At precisely 0815 hrs a minute of silence is observed to honour the victims and their families. In the evening there is a vigil for world peace as thousands of lanterns are placed in the Motoyasu River located next to the park. The spectacle of colourful lit lanterns floating on the river against the night sky is very moving.
Later, down a side road, we found a small marble stele, which marks ground zero. It is very easy to miss this unobtrusive plaque.
Hiroshima is extremely picturesque with estuaries running through it making way for splendid riverside walks. We were delighted to find a young, vibrant city with modern architecture, splendid gardens, oodles of restaurants and friendly people.
That evening after a delectable dinner of excellent sushi, we went to Hiroshima Castle, a fortress surrounded by a moat. The original structure, built in 1589, was an important seat of power. The castle was destroyed in 1945, along with almost everything else in the city. It has been rebuilt and houses a museum dedicated to the history of Japanese castles.
Hiroshima is a “must see” when you visit Japan. Using your JR Rail pass, the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) will take you from Kyoto to Hiroshima in about 1hr and 40 minutes.
Hiroshima is very walkable and you can get to the Peace Park from Hiroshima train station in less than 45 minutes. There are also trams directly in front of the station that will take you to the Park if you prefer to ride.
While visiting Hiroshima, be sure to take the short ferry ride to Miyajima Island and spend a day before continuing your tour of Japan. (Blog on Miyajima coming soon!)
*Further reading: an excellent article on the entire history of Hiroshima from the time of the 1945 bombing through the rebuilding of the city can be found in the GUARDIAN here.
We’ve been to Japan just once and we are itching to get back – so many wonderful things to do and see. It is an easy country to traverse by train. The food is magnificent; the people are lovely; the streets are spotless; the architecture is unique; the cherry blossoms are spectacular!
I’m thinking 2021 might be a nice time to go back!
Check out more TRDB articles on Japan: