About a month ago, back when I was still teaching regularly, I was sat at home thinking to myself “It’s been a month now that we’ve been on winter break, and I haven’t done anything. I haven’t even left Kansai since being here.” So, I rather impulsively decided to take a trip to Hiroshima. I booked my tickets and accommodation just two days before I left.
After finishing work on the Friday, I left Hirakata and headed to Umeda to catch a night bus with Willer Express for the 6 and a half hour drive to Hiroshima. I made a mistake. In an attempt to help myself sleep, I downed a couple of beers before boarding. Once on board, I realised that not only was only I not tired, but now I needed to pee. And there was no toilet on board. Thank God that we stopped at service stations every hour or two.
Anyway, the coach arrived at around 6.30AM on Saturday morning. It was still dark outside, and was a pretty cold day. I had about 9 hours to burn until I could check into the hostel, so I started to walk, unsure of what or where I was really going.
With no where to go, I decided to sleep off a few hours in an internet cafe, and wake up when I could check in. Internet cafes are fairly cheap ways to find a place to stay for a few hours or even a night. You pay your fee, and you have your own booth, with a reclining chair that flattens verticle, a computer and a locker. There are vending machines, thousands of magazines and comics, and even showers!
After napping in my dark, quiet booth for a few hours, I woke up and headed out into Hiroshima, feeling a little more refreshed than I had on arrival. I still had a couple of hours until I could check in, so I made my way to the Atomic Bomb Dome and Hiroshima Peace Park.
Now, this is my second time in Hiroshima, so I new what to expect at the park. It is a both beautiful and haunting place. The Atomic Bomb Dome (Gembaku Domu in Japanese) is on of the few surviving buildings left from the bombing in 1945, most being destroyed in the original bomb, and many more destroyed in the following years to make way for the rebuilding of the city.
The building itself was built in 1915, and was the Hiroshima Prefectural Promotion Hall. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a haunting reminder of the war.
In the Peace Memorial Park are various sculptures and shrines for different groups affected by the bombing, such as the Children’s Peace Monument, in memory of children killed by the bomb, and the Cenotaph for Korean victims, in memory of the 400,000 Korean forced labourers killed in the bombing.Children’s Peace Monument
Cenotaph for Korean Victims
All over the park you can see millions and millions of origami paper cranes. This stemmed from one girl, Sadako Sasaki. She was two years old when the bomb dropped. By the time she was twelve, she had been diagnosed with leukemia, caused by atomic radiation and given only a year to live. She learnt of a Japanese story that tells that anyone that folds 1,000 cranes is granted a wish. She began folding cranes, and went beyond until her death in October 1955. Since then, people all over the world have donated paper cranes memorial to her and other victims of the bomb.
There is also the Memorial Cenotaph and Peace Flame. The Peace Flame has been kept alight since 1964, and will remain lit until all nuclear weapons have been destroyed.
Though I had seen the museum before, I decided to go in again. It stands in two, box-like buildings, connected by a long enclosed walkway, separating two distinct parts of the museum. It reminds me of an old 70s school or university. To enter the museum costs a tiny ￥50, so there is no reason not to go in, except perhaps if you have a sensitive stomach.
The exhibits inside are hard to explain, and I decided not to take photographs inside. The first half of the museum is focused on the history, the lead up to the bombing and Hiroshima’s role in the war. It also includes copies of the hundreds of letters sent by the mayors of Hiroshima to various people in politics, lobbying for a ban on nuclear weapons.
The second half of the museum is the hard hitting part. Away from the history and politics, it tells the story of those ordinary people affected by the bomb. It features artefacts found after the bombing, such as the blood stained school uniforms of young children. Each piece also has the story of the owner of the items, what happened, what they were doing, how they were identified.
It shows the effects on ordinary objects, such as glass bottles fused together by the intense heat, or roof tiles that had bubbled and melted. It also shows the after effects of radiation, what happened to those who survived the blast but later succumbed to radiation poisoning or cancer. They said for days after the bomb, it rained black rain on Hiroshima, highly dangerous and radioactive.
Hiroshima is a beautiful city with a horrid scar on it, and it is hard to describe really what it is like without seeing it for yourself, and without going to the museum.
Next time, a much happier and peaceful side of Hiroshima: Miyajima Island. You can read about it here.