Like I said in a previous post, many people associate Hiroshima with the atomic bombings in World War II and that alone. However, the city has been rebuilt decades ago and is a very strong and cultural metropolis. That being said, the bombing is not hidden and nor should it. In the center of Hiroshima, visitors can find the Peace Memorial Park, Peace Museum, and various memorials erected throughout the area. In my mind, this is a place every human being should visit to truly understand the atomic bombing and the strength of the Japanese people to memorialize the victims.
Now, there are three main places that I recommend visiting: the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Peace Museum, and Shukkei-en Gardens.
The whole experience is very depressing, so I suggest doing all of these things in the morning and get depressed, then go see the rest of Hiroshima or Miyajima and try to brighten up the day.
To start with, let’s talk about Shukkei-en Gardens.
Shukkei-en:These gardens are very easy to get to. If you want to walk, it is only fifteen minutes from Hiroshima Station, however; if you prefer to take the tram line, you can head to Shukkeien-mae on line 9. From Hiroshima Station take a tram from lines 1, 2 or 6 to Hacchobori and transfer to tram line 9. From there, get off at Shukkeien-mae. It should only take about 15 minutes and costs about 160 yen. For a really great map, I recommend visiting Japan-Guide’s website here.
The gardens themselves are behind the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum and require tickets for full access. The tickets costs 250 yen for adults, 150 yen for high school and university students, and 100 yen for middle school and elementary students. Additionally, you can purchase a shared ticket for the Prefectural Art Museum, as well.I think that for many people, these gardens will remind them of the picturesque Japanese gardens that are stereotyped in movies an anime shows. Originally built in 1620 by renowned Tea Ceremony master Ueda Soko, the gardens were to act as a villa retreat for the feudal lord of Hiroshima. The name Shukkei-en literally means “contracted scenic beauty” and is rumored to have been based off Xi Hu (West Lake) in Hangzhou China. Major structures, orchards, and gardens are built around a central pond to better emulate the surroundings of Xi Hu lake.
Shukkei-en goes a step further in its emulation of a thriving lake through its strong animal presence. Koi fish swarm the central bridge, waiting to be fed, and turtles crawl around on the shores to the left and right of the garden. They’re pretty curious and we were almost able to pet them, but koi are assholes and chased them away.
Ah well, I probably would have spent far too much time playing with the turtles anyways. This enabled me to continue exploring the pathways until I eventually found a memorial for atomic bomb victims. I had no idea that this place had survived the attack and that afterwards, people had sought refuge here. The memorial below now serves as a memory to those who sought refuge in Shukkei-en.The colorful pillars to each side of the central stone are actually folded cranes which became a huge symbol of restoration and hope after the attacks, more on that later.
After seeing this, the garden became a much more surreal experience and I soon learned that the stone bridge in the center of the pond, the rainbow bridge, actually survived the atomic blast. When you walk across it, you can actually see the various stones’ shading differ based on what was more exposed to the blast. Its truly incredible.However, despite the more depressing history behind this garden and those who died here, it is inspiring to see the gardens blooming and lush with life. Even if some of that life is creepy, greedy swarms of koi :).
Peace Park & Memorials: After finishing up the previous area, head over to the Memorial Park. This is a large central park with monuments and memorials dedicated to various groups or events related to the atomic bomb attack. Furthermore, this is also where the Peace Museum is located. For a little added emotion, this entire area was originally the political and commercial heart of the city, which is why it was chosen as such a high profile target for the bombs. It’s a very eery thing to imagine.
In order to get to the park, take tram line 2 or 6 from Hiroshima Station and get off at Gengbaku-Domu Mae (原爆ドーム前).
Once you arrive, start your sight seeing at the A-Bomb Dome. Officially known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, this building is one of the few structures to somewhat survive the atomic blast and has since been labeled a UNESCO Heritage Site and a link to the city’s unique past.Directly across the street from the dome (not the highway and not the river) are a series of small buildings. Nestled in front of them is a small statue that lied directly beneath the apex of the explosion and survived. Today, parts of the statue have different shades of black and grey, and different textures based off of what was more exposed to the explosion. It is absolutely insane.The rest of the park lies across the river, so as you walk towards the bridge to reach the other side, keep an eye out for the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students.
This is a breath taking memorial dedicated to the students killed in the atomic bombs who were mobilized as wrecking crews throughout the city. Before the bombing, Hiroshima was experiencing a fierce labor shortage and as a result, the Student Labor Service Act was introduced in August 1944. This act required middle grade students and higher to perform labor duties in munition factories and later to work in demolition teams to tear down buildings and other structures in case of bombings. Due to the atomic bomb, it is estimated that about 6,300 of the 8,400 mobilized students were killed. After the war, the government chose to only list the names of children, with solid death information, at Yasukuni Shrine. Naturally this couldn’t possibly cover all those that were lost, so many of the bereaved pooled donations and fundraising to erect this monument in honor of the nameless children.Eventually, you’re going to come upon a bridge that heads to your right across the river. Immediately after the bridge’s end, you’re going to find yourself at one of the most powerful monuments I’ve ever been to. This is the Children’s Peace Monument that commemorates Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of children killed by the atomic bomb. Sadako Sasaki was like many children in Hiroshima; she survived the bomb attack but contracted leukemia from the nuclear radiation that rained down onto the city. This monument isn’t just to recognize the fact that she was killed by aftereffects of the bomb but to respect her efforts after learning of her disease. Remember those paper cranes I told you about in the Shukkei-en gardens? Well, she popularized those cranes across the world.
