I get out of the big train station in Hiroshima and go out and take the tram. The city is quite modern - like you would expect of a city which was completely devastated by bombing during the war. I decide to head to the old castle of Hiroshima - which is not really all that old because it was only short distance from the centre of the first nuclear blast of a city in the history of the world. Hence the castle had been rebuilt in 1958 during the Japanese castle rebuilding period.
You can go in to the castle but I decide only to wonder around outside on the castle ground for a while and then I decide to head away I don’t really fell like exploring the inside of a semi modern castle.
On the way out of the castle area I pass a tree. This may sound a wee bit trivial but there is a plaque next to the tree. The plaque is proclaiming this tree stood only 740 meters from the hypo centre of the nuclear blast. This is my first sight of a nuclear survivor and I find it surprising to find living things still alive after being so close to a nuclear blast. This goes somewhat against what I have always learned back in physics in school about the dangers of radiation. But then again the whole idea of having a city with more than a million inhabitants on the site of what you should expect would be highly radioactive pollution.
I leave the old tree behind and start walking down the sidewalks of the city. Down in an ordinary street I pass a little plaque. It is right at a new modern building next to an entrance to a parking garage. The plaque is marking the hypocenter of the nuclear blast which destroyed the city. It is a bit strange to see this spot with such a modest marking - no memorial or anything to remember one of the significant events in history.
Tree surviving the nuclear blast - only 740 meters away from the blast
I have to walk a bit further to get to the PeaceMemorial Park which is dedicated to the remembrance of the day. I get down to the park and the first thing I see is the A-Bomb Dome. It is one of the few buildings which survived the explosion and eventually it was preserved as a reminder of the day. It was listed at a world heritage back in 1996 along with the park for its special place in history.
I walk into the park which got many different memorials to remind you about the events. It is quite moving just walking around. There is a special monument for the Koreans who died during the explosion. I was a bit surprised about the huge number of Korean casualties. They seem to be somewhat forgotten - but more than ten percent of all the people killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was Korean forced labor who had been brought to Japan to help the Japanese war production keep it up while most of the Japanese men were out fighting all over the Pacific.
One of the most moving monuments in the park is probably the children’s peace memorial.
The epicentre of the blast
The origin of the monument was the ten year old Sadoki Sasaki had gotten leukemia because of being exposed to radiation of the blast. And old Japanese tradition claims if you could fold a thousand paper cranes your wish would come true. Hence when she got sick she started to fold paper cranes to get a wish. As she got still worse she kept folding paper cranes. But unfortunately she died before finishing her project. But her classmates decided to finish what she had started - and the story hit the news. Hence people all over Japan started to fold paper cranes and her classmates started a movement to create a monument for all the children affected by the nuclear bombing. In the end 3.200 schools around Japan contributed to the monument.
The paper crane folding continues to this day and the cranes are set out every year on the anniversary of the blast. On top of the monument is a special golden crane which is not the original but a recreation made in 2003. The Japanese don’t seem to want to tell much about the reason for the crane being recreated. But the sad truth is that the children’s monument was burnt down by a frustrated former college student who was frustrated by his job situation.
The A-bomb Dome
After wandering the monuments in the park I go into the PeaceMemorialMuseum which is a modern building at the end of the park. When I go in I get one of the audio guides to the museum. I go in and start to look around. The first part of the museum is dedicated to a bit of the history of the Japanese aggression during the war leading up to the 6th of August. One of the themes of the museum is how the Americans choose the destination of the blast. Hiroshima was first in line to get hit by a nuclear bomb because there were no allied prisoners of war in the city and there was a lot of industry within a small area - hence it was considered the best target. The Americans had decided not to bomb the cities which were designated as nuclear targets because they would like to be able to study how much destruction a nuclear bomb would make. Hence the first blast were sort of a life scale experiment so the American military could study there new toy in practice.
Besides the stories on lots of poster around the museum there are lots of effects from the days around August 6th.
Childrens memorial - the new golden crane
Some the more memorable ones are the watches - they are all stopped at 8.15 - the time of the blast. Something else is the copies of letters send by different mayors of Hiroshima in protest of nuclear test explosions around the world. The last letter was sent May 26th this year to North Korea in protest of the latest nuclear test in the world.
In a couple of rooms is displays of the cloths people were wearing during the blast in the city. The cloth was generally burned on one side and more or less untouched on the other - depending on which side had faced the blast. Most of the cloth belonged to 12-15 year old children who had been working close to the epicenter. On the audio tour were stories of the children wearing the cloths. The stories were quite moving and they had a sad tendency to end with the words he/she died during the night, the next day or three days later.
The museum is about to close and I have to leave.
The cenotaph containing all the names of people who died as a result of the nuclear blast
I had not really expected to spend this much time inside it - but the stories of the events had had a strange captivating effect. I go out to the park where it is getting dark by now. And I can see the eternal flame burning at the cenotaph.
It is time to get out and stop getting depressed. It is time for dinner and get some of the special Hiroshima okonomiyaki which is unique for the city.