Since August 6 marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, I thought this week might be a nice time to talk about our trip to Hiroshima back in 2016. I fell off blogging when we returned and never got around to writing about this trip. (I missed telling you about so many things!) We spent a few days in the city and visited the major World War II sites, including the A-Bomb Dome and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum. Hiroshima had been on our list for a few years before we went, but we put it off because, well, we knew it would be depressing. Naoto visited the city when he was in grade school and we both knew it was going to be a sobering experience. Boy was it ever. But, Hiroshima is so much more than the bomb sites. We found it to be a vibrant city with a lot of beauty tucked among the sober sites of war. I can’t imagine living in a place where most of the world only knows you for something tragic.
It was pouring on the day we decided to visit the Peace Park and Museum…fitting for the mood of the day. The first thing we saw when we got off the streetcar was the A-Bomb Dome, the remains of a building that was near the epicenter of the bomb. Originally, this was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. The bomb exploded about 1600 feet away from the building, but about 1900 feet overhead. The interior of the building was completely destroyed by fire and everyone inside died instantly, but the walls and the steel dome frame remained after the fires.
When we went, the azaleas were blooming so beautifully and the contradiction between the vibrant, lively color and this battered building that has stood pretty much unchanged* since 1945 was quite jarring. And, while the area was pretty busy with people milling about, around the A-Bomb Dome, it was practically silent. No one spoke above a whisper.
*Japan is working to preserve the site to the exact “state of destruction” after the bombing. It is a challenge because age and weather are causing deterioration of the building and they need to discreetly protect it from earthquakes.
The Aioi Bridge connects the A-Bomb Dome to the Peace Park (pictured above.)
Here is the view of the A-Bomb Dome from the other side.
In the Peace Park, there are special memorials to the many victims of the bombing and the war and a couple museums. Here’s Naoto ringing the peace bell.
This is the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students. The Japanese government “mobilized” students to take part in the war efforts, especially once Japan was facing defeat. Students were “drafted” to work in factories making uniforms and bullets and to work in fields to help with food production. Over 10,000 students were killed by the bombings (atomic and otherwise) during the war.
These huge plaques by the memorial show students working in the field and in a factory contributing to war efforts.
This is the Children’s Peace Monument. Did you ever read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes? Sadako’s classmates and children all over Japan raised money for this monument in honor of her and all the children who died because of the atomic bomb and its aftermath. That is Sadako at the top, holding a wire crane.
A perfect bronze crane hangs from a bell on the underside of the monument.
Surrounding the monument are booths that house paper cranes and artwork sent by children from all over the world. Folding 1000 paper cranes feels like a hopeful classroom project, doesn’t it?
This is the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall. This was incredibly somber place, meant to memorialize all of the souls lost that day and to share the personal stories of the victims and the survivors. On the roof (which is ground level, as the memorial in underground) there is a clock that is frozen at 8:15, the time of the bomb. In the Hall of Rememberance, there is a panoramic recreation of Hiroshima, made with 140,000 tiles, the number of people who died in the attack. Audio recordings of stories from survivors brought me to tears here.
This is the main memorial to the victims. The saddle is meant to shelter the victims’ souls in the empty tomb below. On it reads, “please rest in peace, for [we/they] shall not repeat the error.” (The language is left ambiguous so the victims could be memorialized without making the issue political/blaming the US for the bomb or blaming Japan for pushing the war to the brink of destruction.)
The memorial was designed so it frames the Peace Flame and the A-Bomb Dome.
You can see the Peace Flame a bit better here. The flame was lit in 1964 and will be lit until the threat of nuclear war is eliminated.
Lastly, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Here we saw the history of Hiroshima from before the war and after, as well as the massive destruction caused by the bomb. I didn’t take many pictures inside–just the one below–because it was so somber and there was so much to learn. It was honestly overwhelming. (I haven’t felt so overwhelmed in a museum since I went to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in college…) This model was so shocking…to see how far the reach of the bomb was.
I took a picture of Sadako’s cranes, which are preserved in a climate controlled dome inside the Peace Memorial Museum. The cranes are so, so tiny…the largest ones are about the size of a quarter. It’s so hard to imagine a real little girl folding these tiny cranes, knowing she was dying.
My blog post does not do the city and the memorials justice, but I am so thankful to have witnessed it and I wish I had shared it here sooner. President Obama visited Hiroshima the month after we did. He was the first sitting President to visit the city. I understand that the relationship between the United States and Japan regarding the atomic bombs is fraught with challenges, but man, those challenges aren’t going away without a hard look at history and the destruction of war. I remember that there was so much controversy around whether Obama would apologize or not…the risks of offending American veterans, the risks of offending Japan.
Obama’s speech at Hiroshima was, to me, one of his best. (You can read the transcript here on the New York Times site.) I’ll leave you with his words.
That is why we come to this place. We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow.
Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.
And then a bit later…
That is why we come to Hiroshima. So that we might think of people we love. The first smile from our children in the morning. The gentle touch from a spouse over the kitchen table. The comforting embrace of a parent. We can think of those things and know that those same precious moments took place here, 71 years ago.
Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.
The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.