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Asia » Japan » Hiroshima » Hiroshima
July 27th 2014
Published: October 9th 2014
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We had an idea in our mind how Hiroshima would be and it was nothing like we expected. We had both learned about Hiroshima while we were at University, on very different courses. Neil on a Biomedical Science course, about the effects of radiation on the human body. Donna on an International Relations course, about the Second World War, its end in Asia and the post-war recovery of Japan.

We have to say, this blog is quite a difficult one for us to write, in the same respect as writing about S21 prison or the Killing Fields (in Cambodia) was difficult. The only reason Hiroshima is known throughout the world is due to a very dark day of recent human history and the story around the ‘Little Boy’ bomb and the city, all of which is thought provoking, a little harrowing and very poignant.

That fateful day… Monday, August 6, 1945, 8:15am

This was the first time the atomic bomb was ever used; a single bomb of 4.4 tonnes destroyed the vast majority of the city of Hiroshima. The estimates suggest that around 100,000 people were killed either by the initial blast or within a few days from radiation poisoning, burns or other injuries.

At the centre of where the blast happened, the Japanese built a memorial park as a remembrance to all the victims, to raise awareness about nuclear weapons and try and contribute to world peace. The mayor of Hiroshima is a very vocal proponent of nuclear disarmament and has written hundreds of letters to this effect to the nuclear power states.

A bit about the museum

The Hiroshima Peace Museum has been very carefully thought out and according to the research we did, it’s the most popular of Hiroshima's destinations for school field-trips from all over Japan and for international visitors. Apparently, since the museum opened in 1955, 53 million people have visited the museum and it continues to get over one million visitors per year. There is a nominal entrance fee of ¥50 (28p).

The museum is split into two parts – the first part (which is the newest part of the building) describes the events leading up to the development and dropping of the atomic bomb, stretching back as far as the late 1800’s. It explained how in every major war the Japanese had entered, Hiroshima was the staging post due to its unique geography. It was this unique geography, the population size and the military staging ability that put it into US military planners short-list for test sites. The museum also has lots of information about nuclear weapons, countries which have them (and how many they have, which is shocking in itself!) and efforts for international peace. This part of the museum has a lot of scale models with before and after the bomb depictions as well as the copies of letters the Mayor of Hiroshima has written.

There is also a lot of information about the science of nuclear weapons and the decision making behind the dropping of the bomb. Some of the letters in the displays show that the scientists working on the Manhattan project strenuously objected to testing (after all, this is what it was) the A bomb on a human population without any warning. The military, from the documentation, overruled the scientists and went ahead without issuing any warnings. While we were in this section of the museum, we overheard a kid who was about 8 or 9 years old asking his parents why would people choose to do this to other people…how do you answer that question?

There are also scale models of how the city looked before and after the bomb was dropped and where ‘ground zero’ was. In fact, there wasn’t a ground zero, the bomb was detonated in the air, so the effects of radiation would disperse more into the air. On some of the pictures of the scale models you can see a red ball – this is where the bomb exploded that day.

Even though we both know a lot about modern history, there was one fact which had never been taught in school (nor was it mentioned in Donna’s University education), after the bomb had been dropped, administration of the city was handed over to the British. The British administrators decided on a media censorship/blackout campaign, so it wasn’t for several years that the rest of Japan actually found out what happened at Hiroshima and how many people died.

We found the information in this part of the museum to be very informative and not as biased as it could have been considering the subject matter and it prompted us to make comparisons between the Saigon/Ho Chi Min City museums about the Vietnam War (which, in our opinion, was slightly biased in favour of Communist Vietnam!).

The second part of the museum was quite upsetting. This was where all the relics and pictures of the impact of the bomb are displayed, ranging from a child’s bike, a stopped watch and pictures of a woman’s back with the pattern of her kimono burnt onto it. There were original concrete steps with human ‘shadows’ burnt onto them from the initial blast. It was in this section that the incredibly sad story of Sadako Sasaki was told. This little girl was 12 years old when she died from leukaemia which was attributed to the radiation she was exposed to as a 2 year old when the bomb exploded. There is an old Japanese belief that if you fold a thousand paper cranes then the illness you are suffering from will disappear. She folded more than a thousand of them before she died and these cranes have become a symbol of her struggle.

Peace Memorial Park

After looking around the museum, we then had a quiet and contemplative walk around the Peace Memorial Park. It was, like all parks in Japan, beautifully manicured and looked after. We headed to the cenotaph which also contains a mass grave. This grave has the ashes of approximately 70,000 victims interred; the majority of the victims are unidentified as in the days immediately after the bomb, bodies had to be quickly burnt to prevent disease spreading.

We have to say that the cenotaph and the water display behind it featuring the Peace Flame is beautifully designed. The Peace Flame has burned continuously since it was first lit in 1964. We then came across the Children’s Peace Memorial which was dedicated to the children who died and was inspired by Sadako Sasaki. The statue is of a girl with outstretched arms with a paper crane.

Genbaku Dōmu, better known as the A Bomb dome

Further along again was the Genbaku Dōmu, which at the time of the bombing was an exhibition hall, but the Japanese military planners used it for war planning. Genbaku Dōmu was the only building left standing after the blast and in 1996 became UNESCO recognised on the World Heritage List. The decision was taken after the war to leave the remains of the building as a reminder of the devastation nuclear weapons can cause. We suspect it has been renovated at various points in time but it stands as a poignant reminder of what happened that day.

