Unlike Kyoto and Tokyo, I have rather mixed feelings towards Hiroshima. On one hand, I have fond memories of Hiroshima. It was my first time travelling for more than a day on my own and I remember the very nice hostel staff Hiroko who went out of her way to book my accommodation at Tottori, the fellow travellers who hung out with me – Christina from Germany who hung out with me in the evenings and in Miyajima and Aoi from Kawaguchi who drank Japanese beer with me at night. Those were really good memories. But on the other hand, thinking of Hiroshima and what it had gone through in 1945 makes me feel sad. The first atomic bomb deployed in war, Little Boy, landed in Hiroshima on 6th August 1945, many Japanese died from the initial blast while others were left dying after the blast. Many of those who have survived the atomic bomb (Hibakusha) lived on to endure the painful side-effects of radiation and the pain of losing their loved ones because of A-Bomb. I find that Hiroshima wants to be a living history to remind the citizens of the world about the importance of world peace and the threat of nuclear weaponry proliferation. Together with the many Japanese students who were visiting Hiroshima (apparently almost every Japanese has visited Hiroshima once in their lives), I learnt an important lesson and I took home the message. However, I wonder how residents of Hiroshima feel when they have to walk past the Peace Memorial Park and Atomic Bomb Dome in order to get to work or to watch their favourite baseball game. Therein lies a potential conflict of interest – you want to memorialize the victims of the atomic bomb but at the same time, you don’t want to go about feeling sad every time you walk past these places.
I took a day bus from Kyoto to Hiroshima (~4000 Yen). The journey lasted about 7 hours and so I reached Hiroshima about 1 pm. I was really happy that I got on the bus from Hachijo, Kyoto, it was not much fun to try to find a bus stop at 6 am at an area with so many bus stops. I first visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum which was a walking distance from the hostel that I was staying in (J-Hoppers Hiroshima Trad Guesthouse).
I must confess that I didn’t expect too much from the museum especially since Japan have a reputation for over-victimizing itself. But in the end, the museum impressed me in several ways. The museum has two floors. On the bottom floor, visitors will learn about the Manhattan Project, why the atomic bomb was used and why Hiroshima was chosen. There are letters penned by Roosevelt to generals and scientists on display in the museum. What is most interesting on the ground floor are the letters hung on a wall written by the Hiroshima mayor to presidents whenever their countries did testing on nuclear weapons. There were a couple of letters to Kim Jong Il but surprisingly, these few letters were surrounded by many, many letters to Barack Obama. It got me thinking about the power of media. In the press, we read about how many countries condemned North Korea for nuclear weapon testing. But we don’t read about the many nuclear weapons tested in New Mexico. Power does confer legitimacy seemingly. On the second floor, visitors will learn about the stories of the victims and the horrors of the atomic bomb. The museum also makes an appeal to the Japanese government to take care of the Hibakushas. There is an area depicting the scene right after the bomb landed with wax figures of children and it is rather graphically shocking. Right outside of the museum is a stone coffin which holds the registry of all the victims of the atomic bomb and in front of the coffin, these words were inscribed, “Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the evil.” Sadly, the world keeps disappointing.
The Peace Memorial Park is a rather big area with many monuments, paper cranes and flowers. From the Peace Memorial Park, you have to cross the famous Aioi Bridge to get to the Atomic Bomb Dome. Aioi Bridge is an unusual T-shape bridge and it is unfortunately chosen as the aiming point for the landing of the atomic bomb as its shape was easily recognizable from the air. The people inside the nearby Industrial Promotion Hall, located 160 m from the hypocenter, perished immediately but the structure somehow remained remarkably intact. In its present form the building preserves in every detail its exact state after the blast. It was quite an eerie sight. On a side note, I think it is incredible how the Japanese managed to build a buzzing city in the course of 50 years. The Hibakushas must be very proud of their own willpower (as well as their descendants) to re-build Hiroshima.
Like many cities, Hiroshima does not just memorialize one moment in history. Nestled away from the Atomic Bomb Dome is the Hiroshima castle which was first constructed in 1589. The area around Hiroshima castle, including the two rivers, is quite big. I thought I could make a round around the area on foot but I gave up mid-way because it was too large. Hiroshima castle is built on a plain in the center of the city as opposed to on mountaintops and because of its location, it has a fairly interesting defense system: when enemies attack the castle, order will be made to bring up the flood-gates and flood the enemy. Like other buildings in its vicinity, this castle did not survive the atomic bomb. The view from the top of the Hiroshima castle is quite good and inside the castle, I got yet another class on samurais, fusumas and Japanese castles. Even though it is a rather humble-looking castle as compared to the more majestic ones in Okayama, Himeji and Nagoya, I quite like this castle. There is a certain beauty in simplicity.
One never leaves Hiroshima without tasting its famous okonomiyaki! It is so good. 🙂