One of the big things my uncle wanted to do was to see and learn about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. We booked a half day walking tour through Tours with Locals. My uncle e-mailed back and forth with our guide up until the day we met her in the lobby of our hotel. With our Hiroshima passes getting around was easy, we took the tram. Our guide Yoshi was very knowledgeable and was able to tell us a lot and answer my uncle’s questions.
One of our first stops was the genbaku dome or atomic bomb dome. It’s the only surviving building from the bomb. The park itself wasn’t original a park but a residential area and the building was originally a exhibition hall. It was designed by a Czech architect named Jan Letzel. There was a spiral staircase in the building and it’s considered the reason why the shell of the building still stands. The inside of it is being supported by many many beams. There was some controversy whether or not it would be kept up, because while it reminded many of the terrible horrible thing that had happened for at least one person it was also a reminder of themselves, and as our guide said “If it’s taken down then people forget, but if stays and stands then people will remember and maybe they’ll remember me.” (note: me isn’t our guide but the person who petitioned to keep it standing.)
This was the theme for many of the things within the park, whether it was a monument or even the trees. A survivor or someone would say something and then a flood of support would appear. A good example is the trees themselves. After the bombing specialists said nothing would grow in the soil for a long time, so people around the world sent trees and they grew and still stand strong today.
During the time of the bombing children who were around the 3rd grade in age were sent off to the country side to temples to stay with their teachers. Our guide told us about her family, about how her mother had been in the third grade and sent away, and if that hadn’t happened, if her mother had been even a year younger she (our guide) wouldn’t have been born. She talked about how a kindergarten in the area was in school during the bombing and the children had died instantly and people talked about how they’d been lucky.
It was the first of it’s kind type of bomb and so everything with it was unknown. People flooded the area after the bombing, searching for their loved ones in the rubble and became sick. Many people also looked fine on the outside but were sick and would collapse. For awhile it was said you shouldn’t give the survivors water because they would cry for water and when they had been given water they would die. Survivors were also treated as if they had the plague. No one wanted to hire them for fear of getting contaminated, no one wanted to go near them and people didn’t want to marry them for fear of birth defects. Many would have to leave Hiroshima and act as if they’d never been there.
One of the monuments we visited was for students who’d been working at the time. Many students had to work to keep society running, ages between 12 and 16 years old all over the country found themselves suddenly having the lives of adults rather than their own youth, including in Hiroshima students who kept the trams running.
This memorial is packed full of symbolism as a five layered pagoda with each layer a different element. The statue underneath is of the goddess of peace and for all the students who lost their lives (around 10,000 total during the war), with something for the various denominations the students may have belonged to.
We then walked towards the graves. Due to the amount of bodies there had to be mass graves. The second picture with the turtle is for the Koreans who died in the bombing, and the last picture is of a private family grave. The ground is lower then it is elsewhere. This is the original height of the ground. Due to the amount of bodies, rubble and destruction rather than clear it which would’ve taken it forever, they covered everything and built up. As you walk through the park you are literally walking over everything from August 6th, 1945. While we were visiting it was an anniversary, so the park was full of people, film crews, and officials. We rang the bell of peace and then joined a table to have some tea and write messages of peace before continuing on our way.
Our next stop was probably one of the most well known stories, 千羽鶴 or one thousand paper cranes and Sadako Sasaki. There is a legend that if you fold one thousand paper cranes you can have a wish granted. When the bombing happened Sadako Sasaki was two years old and she seemed fine but she was exposed to the radiation as well as the black rain that happened after the bombing. When she got older she got sick and was hospitalized to the surprise of her classmates. She’d been healthy and strong, the fastest runner in her class. She developed leukemia. She was sent cranes as a get well soon gift and it and the legend inspired her and others in the hospital to fold them, she succeeded in folding one thousand cranes by the time she died on October 25, 1955. The monument was funded by money raised by her classmates and other children in Japan and is known as the Children’s Peace Monument. People can send cranes from all over the world for the monument. I even did so several times in college.
We then headed towards the museums, stopping to look at the peace flame and the memorial cenotaph. The peace flame is to continue its burning until there is peace, until all nuclear weapons are destroyed and the world is safe from them. It has been burning since 1964. A cenotaph is an empty tomb/monument, this one is for all the souls who died due to the bombing. It says “安らかに眠って下さい 過ちは 繰返しませぬから” or in the English translation “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.” It also holds the names of all who’ve died, all the known names.
Our next stop was the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. It starts with a clock, stopped at 8:15 and you walk in a circular movement, as if you’re going back in time to the Hall of Remembrance which is a room with 140,000 tiles surrounding a 360 degree panorama of the destruction (based off photos taken by the Unites States Army after the bombing). There is a fountain in the center also in the shape of a clock at 8:15, a symbolic offering of water to the victims. They also have a database with the victims of the bombing, including photos if they have them and a way to search for names if you want to. Our guide pulled up photos of some of the US POW’s who died due to the bombing. They also have a space to learn more, a library with multi-lingual information. (Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean) and a special exhibition area where you can sit and listen to the stories of the day or the days following.
Our final stop in the park was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Here for a 200 yen entrance fee you can learn more about that day and the history of the Japan and the world with nuclear weapons and energy. The first floor had more personal essays from the day and biographies of victims and survivors. There were also items donated, clothing, bikes, toys, lunch boxes, and paper cranes that were folded by Sadako Sasaki. (and some folded by Obama from his visit to Hiroshima)
The second floor showed before and after photos of Hiroshima and delved more into the history of nuclear weapons. We didn’t stay long because the museum was insanely crowded, especially in this section.
Visiting the park was emotional. There were several moments where I’d find myself doing my best not to start crying in front of our guide whose family lived through this tragedy. The park itself is beautiful and filled with many things we didn’t stop to look at, including many many many more statues. Visiting the park is free as is the Memorial Hall. I highly suggest visiting while you’re in Hiroshima, and if you can do it with a tour you’ll learn even more about the history of Hiroshima, the bombing, and how the city has turned towards working fervently towards peace. Going with a local was a great way to hear and learn the stories.
Our last related stop was Hypocenter. It’s not part of the park but only a short walk out of it. The bomb went off in the air above a hospital whose head nurse and head doctor were out of town. They’ve rebuilt and the family is running the new hospital.