Day 12 - Hiroshima

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

I am at a loss to explain today. On the one hand we were tourists visiting another area of Japan on the other hand we were reliving an atrocious event in human history. Was it enjoyable? I guess I would have to say yes – Not the tragedy aspect but the visiting stuff. Was it worth while? Absolutely.

Hiroshima is a modern city, of course rebuilt after the atomic bomb that exploded over it in World War II – Yes, “over” as the bomb was timed to explode above the city for maximum devastation. Now the centre of the city where the bomb exploded is the “Peace Memorial Park”.

An early start as we took the subway to Kyoto Station where we grabbed breakfast at a European-style café (I don't really want to talk about it – I was hoping for the Japanese place next door…). Did manage to pick up the final set of long(ish)-distance train tickets for Friday to get us to the ferry. The Shinkansen train journey was quick (a bit annoying that we had to transfer but things here are so organised we transferred from one train to another on the same platform). The whole trip to Hiroshima was only about two hours (including the transfer).

Hiroshima Street Cars (SW)

Leaving the station we picked up a day ticket for the city transport (might not need it but saves having to have change all the time) – In Hiroshima the best form of public transport are the street cars which are very well used and operate throughout the city. Taking the street car to the Peace Memorial Park I was, I guess, a bit surprised at how much of a normal city it is with the traffic and shops you would expect in any city. The street car stops opposite the most recognisable features of Hiroshima, the A-Bomb dome. This is the preserved ruin of a building that was (roughly) immediately below the atomic bomb blast. Nearby there is a distinctive bridge that crosses the river – There is another bridge that meets it in the middle leading from an island (the site of the Peace Memorial Park) in the middle of the river. We learned that it was this T shape of the bridges that the crew of the Enola Gray used as a target for dropping the bomb. Interesting that the bridge still stands and the city was flattened. They missed that target by about 150 m (to the south east).

A-Bomb Dome

We arrived at the same time as some important person with their gaggle of following reporters was leaving the site. Very peaceful along the river looking at the, in must be said, interesting ruins of the A-bomb dome with the skeletal remains of the dome on the top and the pretty much still standing walls of the building itself all around. Several painters and others are contemplating the ruin in more detail as we head across the bridge to visit the park.

The park was actually a public space before the bombing and is now dedicated to peace. The first thing we came across was a “peace bell” – a large bronze bell with a large log that you bang against the bell. Mother and I gave it a ring on the off chance it might help…It was a bit loud…

Crane Cabinet


Another interesting but sad monument is a series of transparent plastic boxes holding strings of folded (using origami) paper cranes arranged in a semicircle around the Children's Peace Monument. Thousands and thousands of them. Mother related the story to me: A young girl lay dying of leukemia after the bombing of Hiroshima. In her hospital bed she believed that if she could fold 1,000 paper cranes she would be saved from death. She was mistaken. Now the paper cranes are a symbol of hope for peace. Quite touching yet beautiful looking at the strings of multi-coloured paper. Nearby is a mound that is the final resting place for many victims of the bombing that could not be identified.


The Cenotaph for the A-bomb victims (Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace) is a carved tunnel of rock through which you can see the peace flame and the A-bomb Dome on the other side of the river. The Cenotaph is on the edge of a large square that is the home of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum – A long building that houses exhibits about the bombing. Of course we visited (a very small entrance fee) and were touched by the displays. Interestingly though there was a bit of animosity in the exhibits against the American bombing it was not over the top – The tone was much more of remorse and loss. We both learned a lot about what happened here. I think we were both extremely uncomfortable with the exhibit of artifacts that survived the bombing – The shadow of a person burned into a doorstep, clothing of the (short-lived) survivors…The medical information was truly horrendous.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

In the park right near the museum we found something mother was looking for (how does she know about these things?) – the Phoenix Trees. These are trees found still standing after the bomb was dropped. They are twisted and warped but are still alive. We learned in the museum that there were many trees that survived the bombing but these are the only ones this close to the hypocentre (above which the bomb exploded).

We stopped for a bit to eat the museum shop – Also to get out of the oppressive heat of the day. Ice cream was very welcome.

Back across the river we visited the small plaque on the side of the road that marks the hypocentre above which at about 100 m was detonated the atomic bomb. The plaque is just on the side of building that you can see just walking on the sidewalk (pavement) – largely by-passed by the tourists who visit the park and museum nearby.

Hiroshima Castle

I was anxious to see something of Hiroshima outside of the atomic bomb – significant as that is – this is also what it appears the tourism people want as well. We walked down a side street past the stadium and museum of art which is just a short distance from the A-bomb dome. We were headed for Hiroshima Castle (or “Carp Castle”). Obviously in the bombing the castle was flattened but it was rebuilt in 1958. There is, as with most castles here it would seem, a moat with a tall wall all around. We crossed over the wooden drawbridge to make our way to the main tower (honmaru) that was visible from quite some ways off – A large pagoda-type building with many levels made out of wood. A bit concerned that it would close soon we paid the entrance fee anyway to see what there was to see inside. It is a small museum of pre-bombing Hiroshima with a number of exhibits obviously geared for younger visitors where you can put on ancient Japanese armour or where you can watch a diorama depicting the history of the castle itself. On something like the third floor I thought the samurai swords are particularly interesting as many of them were extremely old yet in very good shape (and looking VERY lethal) also interesting is the art work also on display. The top of the castle of course is a viewpoint and we were able to look out on the castle grounds below and the city across the river with the mountains in the distance. You cannot see much of the Peace Park from here nor the A-Bomb Dome only 100 m away or so.

Hiroshima Castle

We learned that Hiroshima was picked by the Allied forces for the bomb in that it was in a controlled location – A place that the bombing could be observed quite carefully. It was also true that at the time the city was also the centre of a great deal of military activity including the production of weapons. Looking out on the city as it is now it really is a different place than what they are describing – These are real people living in a real city. It is peaceful now.

Hiroshima Today

The streetcar took us back to the train station but we were a bit early for the train so had something to eat at a small café (mother some pilaf while I had some Japanese-style deep fried chicken).

Soon enough the train returned us to Kyoto arriving there just before 10:00. Lots of travel for one day but also lots to think about – Interesting as well. Mother had always indicated she wanted to visit Hiroshima when we were in Japan and I suppose I can see why. I guess I felt that I did not need to be reminded of what happened there nor did the city itself seem to have much interest beyond the bombing. I appreciate her interest in visiting. It was important for us to see.

Day 13 - Kyoto Day 2

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