Known worldwide as the first city in human history to be targeted by an nuclear weapon, Hiroshima is much more than its past.
Hiroshima city is the capital of Hiroshima prefecture and is the largest city in Western Chugoku with a population of over two million people.
Hiroshima has a different feel than the other main cities of Honshu, Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. You might imagine that as a city devastated in the past it would feel somber, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Hiroshima is a vibrant and friendly city, knowing of its past but looking forward.
Hiroshima can be enjoyed as a day trip, although many tourists stay a night to cover both Hiroshima city and Utsukushima Island, better known as Miyajima. The three biggest draws of Hiroshima city are the Hiroshima peace memorial museum, Hiroshima peace park and Atomic bomb dome, and the reconstructed Hiroshima castle.
From Hiroshima station all three attractions can be accessed by foot or via tram by taking line 2 or 6 to Genbaku-Domu Mae, the castle is then a short walk from the peace park and museum area.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
Hiroshima peace memorial museum is a must see for those visiting Japan and Hiroshima. It is important to remember the events of August the 6th, the day the first atomic bomb was dropped as an act of war. The displays are harrowing and upsetting, the personal stories and artifacts bring into focus the human cost of war and the devastation that the bomb inflicted on the city and people of Hiroshima. Although suffering is highlighted the overarching message of the peace memorial museum is of peace, and the wish that the world can be free of nuclear weapons. On leaving there is a chance to leave a message for the future, thousands of pages are already covered in message of hope and peace in many different languages. This includes the letter and crane produced by President Obama.
Until spring 2019 the museum is undergoing renovations, this means that only one of the two museum buildings is currently open. Don’t let this stop you from visiting, it is still a truly worthwhile experience. Once you have visited the museum the rest of the 120,000 square meter park is left to explore.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
The park was once the commercial heart of Hiroshima, before the events of August 6th. In the time that followed it was decided that this area was not to be redeveloped, by re imagined as an area devoted to peace and remembrance. The park houses numerous different memorials, including the cenotaph for the victims of the atomic bomb and the children’s peace monument.
The cenotaph houses the names of every person who lost their lives as a result of the bomb dropped on August 6th. Each year, on the anniversary at 8:15am, a ceremony is held to commemorate the victims and add any more names of those who have passed in the last year.
The children’s peace monument is mostly famously to remember a child called Sadako Sasaki, and for all children who were victims of the bomb. Sadako was only 2 years old when the bomb fell but showed no ill effects until 1954 when the symptoms of leukemia started to show. Sadako became well known amongst the young affected by leukemia thanks to a the legend of 1,000 paper cranes. It is said that if one can fold 1,000 cranes in a year they will have their wish granted. Sadako began to fold cranes. It is not known exactly how many were folded before her death, although her father is recorded saying she folded 644, her classmates made it up to 1,000, which she was buried with. Now she stands atop the statue, holding aloft a golden crane.
Possibly the most recognised structure in the entire peace park is the Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Domu), the ruined remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Built in 1915 the hall was used for exhibitions or art. The Little Boy bomb, dropped from Enola Gay, was aimed at the Aioi bridge, but missed it’s target and detonated almost directly above the Promotion Hall.
The downward force from the bomb was withstood by the vertical beams of the building, which still stand today. Inital plans were not to preserve this building, but to demolish it along with all other remains, it wasn’t until 1966 that the preservation of the dome was decided. Since 1996 the dome has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a surviving building of a destructive force, but also a symbol of peace.
A 15 minute walk from the Peace Memorial Park stands the reconstructed main keep of Hiroshima castle. Originally built in the 1590’s the castle withstood earthquakes, floods and the Meiji restoration, Hiroshima castle was leveled on August 6th. The main keep of the castle complex was rebuilt in 1958 and serves as a museum detailing the history of Hiroshima before the atomic bomb. More recently a gate and a part of the ninomaru were rebuilt, following traditional methods. The castle grounds also hold a shinto shrine and the foundations of buildings that stood for hundreds of years.
The castle is especially beautiful during cherry blossom season where the main keep is lit at night. It is possible to enter the castle museum between 9am and 5pm, the castle grounds are accessible 24/7. There are also trees within the castle grounds which withstood the atomic bomb, including a eucalyptus and willow tree.
Although Hiroshima bears the scars of the war and the atomic bomb, the overall feeling of this city is one of hope. So quickly people rebuilt their city and lives, and that mindset still survives today.