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During the 5-hour Shinkansen (bullet train) ride from Tokyo to Hiroshima, I kept wondering how I’d feel once I got there. I know it’s been 70 years since the atomic bomb was dropped, but I knew there would be echoes of the horror that took place there and somber feelings still lingering. I wondered how I would feel at the place where thousands of Japanese were incinerated by the country I now live in.
At 8:15am on August 6th, 1945, the U.S. Air Force dropped the world’s first atomic bomb over the unsuspecting city of Hiroshima. It detonated at 1,900ft, roughly 600m, above the city for maximum damage by its blast wave. Over 80,000 people were instantly killed, thousands more soon died from their wounds and radiation, and countless others suffered from radiation sickness in the decades to come.
Hiroshima is now a modern, bustling city surrounded by a beautiful mountainous landscape. You would have no idea that approximately 70% of the city had once been wiped out.
Peace Memorial Park & Atomic Bomb Dome
The Peace Memorial Park was built on an open field created by the explosion. It was once the city’s busiest commercial and residential district.
The park now contains many important memorials such as the Children’s Peace Monument, the Flame of Peace, the Sadako Statue, and the Peace Memorial Museum.
Also located in the park is the city’s most famous symbol, the Atomic Bomb Dome (what was once the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall), which was the closest building to the hypocenter that was left standing. The few dozen people inside vanished instantly in the blast.
The people of Hiroshima chose to preserve the dome exactly as it was after the blast to serve as a reminder of the consequences of war.
I had seen pictures of the A-Bomb Dome, but when I actually stood in front of it I was overcome with emotion. Looking at the skeleton of what was once a beautiful building, knowing that the last people who saw it whole died within it… it paralyzed me. I stood there not being able to move or take my eyes off of it for a good 15 minutes. I walked around it multiple times, looking at it from every possible angle, envisioning what it once was, and I looked up to the sky, my eyes following the estimated location 160m away to that hellish blast 70 years ago. I pictured myself being surrounded by ash and rubble. There, right in front of me, was the haunting reminder of the evil mankind is capable of.
Right next to the dome stood an older Japanese man with a lanyard around his neck with a sign saying “In-Utero Survivor.” He (Mr. Mito) had organized multiple binders labeled according to their language with information on the bombing and life after for the survivors. We learned about the prejudice that the survivors faced concerning marriage due to fears that they would have sickly children, and we were informed about the medical program that government had set in place to help those affected. He then told us the story about how his mother was 4 months pregnant with him when she had come to Hiroshima a few days after the bombing. She had exposed herself to the radiation. Although he was sickly during his childhood, he is now in great health. Amazingly, his mother beat cancer and other illnesses, is now healthy, and is celebrating her 98th birthday this month.
It was a pleasure meeting Mr. Mito. He is at the park every day with a mission to inform and educate. He spoke about the importance of letting go of hate and revenge, and that the only way forward is on the path of peace. He has a blog with much more information and many stories, including one written by his mother. I encourage you all to check it out- http://blog.livedoor.jp/mitokosei/
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Also located in the park is the Peace Memorial Museum. The museum is informative but graphic, so prepare yourself for some very heavy emotions and images if you go. You are greeted by multiple large pictures of the mushroom cloud during the blast. It walks you through the history of the Pacific War and the events leading up to the bombing. The museum is laid out so that you feel as if you are walking through the ruins of the city shortly after the blast. Scorched brick rubble and statues of people covered in radiation burns follow you on your walk into rooms filled with clothing, jewelry, toys, and other belongings that were either found in the rubble or given to the museum by family members of the deceased.
In the museum you will see a model of the city on display showing landmarks and the radius of the destruction. You will see models of the bombs educating you on how they work and the long-term effects of radiation. You will learn about what was done to support those affected and the discrimination they faced. You will learn of the story of Sadako Sasaki, who was 2 years old when the bomb was dropped and folded one thousand paper cranes before dying of leukemia at the age of 12. The museum was not biased in its presentations. In the end, you will see how Hiroshima turned this tragedy into a movement toward peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.
It was heavy. It felt as if I were holding my breath the entire time. Towards the end I found myself almost in a hurry to get out of there, and was relieved when I finally made it outside.
Outside the museum was a group of "No Nukes" activists who had typed up dozens of pages of interviews (mostly with Japanese soldiers and children) to tell the story of the war starting in 1938 and its effects today. It was eye-opening to read the perspective of the soldiers and civilians, what they witnessed, what they came home to, and what their thoughts were on the war and the bombings. I was able to learn more about the second bomb in Nagasaki and the Tokyo air raid, where the U.S. killed tens of thousands of civilians.
There is still much debate concerning the real agenda of the U.S. and whether the bombs were necessary to end the war. Many Japanese claim they were already about to surrender, while the U.S. says the emperor would rather have fought to the death in order to save face. Regardless, the atrocity already took place. What we do know are the consequences of war. We know the suffering on both sides. There is no innocent party. I hope our world never has to witness another nuclear disaster.
If you haven't already, I hope you get a chance to visit this beautiful city. It will touch your soul and open your eyes. We are all one people. While our governments may wage war, all we want is to live in peace. Let's actively work towards that.
Hi there! I'm Skeeter. I grew up moving a lot and that makes me a bit restless for travel and exploration. I started this blog with my husband Pat when we decided to backpack New Zealand for a year. We are always looking for the next adventure and are loving life. We're just your average couple with two sassy dogs and a love for travel. We're sharing our travels and the tips we pick up along the way.
Hello! I'm Liz. Blogging is very new to me, but I'm so excited to finally write as much as I talk!
"Don't forget to travel happy"-Skeeter & Liz