Kyoto was our base for the middle part of our trip (more on Kyoto another day) and we couldn't resist taking what ended up as a thought provoking and poignant day trip to Hiroshima
. We took the Hikari
bullet train (Shinkansen) from Kyoto to Hiroshima, covering the 200 miles in about 90 minutes.
Now don't get Hiroshima wrong. There are plenty of sad memories in this city, home to about one million people, but there is as much concrete and blinking neon as you'll find in the rest of Japan. The largest city of the Chugoku Region, the westernmost region on Japan's main island of Honshu is thriving with cars a major local industry, Mazda's
corporate headquarters are nearby and there is also a busy naval port called Ujina.
However that is not why people come here and the fact that people can still come here is great testimony to the people of Hiroshima. At 8.15am on August 6th, 1945 the unthinkable happened. A nuclear weapon, code named Little Boy
was dropped on Hiroshima by the crew of the America
n B-29 bomber Enola Gay
. The detonation happened at an altitude of 1,800 feet with a power of 16 kilotons of TNT killing directly 70,000 oblivious people. By the end of that year, injury and radiation brought total deaths to 140,000 and approximately 70% of the city's buildings were completely destroyed. To add the cities desolation 5 weeks later Typhoon Ida killed a further 3,000 inhabitants and destroyed half of the cities bridges.
Just 3 days after Hiroshima was decimated American forces dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing a further 80,000 people. On August 15th, 1945 Japan announced its surrender to the Allied Powers officially ending World War II. The whys and wherefores of all of this lunacy will be written and discussed for ever.
Four years after the end of the war Hiroshima was proclaimed a City of Peace by the Japanese parliament and ever since then the city has continued to advocate world peace and the total abolition of all nuclear weapons. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
is dedicated to achieving this goal and I stared at my feet with embarrassment at the list of nations with active nuclear stockpiles
The museum graphically displays the atomic bomb's horrible effects on the city and its inhabitants and is naturally depressing and sad. I felt the similiary emotional after coming out of the Holocaust Memorial Museum
in Washington DC a couple of years back. The Museum forms part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
, this was designated in 1949 at the exact spot of the hypocenter of the blast.
The park is dedicated to peace and there are a number of solemn memorials. The Children's Peace Monument
is a statue dedicated to the memory of the children who died as a result of the bombing. The statue is of a girl with outstretched arms with a crane rising above her. The statue is based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki
, a young girl who died from radiation
from the bomb. She believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes she would be cured.
Every day children gather at the statue and deliver newly folded colourful paper cranes and millions must shiver in the wind. The day we were there the most well behaved group of children sung and prayed and one girl read a tribute, while her classmates bowed their heads. I didn't understand a word of it but the whole thing was very touching. Expect to see schoolchildren all over the Peace Park, almost as if to emphasize the re-birth of this once tragic city.
Near the cent
re of the park is a concrete, saddle-shaped monument that covers a Cenotaph holding the names of all of the people killed by the bomb. The Cenotaph carries the epitaph, "Repose ye in Peace, for the error shall not be repeated."
Through the monument you can see the Peace Flame flickering orange. It is said that it will flicker until all nuclear threats have been disarmed.
The most vivid picture of that fateful day in 1945 is the site of the Genbaku Dome, or the A-Bomb Dome. This is the sole remaining structure, previously an office of local government and regulators and a key target for the American bombers. It is an absorbing scene and as I stared at it, I soon realised that behind the Dome and across the busy Ōta River was a thriving modern city.
The A-Dome building (right) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
in 1996 despite reservations from China and the United States
. As I said earlier, the whys and wherefores aside this is a desperate monument to what the human race can inflict on each other.
With depression complete, it was time to see some of the rest of Hiroshima and eat. Hiroshima is famous for its style of okonomiyaki
, which literally means "cook it as you like it."
After getting the tram from the Shinkansen station to the Peace Park, we decided to clear our heads and walk back via Nakaku, which is the central business area. We headed down the main shopping street called Hondori, which has a covered mall and out the other side and into the Fukuya Department Store.
In there we found a okonomiyaki place and took a seat at the counter. Okonomiyaki is essentially a savoury pancake made with egg, cabbage, soba noodles and meat or fish. Grilled in layers on a hot plate in front of you by an incredibly sweaty man (sorry, but I was starving) the 'pancake' is finally slathered liberally with okonomiyaki sauce and despite being messy, it was very tasty indeed.
I'm glad we took a trip to Hiroshima. It was eye-opening, alarming and of course depressing but the city had an undeniably positive attitude to it as well.