When I first decided to add Hiroshima to my itinerary, I felt a little hesitant, because I was unsure of what the mindset towards American tourists would be like.Though most Japanese cities are gracious hosts to the Western world, I wondered if Hiroshima residents would be a bit more sensitive or hold resentments. However, I was only greeted with warmth and welcoming smiles throughout my visit.
Hiroshima is a modern city with a population of just over a million people. The reconstruction of Hiroshima actually became a symbol of Japan’s post-war pacifism, though there are still physical reminders of the horrors that they faced. The museums and memorials are designed to promote messages of peace rather than place any blames. The rugged remains of the atomic bomb’s destruction contrast against the vibrant neon lights and modern bustling cityscape. It is a city that will surely cause any visitor to contemplate their surroundings, regardless of their preconceived beliefs or political stance. For me, I felt a hopeful energy, and I sensed that the message this city sends is peace.
I arrived to Hiroshima by taking the JR Sanyo Shinkansen train from Osaka. The ride took about 90 minutes and cost 10,200 yen ( about 87$). We arrived early in the morning, because my cousin and I were planning on heading to Miyajima later that afternoon. Once we arrived to Hiroshima we took the street car ( tram line 2 or 6) to Genbaku-DomuMae station, to go see the Peace Memorial Park and A-Bomb Dome. It was my first time riding a street car, so I was quite excited to try a new form of transportation. I admired the rustic feel and the ability to easily see the city as we moved along the streets.
The park was only a block from the station, and it was very easy to find. As soon as we arrived, I immediately spotted the A-bomb dome. A sudden wave of mixed emotions encompassed my mind. The hairs on my neck started to prickle, and a slight chill ran down my spine. I immediately thought of the fear and horrors the people must have faced as soon as the bomb dropped. Before the bomb, the area of the peace park was the commercial and political heart of the city. For this reason it was chosen as the prime target. Though the dropping of the A-bomb was essential in America’s defense strategy, I still felt heartbroken for the innocent victims, especially the children who died.
My cousin and I were in no hurry, so we examined the A-bomb dome at a leisurely pace. Usually we are quite chatty with one another, but I think we both needed to have our own experience and moments of reflection. I set off with my camera, while he worked on capturing some footage on his GoPro. My cousin is stationed at the US Navy base in Yokuska, just outside of Tokyo. I wondered about his perspectives, being that he has a military background. However, we both wandered quietly, keeping our feelings to ourselves.
Being able to wander slowly gave me a chance to practice my amateur photography skills. My goal was to show the building from a variety of perspectives, as many people who come here also have diverse outlooks. Here are some of my favorite shots:
After walking around a bit, we decided to stop for a snack. We found a charming little restaurant with outdoor seating. I’m not sure of the name of the restaurant, but it was located next to the river that runs through the park. It was also near the boat dock that goes to Miyajima.
I had heard that Hiroshima was famous for their oysters, so I decided to give those a try. I was glad I made that decision, because they were scrumptious! The oysters were breaded and fried, and they were drizzled with a savory and creamy sauce. The crunchy outside was the perfect contrast to the soft and juicy oyster. They might have even given some of the low country oysters back home a run for their money. My cousin decide to take the sweeter route and order some fruit sherbet. I stole a few bites, and I must say it was the perfect treat for he hot summer day.
After our snack, my cousin and I headed over to the Children’s Peace Monument. Before traveling to Japan, my aunt recommended that I read the story Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. In this story, a young girl survived the bombings, but later developed leukemia due to the radiation. After her diagnosis, she spent her days folding paper cranes, because an old Japanese legend claimed that those who fold a thousand paper cranes would be cured by the gods. According to the story she was only able to fold 644 cranes, before she died. After her death, her friends and family helped her finish her dream by folding the remaining 454 cranes. Sadako was then buried with all of the cranes made by her and her family.
However, her relatives tell a different story claiming that she exceeded her goal of 1000 paper cranes and actually folded about 1300. Apparently, some of the extra cranes have later been donated to other war memorials such as the Pearl Harbor and the 9-11 memorial.
