August 6, 1945. In the blink of an eye the world had changed. Just a few hundred feet above Hiroshima, Japan, a bomb unlike any other ever used before detonated. The effects are still being felt today, nearly 70 years later. The tens of thousands who died immediately were, in many cases, the lucky ones, compared to those who suffered the after-effects in subsequent years. Today the city of Hiroshima has recovered rather impressively. But at its heart remains the shell of the one building left mostly standing when the bomb went off, a memorial to the dead and an eerie reminder of just how good we are at destroying ourselves.
That the building remains at all is something of a surprise. In part that is because it survived the explosion which was centered nearly directly above. But more because the Japanese were rather keen on razing the damaged structure shortly after the attack and clearing the space for reconstruction. Eventually the conservationists won out and the remains of the Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall, now generally known as Genbaku, or A-bomb Dome, is now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There’s more to the area than just the dome. While it is the iconic center of the Peace Park area there are a number of other memorials within a 10 minute walk. Some are dedicated to specific groups (students and children are most common) and there is also the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum at the south end of the walk which holds some incredible artifacts from that fateful day and other exhibits as well.
Among those artifacts are watches which stopped at the moment of impact. Even if their owners had survived the watches would not be able to change from that point in time with the gears seized up from the explosion.
There was also a tricycle and helmet that were the prized toys of a small child killed in the aftermath of the explosion. His father buried them with his son in a grave near their home. Only years later was the body dug up and moved to a proper cemetery and the bike taken out to be preserved.
There are many more pictures and exhibits in the museum, nearly all of which are heart-wrenching. It is an experience that is not to be missed (the admission was a trivial ¥50, approximately USD $0.60) but is is also an experience that is both humbling and awesome.
Between the museum and the Dome the Peace Park are any more memorials and even more stories. One of the more famous is that of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. As a child suffering from leukemia as a result of the bombing Sadako heard the tale of folding one thousand paper cranes and having that grant a wish. The ending of the story varies as to whether the full 1,000 were folded by Sadako or not but she died not long after starting the effort. Her story is now shared in schools the world over with folded paper cranes arriving nearly daily at the memorial site (approximately 9 tons annually). The cranes have become something of a symbol for the city (ANA used them in their local announcement of 787 service) and for peace around the world.
On the day of my visit there were a few different school groups who came to the site to offer up their cranes to the memorial. Each group had a small performance associated with the offering (I have no idea what they were singing, of course) and then quickly made way for the next group such that all had the opportunity to participate.
There is also the Cenotaph dedicated to the victims of the bombing. Regardless of nationality, names are added to the registry held in the stone chest that sits under the arched roof. The chest holds more than 221,000 names and bears the inscription (translated from the Japanese), “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.”
There is a Peace Bell in the park as well. Every now and then the sound of the bell rings out over the area; it is often the only sound you’ll hear walking through unless a school group is near by. The bell is marked with a map of the world that ignores national boundaries. The strike point of the mounted log is an icon of the atom such that each time the bell tolls a statement is made opposing atomic weapons.
A visit to the Peace Park can be emotionally draining, to be certain. It definitely was for me. But absolutely, completely and totally worth it. I’m incredibly happy that I chose Hiroshima as the interloping city for my 787 Dreamliner adventure and that I got to have the experience. It is unparalleled.
Read more from this Trip Report under the Dream2011 tag here.
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