I knew visiting Hiroshima would be difficult and depressing. I never thought it would be fun??as well. It’s been nearly 67 years since the bomb dropped, and today Hiroshima is a big, modern, exciting city with about 2 million people. If it weren’t for all the memorials, you would never know it was once completely destroyed by an atomic bomb.
We spent most of our day in the Peace Memorial Park. First we saw the A-Bomb Dome, the skeleton of the??Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Prior to the war, the hall had been a beloved landmark featured on postcards. Since the bomb exploded almost directly over it, everyone inside was killed instantly, but parts of the building remained standing, nearly alone in a wasteland of wreckage and ashes. In the aftermath, nobody disturbed the building because they had the rest of the city to rebuild. Eventually, and with some controversy, the city decided to keep the dome in its ruined state as a memorial. It was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1996 (despite opposition from the US and China). While we were looking at it, I kept thinking of how horrible it would be to see Madison’s capitol destroyed like that.
The area right under the bomb blast was a bustling commercial district called Nakajima. In 1946 the city decided to turn the destroyed neighborhood into a memorial to peace. In addition to the A-Bomb Dome, the Peace Park has over fifty monuments. One particularly moving one, the Children’s Peace Monument, was built after the death of Sadako Sasaki. Sasaki was two when she was exposed to the bomb’s radiation and she died of leukemia ten years later. While she was sick in the hospital she spent her time making paper cranes, believing an old legend that says a wish will come true if you fold 1,000 cranes. She did fold over 1,000 of them, but her wish to get better did not come true. Next to the Children’s Monument there are thousands and thousands of paper cranes on display that have been sent to Hiroshima over the years.
Besides all the statues, the Peace Park is a beautiful park. It was actually a surprisingly pleasant place to walk through. We were there on a beautiful day and there were many people strolling around or eating picnics. There was even a choir group practicing. Everyone was smiling, laughing, and, well, enjoying life. Exactly what a peace park should be used for, I guess.
But don’t think I left Hiroshima without crying. The park was nice, but the museums really got me. The excellent Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum had a ton of information, from the prewar history of Hiroshima, to America’s??involvement??in the war, Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt about the atomic bomb, and the Manhattan Project. They even had a scary section detailing current weapons and how destructive they are. And in case you didn’t know, the effects of a nuclear bomb are horrifying. There were displays of melted lunch boxes, burned school uniforms, and scorched watches that stopped working at 8:15 (the time the bomb was dropped). The pictures of the burn victims with their skin hanging off their bones actually made me nauseous. And that’s not to mention the white walls stained black from the nuclear fallout, the cement walls with nail and glass debris embedded into them from the force of the blast, or the skin lesions and cancers that were a result of the radiation.
And that museum wasn’t even the most depressing one. The??Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall??for the Atomic Bomb Victim is the really upsetting one. It houses a collection of all the known bomb victims and displays their name, age, and digital photos in a giant collage on a screen. After each picture is displayed for a few minutes, it fades out and another one takes its place, cycling on and on and on. I just stood there, looking at all these faces. Some looked like grandparents, some looked like nice people, some looked angry, some were just babies. Another area of the hall is dedicated to survivors, who are invited to submit their drawings or record their stories, which are then translated into many languages and available for anyone to listen to. I could only listen to a few: one from a girl who never found her parents, one from a parent who had to leave her daughter in a burning building, one from a boy who found his entire family burned to death.
What really impressed me was how truly dedicated Hiroshima is to peace. All of their displays were honest and accurate. They didn’t ignore the atrocities committed by the Japanese. In fact, there are even memorials dedicated to the enslaved Koreans that died. There was no American name-calling in their??museums, like there always was in Vietnam. Nobody was mean to us when we said we were Americans. They are not interested in spreading propaganda or pointing fingers, they just want everyone to know about all the horrors of the war so that they’re not repeated again. Since 1968, whenever a country does a nuclear test, the mayor of Hiroshima writes a letter of protest. All of these letters, a whopping 599 so far, are displayed in the museum. Most are written to the US or Russia/USSR, but there were a few outliers, like the ones to Kim Jong-il. The four most recent letters? All addressed to “His Excellency Mr. Barack Obama.”
Needless to say, we were quite depressed after visiting the museums, so we just went walking around. We found a really cool area of town and a great place to eat the local??specialty,??okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a??savory??pancake that can be made with all sorts of ingredients, including noodles, cabbage, egg, meat, cheese, and seafood. They cooked it up on a giant grill right in front of us while we enjoyed a beer, watched baseball, and answered a few questions from the curious locals (who were, of course, very nice to us). It was an awesome dinner and a surprisingly fun way to end to our Hiroshima visit.