The day we visited, was a very similar day weather-wise to 6th August 1945 and for a while we just sat next to the river thinking about everything we had seen and imagining what it must have been like on that day. Because it was so hot we didn’t walk around all of the monuments in the park and in retrospect we think this was a good thing. Reading blogs after the fact we found out that the sheer number of monuments to different groups of people made the Memorial Park feel a bit silly to some bloggers. We had a wander around Genbaku Dōmu, saw a lot of colourful paper cranes folded and we called it a day with the Memorial Park and Museum…we were physically (due to the heat) and mentally drained!

Hiroshima city observations

We have to say, we absolutely loved Hiroshima city, it wasn’t what we were expecting at all. We’re going to sound really silly now, but we weren’t sure what to expect after reading so much about the bombing.

There seemed to be a lot of green space and the main road through Hiroshima, Heiwa-o-dori (Peace Boulevard) was great, although it took about half an hour to cross as the green men didn’t match up!

The people

What we found was a nice modern city and some of the friendliest people we encountered in Japan, several times we had people stop us on the street to just chat or say hello. We know we have lived in Asia too long as we really had to get ourselves out of the ‘scamming mindset’…usually when someone approaches you on the street in Asia, they are not being friendly, they are trying to scam you. Not in Japan though! A lovely old guy cycled past us in the shopping centre and said ‘hello, welcome to Japan’ with a big grin on his face, so sweet!

Everyone knows that Japan has an ageing population, and it wasn’t until we got to Hiroshima that we realised we hadn’t seen very many pregnant women in the other places we had visited. Hiroshima had a huge number of pregnant women for some reason and it stood out because we just hadn’t seen any elsewhere. We had, however, seen a lady in Tokyo who had her dog kitted out in a nappy, was pushing it around in a kids pram and talking to it like a baby…weird!

Shopping and transport

Some of the things we saw which just baffled us in the shops…this doesn’t even include the window or street displays of huge, stuffed ET toys! There were chair socks, for if your chair legs get cold?! We saw the ubiquitous white driving gloves, they come in all sizes you know!

In the street there were novel parking solutions in the form of stacked car parking, how they got the cars out puzzled us completely! The petrol stations had fantastic pumps, instead of coming up from the ground, they dangled from the ceiling of the forecourt; meaning instead of storing the petrol in below ground tanks they stored them on the top of the building. First time we had ever seen that!

The street car system (or tram as we call them in the UK), called the Hiroden, dates back to before the war. We have to say it was a nice, efficient way to get around the city and pretty good value. There was a flat fare system in place of ¥160 for most of the lines and although it was an exact change machine you had to put your money in, at the front and backs of the trams there was a change machine to change your larger notes! No other country we have been to with exact fare transport has ever had a change machine on board. We really liked the tram system and made good use of it while we were in the city.

Food

Hiroshima was the only place where we had breakfast included with our hotel and oh my, it was good! It was a huge buffet spread with a great mix of Japanese and Western food. Our favourites were the onigiri (oooh, we miss them!), fresh fruit, croissants and jam, pastries, eggs, noodles, rice cereal and proper coffee from a machine. We stuffed ourselves silly but it saved us having to buy lunch 😉.

The city was jam-packed full of restaurants and just around the corner from our hotel on our first night we discovered an excellent Italian. The owner was a really nice guy and was so excited we had gone in there to eat and proudly presented us with his menu in English. We have to say it was pretty good value and delicious, for around ¥3800 (£21) we had two pizzas, a big bowl of pasta, a chicken salad, a big beer and a glass of wine.

Hotel

We stayed in the Comfort Inn Hiroshima Otemachi and it was excellent value. We paid ¥6800 (£39) a night for a double room with breakfast included. The staff spoke excellent English and an added bonus was there were free drinks available every afternoon in the café/breakfast area (tea, coffee etc) which was a really nice touch. There was also a 7-11 conveniently located in the building next door and a tram stop right outside the door and walking distance to the Peace Park and City Centre. We got the usual toiletries and instead of pyjamas we got a weird nightshirt which reminded us of the pyjamas in the old R Whites advert back when we were kids! For people not familiar with this wonderful advert – here it is in all it’s glory!



Our next blog will be on our very enjoyable day trip outside Hiroshima and hopefully, it won’t be as long a wait for this one to be written!


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Letter from the mayor of Hiroshima to the UK AmbassadorLetter from the mayor of Hiroshima to the UK Ambassador
Letter from the mayor of Hiroshima to the UK Ambassador

The mayor writes hundreds of letters to the nuclear powers asking them to give up their nuclear weapons
Ranking of the nuclear powers...Ranking of the nuclear powers...
Ranking of the nuclear powers...

...shocking how many nuclear weapons there are in the world
This display was a bit harrowing...This display was a bit harrowing...
This display was a bit harrowing...

...it even had very life-like the skin falling off the mannequins
Explanation of 'Little Boy'Explanation of 'Little Boy'
Explanation of 'Little Boy'

The bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima
Paper cranes for Sadako SasakiPaper cranes for Sadako Sasaki
Paper cranes for Sadako Sasaki

the little girl exposed at the age of two to the atomic bomb, 10 years later she developed leukemia


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