Hiroshima: Unexpectedly Wonderful

I’m just going to come right out and say it. I never particularly wanted to go to Hiroshima. In school, I didn’t enjoy learning about history, and still now, I’m not a fan of museums. Even though I’d been told that the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum would probably be one of the most emotionally moving and confronting experiences I would ever face, this still didn’t exactly spark my interest. So when I had a free day between Osaka and Kyoto, I grudgingly paid more money that I would have liked to get the bullet train to Hiroshima, simply to cross it off the list of places that are deemed “must-sees” by some nobody who works for the Lonely Planet.

Since I hadn’t really done any research, I expected to step off the train and find a boring little city, with nothing to look at except a big old museum. To put it bluntly, this is almost exactly what I did find. Hiroshima isn’t buzzing with energy like Tokyo, nor is it abundant with natural beauty and nor does it possess an exhausting array of things to do. But somehow, it has succeeded in creating the calm and peaceful vibes that this historic city so rightfully deserves.

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Slowly walking along the river, it’s as though the very idea of peace is rooted in the soil itself.  The whole environment is remarkably calming. The screeching sounds of car horns and shouting shop keepers were replaced by the soft chirping of birds. No suited businessmen ran past me, briefcases flailing along behind them. Little girls played in the park, collecting fallen cherry blossom flowers and stowing them away into their picnic baskets. I felt so unbelievably welcome here. People walking by would smile at me, and some would even stop to say “hello” and “welcome”. In what other city in Japan do locals have the opportunity to detach themselves from their busy lives just to greet a passing tourist?

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In case you spent history classes reading “Twilight” under the desk (like me), and have no idea what events I am referring to, here’s a quick refresher. On the 6th of August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, resulting in the instant deaths of tens of thousands and the ongoing injuries and suffering of countless others. At the exact moment that the bomb exploded, the temperature exceeded 1 million degrees celsius, creating a humungous ball of fire, which destroyed anything and everything within a 280m radius and emitting devastating heat rays across the entire city. To this day, it is the first and only atomic bomb ever to be used as an act of war.

Hiroshima before.
Hiroshima before.
Hiroshima after.
Hiroshima after.

The museum itself is extremely interesting, and at only 50 cents entry fee, why wouldn’t you go? The exhibit includes the models shown above, as well as videos and photos about the bombing. Also available to view are clothes worn by victims of the disaster as well as other artefacts like the tools they were carrying at the time.

A watch, frozen at 8:15. The exact time of the blast.
A watch, frozen at 8:15. The exact time of the blast.

The museum is situated at one end of a long park, appropriately named The Peace Memorial Park. It is abundant with luscious green grass and cherry blossom trees, with a river running through the middle. It is also home to number of statues and monuments pertaining to the lives lost in the atomic bombing disaster, and Hiroshima’s desperate call for peace and the world-wide ban on nuclear weapons.

Memorial Cenotaph and the Peace Flame.
Memorial Cenotaph and the Peace Flame.
The Children's Peace Monument pays tribute to Sadako, the girl who believed folding 1000 paper cranes would cure her of the disease she sustained after the bombing.
The Children’s Peace Monument pays tribute to Sadako, the girl who believed folding 1000 paper cranes would cure her of the disease she sustained after the bombing.

At the opposite end of the park, stands the A-Bomb Dome. This is the only structure close the the hypocentre of the explosion, that remained anywhere near intact after the blast.

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You can see what the dome looked like before the devastation, in the sign in the foreground.
You can see what the dome looked like before the devastation, in the sign in the foreground.

In my one day in Hiroshima I managed to learn more about World War II than year ten social science ever could have taught me. I wish I could have stayed an extra night to further explore this remarkably welcoming and relaxed city. I highly recommend a visit to Hiroshima if you have any plans to come to Japan. Even if you have no interest in history or war, and the fantastic museum fails to change that, it is a lovely city for a friendly and peaceful escape from the organised chaos of other cities in Japan.

Stay tuned for my post on the paradise that is Miyajima Island!

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