After Sadako’s death the community raised money to construct a memorial for Sadako and the other children who died from the effects of the atomic bomb. At the memorial site there is a statue of Sadako holding a paper crane with her arms outstretched wide towards the sky. From a distance the structure almost looks like a human figure outstretched on a cross, but as you come closer, you see that it is a child presenting her giant size crane to the world. The shape of her arms almost seems that she is about to take flight with her crane.
Visitors can contribute their own cranes to the memorial at the park site. For those who are unable to visit, you can visit the monument’s website to order a crane to be placed there on your behalf. If you are interested in learning more information, or you would like to donate a paper crane, please click on the link below:
Our final stop was to the Peace Memorial Museum. The entrance cost was 50yen for adults. Headsets are offered in almost every language, so anyone can easily enjoy the exhibits. The museum collects and displays photos, belongings, and other materials that were recovered after the bombing. There are also wax sculptures that are used to shown graphic images of the horrors that people faced. Furthermore, there are models and photographs that portray the before and after pictures of the bombing. The museum’s purpose is to demonstrate the harsh reality that we still face today, as long as there are nuclear bombs present in our world.
When we first entered the museum there was a small amount of chatter, as people were discussing the various exhibits. However, as we walked deeper into the museum, the rooms were filled with a harrowing silence. It was a harsh reality to witness the power of nuclear weaponry, and my fears intensified knowing that the threat of nuclear war is even stronger in today’s society. Today just nine countries together possess more than 16,000 nuclear weapons, and these weapons are more advanced and powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima. The United States has an estimated 7,650 warheads while Russia posses about 8,420. While other countries have a significantly smaller amount, Hiroshima demonstrates the amount of devastation just one warhead can produce.
One display in particular sent chills down my spine. It was a wax figure that demonstrated the injuries caused by the heat from the bomb’s radiation. It showed skin melting from a woman’ body as she tried to move her way through the rubble. It looked like a scene from hell. I felt nauseous just looking at it, and the audio tracks descriptions put me in tears.
I continued to peruse the old photographs and leftover remains that were recovered from the rubble. There were horrifying pictures of burnt bodies who could not receive proper medical care, due to the destruction of hospitals. There were Buddhist statues, toys, clothing, and other personal objects. Each had a story on the audio track, that depicted the horrific accounts from the survivors and victims.
One exhibit that particularly affected me was a scorched tricycle. A young boy named Shinichi Tetsutani had been riding his beloved bike outside his home in the moments that the bomb was dropped. His body and tricycle were both severely burned. The father buried the young boy, who was only about 4 years old, with his bicycle in their backyard. Forty years later, the father dug up the boys remains to be reinterred to the family grave, and he donated the bicycle, and the boys helmet to the peace museum.
I was very impressed with the museum’s ability to present the history in a factual and non-biased fashion. Their intention was not to place any blames, but to show the reality of nuclear war and to tell the stories of the people who experienced this horrific tragedy. I was grateful to have this experience, and I highly recommend visiting Hiroshima.
My cousin and I ended our trip by checking out the downtown area. It was surreal going from the dismal environment of the museum to the lively and bustling downtown. We checked out Hondori Street which had tons of restaurants, shops, arcades, and cafes.
While checking out the downtown, I was on the hunt to try a restaurant that cooked Teppanyaki cuisine. Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese food that uses an iron griddle to cook particular dishes. It kind of reminded me of a Hibachi grill or Japanese Steak House back in the states.
I was hoping to try Okonomiyaki which is a savory pancake that consists of batter, cabbage, and a variety of delicious toppings. Diners can choose meat, seafood, wasabi, vegetables, and even cheese to go on top! The dish’s name literally means “to one’s liking”, and though it is available nationwide, it is most popular in Osaka and Hiroshima. However, when viewing the menu, I had trouble remembering the correct name of the dish, so I ended up accidentally ordering a noodle dish that was topped with pork, vegetables, and a fried egg. I guess next time I should brush up a bit on my language skills, so I can order correctly. Though I messed up my order, I was still extremely satisfied with the dish I received. I also thoroughly enjoyed watching and photographing the chef making various dishes on the Teppanyaki grill.
I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima. I wish I could have had more time to interact with the locals, and to explore he native side of the city. Hiroshima is truly a symbol of peace, and I hope that the world will one day listen to their message.