Hiroshima (1 of 2): A Tale of Two Cities

✍️: Jan 📸: Erin & Jan

One of the first things you see in Hiroshima when you arrive on the bullet train is Mazda Zoom Zoom stadium, home to the professional baseball team, the Hiroshima Carp.

From there, it doesn’t take long to find the centerpiece of the city for tourists: the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Park.

Peace Memorial Park

The park is a somber place. The most visual element is the remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, specifically the hollowed-out dome and surrounding debris. The bomb exploded just southeast of the building, now known as the A-Bomb Dome, nearly 2,000 feet above the ground. Everyone inside was killed instantly.

If you spend some time here, chances are good you’ll meet a Hiroshiman with a story to tell about August 6, 1945. We met a pair of “in utero” survivors — men born in the few months immediately after the bombing. They gave us a pair of origami cranes after we talked with them for a bit.

As you continue through the park, on to the museum, and wander through town, you’ll start to notice that the presence of the atomic bomb is nearly everywhere.

It’s in a burial mound containing the ashes of some of the 70,000 to 80,000 people killed almost instantly by the blast and the resulting firestorm. It’s in the ubiquitous paper cranes, inspired by a 12-year-old girl who developed leukemia and died 10 years after the bombing due to the effects of radiation.

And it’s on the school yard walls where children practice their English by writing notes to tourists about that 12-year-old girl who may have gone to their school if she’d lived (as well as directions to Hiroshima Castle and a recommendation for the best pancakes in town).

But somehow, the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima is not overwhelming here. The city very much seems to have a lot of other things it wants to accomplish.

Hiroshima also has so much to offer, as we discovered while spending a few extra days exploring the city on the recommendation of another traveler.

We loved Hiroshima. Read about our full experience here in our next blog post.

Still, the city is determined not to let the world forget about what nuclear weapons do to mothers and children and grandparents and families and communities. For that, there’s the museum.

Peace Memorial Museum

The bombing:

The museum’s main exhibits are separated into two wings. The first is a jarring experience, but the aim isn’t to shock. It’s to tell the stories of the people who were in Hiroshima that day.

A dark, winding room with photos, stacked from ceiling to floor, of people with burns across much of their bodies. Stories from witnesses depict people walking along the streets with flesh hanging from their bodies. Charred clothing, lunch boxes and bikes.

And then there are the stories, written on dimly lit panels alongside photos. Among them:

  • A young brother and sister posing for a portrait, in the late 1930s. The panel tells of the boy trapped under debris in a burning building, his older sister unable to help him, and her inability to see fire for the rest of her life without panicking.
  • The toddler whose devastated father buried a small tricycle with his son’s body so his son could play in the afterlife. (The rusted tricycle is on display nearby.)

Other photos show the effects of the radiation, the black spots that appeared on the faces and tongues and chests of some people who survived the initial blast. The black tar-like substances they threw up. Some were among the tens of thousands of people who died in the weeks after the bombing, which instantly killed tens of thousands of others.

The events in between

The next main exhibit room is separated from the first by a long, windowed hallway looking out across the grassy, tree-filled Peace Memorial Park. Benches allow visitors to sit, to process, to wipe away tears.

This second room is more academic, in a library-lighted open room. The displays here explain the years and months and minutes before atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and on Nagasaki.

The exhibits don’t relieve blame from either the U.S. or Japan. They provide a fuller context of what was going on in the U.S., Germany, Japan and other countries before and near the end of the war.

Among the more stark displays is a copy of the letter sent to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed by Albert Einstein. In short, it expresses concern that the Nazis were studying and may have the capability to create an atomic bomb.

There’s of course far more nuance and context (and opinion) that we won’t get into here, but the links above provide more context. You can also see the museum’s exhibits online here.

And it should go without saying that the history is far more complex. We’ll leave that to the experts and volumes of books written on the subject.

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