Exploring Japan’s history is usually filled with castles, temples and shrines from a by-gone era, and with the beauty all around you, it can be easy to forget the country’s more recent tragedies. I took a trip to Hiroshima recently to discover more about the effects of war on this island nation. Wherever you go, it’s important to fully understand where you are, and what the people you’re surrounded by have been through.
Hiroshima Peace Park is a large park filled with memorials, museums, and reminders about the bombings that took place here at the end of World War II. If you didn’t know, on August 6th, 1945, the city of Hiroshima was the first victim of the atomic bomb. The American army dropped the bomb at 08:15am, and the entire city was virtually levelled, and thousands of lives were lost. Despite this tragic event, the country harbours no hate; rather they strive for peace and a world with no more war.
The first stop as you step off the street car is the iconic ‘A-bomb dome’. This building was right at the epicentre of the bombing, and has remained virtually untouched ever since. Seeing the building so destroyed, and yet still standing, gives you a great sense of the resilience of this country and its people. With a gloomy, rainy sky above, the building was humming with echoes of the past – a very emotional experience in itself. It’s hard not to think about the lives lost while walking around this epic ruin.
Across the bridge is the next stop, the Children’s memorial. As I arrived, there was a children’s choir here singing a haunting Japanese song. I had no idea what they were singing about, but the emotion was thick in the air; people watching were tearing up and I was beginning to feel the same (until two college students appeared out of nowhere to practice their English skills with me! I just can’t escape the day job, clearly!). The choir then placed their colourful collection of paper cranes into one of the cases in dedication to the children who died because of the bombing.
Next was a walk over to the official memorial arch and peace flame. Here, you can line up to dedicate some money and a prayer to the victims of the bombing. It’s also a top photo spot, as you can see the flame, the arch and the a-bomb dome all from one spot. I wasn’t sure if picture taking was allowed, but nearly everyone in line was snapping one after praying, so I assumed it would be ok.
Then, we journey into the Peace Museum. **Top tip: plan this visit very carefully! I went on a Sunday, and could NOT move for the amount of people inside the museum – it was crazy! Half of the museum is closed until next year, so everyday will be a little busy, so definitely avoid holidays and weekends if possible!** The museum houses lots of interesting exhibits from the effects of the bomb. Walking around here, you can see a lot of ruined uniforms of school children who were working on construction sites near where the bomb hit. It also contains lots of information about the war, and the science behind the bomb. Since it was so busy when I came here, I wasn’t really able to fully appreciate the exhibits. At one point, I was getting quite emotional looking at the famous burned tricycle, when a big Chinese guy shoved his way in front of me to snap a picture of it – kind of ruined the moment for me.
Because I hadn’t been able to experience the museum fully, I also paid a visit to the lesser-known Memorial Hall. I say lesser known, I was the only one in there! You walk down a spiral walkway, which is supposed to symbolise traveling back in time, to the day of the bomb. In the main hall, there is a fantastic mural across the walls, showing you a 360 degree view of the city right after the drop. It’s incredibly peaceful in there, and quite emotional too. In the next room, you are able to see the names and faces of everyone who died as a result of the bombing. The screens show about 50 faces at a time, and it takes 4 hours to show every face. Then, there’s a media room in which they show people’s stories to some music and photographs. I sat here for about 10 minutes listening to one mans account, and everyone around me was crying (including me).
After walking around all this, you will probably feel quite a drop in energy and spirit. So, it’s always a good idea to grab a beer, or a bite to eat, to replenish yourself for more exploring. I ended up jumping on a ferry over to Miyajima – the floating torri gate, so didn’t have time- I just grabbed a CC Lemon and let the power of over 40 lemons set me right.
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