It’s been over 71 years since the Enola Gay dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima. The nuclear debate is still ongoing, and while this is by no means a political blog, the detonations of Little Boy and Fat Man over Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively, effectively ended World War II. While on my trip to Japan last year, I was able to visit the beautiful city of Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Park, a stark and somber reminder of the devastation that a nuclear weapon can cause.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial is a memorial to those who were killed by the atomic bomb. The city of Hiroshima, chosen for military and industrial purposes, was completely destroyed by the world’s first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945. Four years later, there was widespread support for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law, and a month later, the A-bomb Memorial Hall was established. In March 1952, it was decided under the construction law that the Peace Memorial Hall, Memorial Museum, City Auditorium, and Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims be constructed as reminders. The Memorial Hall and Museum opened three years later.
The first thing one sees upon entering Memorial Park is A-Bomb Dome, or the Genbaku Dome. Located near the hypocenter of the first atomic bomb, it is the only structure that was left standing. Over the years, it had been preserved as a reminder of the destructive powers of nuclear weapons, but it is a standing symbol of hope for peace. You can almost feel the heavy silence in this somber and almost sacred place.
We walked past a man by the name of Mito Kosei who was an in-utero survivor. Speaking in perfect English, he was explaining to a young girl and curious bystanders some of the photos in the scrapbooks he provided for the public to look through. Images collected from the scenes and devastation following the detonation filled the pages. He was one of the many guides advocating the banning of nuclear weapons since his family was directly impacted.
Mito Kosei’s story and activism can be found on his blog.
The park was quiet in late March and the cherry blossoms planted along the Motoyasu River started blooming during the peak sakura season. Standing between the A-Bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Museum is the Cenotaph for A-Bomb Victims is an arched tomb for those who died because of the bomb. Below it, a stone chest holds a register of over 220,000 names. Every year on August 6th, a ceremony is held where speeches are made by the Prime Minister, the Mayor of the city and other representatives. Then a moment of silence is observed at 0815, the moment the bomb detonated. In the evening, lanterns are lit with the fire the locals called the ‘Embers of the Atomic Bomb’ and they float downstream on the river.
The Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims is a quiet place showing a panorama of the city and the names of all the neighborhoods. It’s a relatively newer addition to the park, founded in 2002. A solitary fountain at its center shows the exact time of the detonation and the water provides relief tho those who perished.
The Peace Memorial Museum shows the history of the city and subsequent events after the detonation. The gory and graphic imagery drives the message of this moment home to those unaware or unfamiliar with the awesome power of nuclear weapons and the subsequent suffering. Open since 1955, the museum has shared a wealth of information from photographs, videos, models, and victims’ belongings, to include a tricycle on which a 3-year old boy was riding, and knowledgeable guides are available to answer questions.
One might notice while visiting the park, and throughout Hiroshima, the thousands of brightly colored paper cranes. These origami cranes are a symbol of peace and they each resemble a prayer or a wish from all around the world. The story of the cranes goes back to the story of Sadako Sasaki, a little girl who at two was exposed to the radiation of the atomic bomb and passed away at twelve years old from leukemia. Even though she seemed and looked like a healthy girl years after the detonation, she suddenly became ill and was then diagnosed with leukemia. She heard of a Japanese legend in which if she folded a thousand of these paper cranes, her wish of getting better would be granted. Sadako folded these paper cranes until her death on October 25, 1955.
To memorialize Sadako and other children who died because of the bomb, the Children’s Peace Monument in the Peace Park as built. Also called the Tower of a Thousand Cranes, the three-legged monument holds up a bronze statue of a girl holding a folded crane high above her head. A boy and a girl are suspended on either side of the monument, representing hope and a bright future.
It’s best to know a little about the history of the atomic bomb and of World War II prior to visiting the memorial. Opinions on the use of nuclear weapons vary widely and it’s good to know both sides when visiting this beautiful yet somber place.
Have you ever visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial or another significant site? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.