What are your perceptions of Hiroshima?
Before our trip I was full of curiosity about the city of Hiroshima. I wondered if I should expect a sombre place, living in the shadow of Atomic Bomb devastation. Perhaps the city would have much in common with the famous Atomic Bomb Dome – scarred, skeletal yet still standing tall. I thought it best to prepare myself for a grim and unsettling few days.
In some ways, my preconceptions were correct. We stayed on the edge of Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, an area devoted to the legacy of 6th August 1945. There are so many monuments and relics of the bombing here that the history becomes almost tangibly close. This is as it should be, of course. With every new monument or information panel, every new perspective on the event, I felt afresh the sorrow, horror and incomprehensibility of it all.
The museum in particular shone a bright light on individuals’ experiences, often in the person’s own words or those of their loved ones. The exhibits never shied away from discussing the brutal physical, mental and emotional agony felt by so many in the immediate aftermath of the bomb and, in many cases, for the rest of their lives. It was heartbreaking.
“We will not repeat the error”
Crucially, though, my experience of Hiroshima was never only about heartbreak. It was grim and unsettling at times, as I had imagined, but never only grim and unsettling. This is because the focus is rarely on tragedy alone. The memorials recall the grotesque past, but they also point forwards in the hope that it will never be repeated. To what we can learn about humanity and our role in war, about how we can be better and strive together towards peace. As the Cenotaph’s epitaph promises: “we will not repeat the error”.
I particularly valued the focus on individual action, like these quotes from people who were so young (16 and 12, respectively) at the time of the bombings:
“Expanding ever wider the circle of harmony that includes your family, friends and neighbours links directly to world peace. Empathy, kindness, solidarity — these are not just intellectual concepts; we have to feel them in our bones.”
“War means tragedy for adults and children alike. Empathy, caring, loving others and oneself—this is where peace comes from.”
What I want to emphasise is that Hiroshima is a very worthwhile place to visit. It’s by turns educational, stirring, sobering and inspirational. Essentially, it has plenty to offer anyone with a genuine interest in humanity.
Here are some of the things I would most recommend visiting…
My recommendations for Hiroshima
- The Hypocenter
It was important to me to find this spot quite early on. I looked up into the sky and tried to picture a bomb plummeting towards the earth, hitting its detonation altitude and exploding with such energy as to obliterate Hiroshima. I couldn’t picture it, couldn’t wrap my head around the scale of the destruction. Nevertheless, it felt important to go there, to remember and to attempt to appreciate something so distant in time but so close in location.
- The Peace Memorial Museum
If you could only do one thing in Hiroshima, make it the museum. During our visit several parts were being renovated, but it was still far and away the best way to confront the city’s history.
- The Peace Memorial Park
This is easily doable in one day, but we preferred to spread it out over several days. The most memorable parts for me were:
- Viewing the Peace Memorial (AKA the Atomic Bomb Dome) just beyond the park
- Seeing the Rest House and reading about Eizo Nomura (the man who survived the bomb after going into the building’s basement). There was testimony from Nomura himself at the Peace Memorial Hall, which was fascinating to read.
- The Children’s Peace Monument, the Peace Bell and the Peace Memorial Hall
- The Phoenix Trees or A-Bombed Trees – these Chinese Parasols were exposed to the blast at 1300m from the hypocenter and were later replanted in the park.
- Shukkei-en Garden
This is the one thing we did in the city of Hiroshima that wasn’t connected to the bombing history. It was a peaceful and pretty garden in which to stroll, admire the scenery and be with your thoughts. The koi were lovely, too.
- Miyajima / Itsukushima Island
A short train and then a ferry ride away from the city is the lovely island of Miyajima. With friendly, wandering deer and a UNESCO-listed shrine, it makes for a wonderful day trip. It warrants its own post, though, so I won’t go into any more detail here.
Tell me: Have you been to Hiroshima? How did it compare with your expectations?