Japanese lore tells the story of how a person who folds 1,000 paper cranes will be granted one wish. Well, after being diagnosed with leukemia, Sadako and her classmates decided to start folding cranes for the wish of world peace. One story goes that she died after folding just under 1,000 cranes, however; her classmates and many Good Samaritans continued her efforts and raised money for this monument. Today cranes from around the world arrive in mass, on a daily basis, greeted by many other donations and the statue of Sadako balaned on top of the memorial.
Here are just a few examples of the donated cranes she popularized:
I recommend your next stop be the centerpiece of the park, the Peace Museum.
Hiroshima Peace Museum:
This museum is a very emotional experience that portrays images before and after the bombing, diagrams that depict the various stages of destruction from the initial explosion, and the physical/mental disorders that arose in survivors. In many ways, it reminded me of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Before entering the museum itself, don’t miss the central memorial that possesses a piece of the everlasting flame from Mt. Misen on Miyajima Island.
To each side rest plaques, submerged under water, with the meaning of the structure and hopes for world peace written on them. What I love so very much about these plaques was that they were written in not just a few major languages, but many. There was English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Italian. Mirroring the outside, electronic self-guided tours are offered in a host of various languages and only cost a few hundred yen. Entry into the museum itself costs 50 yen. Once you pay and head up the stairs to the main exhibit halls, you are first greeted with photos from the 1940s that highlight events around the bombing.
After passing these photos, you’ll find yourself in a hallway built to simulate a destroyed brick building with black and white photos imposed behind the breaks in walls or windows that display the devastated remains of the city.
Eventually, you’ll emerge in a room that is built around a central mock display of Hiroshima city with a large red ball hovering above it. That ball represents the inferno of the explosion, while rings are drawn in increasing size across the city to show how far the initial explosion reached. Additionally, you can find exhibits holding the charred clothing and satchels of victims of the blast and perhaps the eeriest of all was a life size display of people evacuating the city with their flesh melting off of their limbs from the heat wave. I did not take pictures of that.From room to room, pictures are draped across the walls showcasing the devastation of the bomb and showcasing personal narratives of survivors or family members. One such example is a bank stairway where all that remains of a human being is a black scorch mark across the stone. There were actually individuals who claimed it may have been a family member of theirs.
One of the most profound aspects of this place isn’t the way that it portrays the destruction, but the way that it seeks to educate people about the science behind the bomb. You will learn how powerful the blast wave was by means of fire and wind; it was enough to bend in steel windows and disintegrate living beings. You’ll learn how black acid rain engulfed the city, permanently staining many structures. You’ll hear how the radiation ejected from the explosion caused painful growths to form on survivors, either crippling or disabling many of their daily functions. Even those far enough way so as to not be immediately affected, developed instantaneous cataracts and blindness from looking at the point of detonation.
You will also be exposed to a Geiger counter, learn about the chemical reactions of the bomb and just what radiation is through a hands on activity with a radioactive element. Don’t worry, it’s safe!
Through all of this horror, however, you can find something more innocent: Sadako Sasaki’s paper cranes. Eventually, the pictures stop and the exhibits end. Now in a central hallway that exits to the outside, you can sit and listen to video taped recordings of survivors telling their stories from that horrible time. One story that stuck with me was how a man was stuck in a collapsed building but could here many other people in the neighborhood stuck, as well. They believed that if they sang, rescue crews would be able to locate them, so they all began to sing. However, one by one the singing stopped until this man was the last voice echoing through the streets. He said that at this point, “it was the first time that he truly believed he was going to die.”
Needless to say, that didn’t happen. Many others weren’t as lucky, however, and it is estimated that 90,000-166,000 people were killed in Hiroshima.
This place really helps you understand the significance of that and just how horribly it occurred. Regardless of anything else, it was horrible. However, the museum does an excellent job of sticking to facts and not projecting anything other than historical fact. There is a point where you can sign a petition led by Hiroshima City to demand higher Nuclear Non-Proliferation strategies, but you will never once feel like you need to make an opinion or be demanded of something from this tragedy. You are simply told the facts and I respect that.
Once outside, you will feel heavy and maybe quite sad, but you’re not done yet! You absolutely must take one last stop if it is to be your last.
Korean Victims Monument:
A little ways north of the Children’s Memorial lies the monument dedicated to Korean victims of the atomic bomb. These were Koreans living in Hiroshima during the attack. Originally, this monument did not exist as the Koreans being in Hiroshima was…controversial. However, after much fundraising and lobbying the monument was included near the peace park. There has been a lot of controversy centered around this object, such as its original location not being in the main park grounds, or the language used on the memorial depicting the Koreans who died as willing inhabitants of Hiroshima; many of them were POWs or part of forced labor.
However, this memorial still exists and should NEVER be ignored. Please do pay it a visit and pay it the same respect every other memorial deserves in Hiroshima.
Now, to lighten up your mood after this totally depressing blog piece…I have some good news! When you are in Hiroshima, come back to the Peace Park at night.
The A-Bomb Dome is illuminated against the black backdrop of the forest, and the skyscrapers and buildings of Hiroshima proper surround the rest of the city. It really presents a wonderful example of how the people of Hiroshima and Japan have rebounded and thrive today. It was perhaps my favorite part about visiting the city. I hope you enjoy it too!
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