It is difficult to write about Hiroshima.
Nuclear accidents seem to happen, or be avoided, on a regular basis these days; countries arm themselves with ever more terrible bombs, nuclear power is poised to replace coal and gas, and the world sails on as though the 1945 destruction of two Japanese cities had never happened.
It was Sunday, August 6, 1945, and the early morning sun shone from the blue sky over Hiroshima, Japan. It had been a night of constant alerts with sirens warning of planes overhead but early in the morning, the all-clear sounded. The streets were full of people, workers returning from night shifts, day workers on their way to take their place, military workers, factory watchmen, women shopping, secondary school children making fire breaks, all, we can suppose, weary after a sleepless night.
Shortly after 7 a.m. an urgent communique came to the Military Command at Hiroshima Central Broadcasting, cut short after just a few phrases by a blinding flash, a blast of searing heat and a roar that shook the earth from its orbit.
It was 8.15 a.m when the American bomber Enola Gay dropped a five-ton bomb over Hiroshima and a blast equivalent to the power of 15,000 tons of TNT reduced four square miles of the city to ruins, instantly killing 80,000 men, women, and children. People turned to charcoal there and then, limbless and headless bodies flew through the air, and on the ground writhed still living bodies, their flesh torn from their limbs. Tens of thousands more died in the following weeks from wounds and radiation poisoning. In total, it is said that 140,000 died from the effects of the bomb the Americans called “Little Boy”, 80,000 on the day and 60,000 from injuries and the combined effects of flash burns, trauma, radiation burns, and illness. Three days later, another bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, killing nearly 40,000 more. A few days later, Japan announced its surrender.
Cenotaph at Night with Dome in Background, Hiroshima Peace Park – Steve Moore
In 1970, five countries had A & H bombs, the USA, the UK, the USSR, France and China, and they signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty designating themselves nuclear powers and prohibiting all other countries from possessing nuclear weapons for 25 years. As we know, other countries now possess the bomb, or the wherewithal to make a bomb, although the fact is often denied.
The Memorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima is located in the centre of the Peace Park, It is a saddle-shaped structure which was erected in 1952, the shape representing a sanctuary for the souls of the A-Bomb victims. Inside it holds a list of their names.
Clock in Hiroshima Museum showing how many days since the bomb was dropped and, below that, how many days since the last nuclear test.- Mari Nicholson
There is a Global Peace Watch Clock within the Museum in Hiroshima Memorial Park which displays the number of days since the A-bombing of the city which killed thousands and left thousands more to die painful deaths from radiation poisoning and still others to live with the effects of the poison. Below the clock is another number which shows the number of days since the most recent nuclear test. It can be surprisingly low as many underground tests are conducted which are low enough not to create a critical mass of fissile material and so does not attract publicity. One has to ask oneself why nations feel the need to continually increase the power of their bombs when just one or two set off from different sides of the world could end of our world and our civilisation.
The Museum is dedicated to telling visitors the history of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and among the exhibits are a number of articles and remains damaged by the bomb, together with poignant pictures and sad memorabilia.
Hiroshima is not like the rest of Japan. It was flattened when the Atomic Bomb was dropped on it. It has been re-built and is now a soulless place of dull, grey concrete, wide avenues, boulevards, shopping malls and all the accoutrements of a modern city. What is lacks is a soul. That was destroyed in 1945.
Visitors to the city will be moved by the World Heritage Site of the A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima’s most famous site . It stands forlornly by the river across from the Peace Memorial Park, as a reminder of the power that rained down upon the city half a century ago and brought such terrible devastation to its people. On that fateful day it stood within 100 metres from what became ground zero. The A-Bomb Dome is a propped up ruin, the only building still standing. Try and visit it at night if possible, when it is lit from the interior as well as the exterior. It is quite eerie.
The Children’s Peace Memorial in the Peace Park is continually covered in thousands of tiny folded paper cranes, a symbol of longevity and happiness in Japan, which come in by the busload from schools all over Japan on a regular basis. The Memorial was inspired by the story of leukaemia victim Sasaki Sadako, who, at age ten contracted the disease, after which she embarked on a task to make 1000 paper cranes in the belief that if she succeeded she would survive. Sadly she died having only completed 644 but her classmates completed the task, and so started a tradition that continues to this day.
School children learn the lessons of history on the banks of the river that guided the Atomic Bomb to Hiroshima – Mari Nicholson
The Peace Memorial Park is located across the Aioi-bashi Bridge and includes the Cenotaph which lists the name of all the known victims. The river is said to have been the bomber’s point of aim on that fateful morning. Beneath the Cenotaph burns a flame, set to burn until the last atomic bomb has been destroyed, at which point it will be extinguished. Thousands of sufferers from radiation burns threw themselves into the river in an effort to ease the pain but to no avail, and hundreds of corpses remained afloat in the water for days after the blast.
The Peace Memorial Museum is the place to find information. It delivers a simple anti-atomic warfare message with a power that can leave you in tears. The depiction of destruction and suffering is told with no pulling of punches and makes one think of what modern warfare, using these bombs, would be like.
08.30–18.00 March-July, Sept-Nov: 0830 – 19.00 August: 08.30-17.00 Dec-Feb.
Tel: (082)2414004. Admission 50 yen. Tram line 2 and 6 from Hiroshima station.
Other places to visit:
Hiroshima Art Museum which has Dali’s Dream of Venus and works by the Japanese artist Hirayama Ikuo who was present during the bombing.
Shukkelen Garden. Located next to the Hiroshima Art Museum
Mitaki–Dera: the Three Waterfalls Temple, a quiet and secluded gem with a fine view over the city.
Best trip outside the city – to Miyajima. The famous Red Torii gate of the Itsukushima Shrine (at least the one that is most photographed) can be seen here, in a very touristy town but one with great charm. While there, try the famed oysters, raw, deep-fried, or in hot pot dish, the savoury pancakes and the ice-cream sandwich in a brioche bun.