I thought it appropriate to post about my trip to Hiroshima, Japan on the actual 70th year anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima by the United States in World War II, August 6, 1945. Taking a day trip down to Hiroshima from Kyoto was made possible, affordable, and extremely convenient with the high speed shinkansen trains and our Japan Rail pass. The ride down was only about 2 hrs long.
Within the last three years, I actually visited Pearl Harbor at Hawaii and then Manzanar Internment Camps in eastern California. It wasn’t a planned progression, but in retrospect, it was actually a very fitting one, finishing off this complete circle with Hiroshima. At each location, it was hard to not break into tears.
I made it a point to visit Hiroshima this trip to Japan. What I really wanted was to be at the epicenter of the explosion, which is right around where the Atomic Bomb Dome, Peace Memorial Park, and Peace Memorial Museum are located. I wanted to look up at the sky and imagine Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. flying the Enola Gay overhead, imagine Little Boy falling out of the sky, imagine it detonating about 2,000ft above me, scorching and melting everything within a one mile radius, killing up to 70,000 people, some instantly, some slowly, flesh melting off their bodies, puking out their internal organs as the radiation ate through their flesh, many of them children and students who had been summoned to the area to work on rebuilding projects.
The first thing I saw was the Atomic Bomb Dome or Genbaku Dome, which had originally been an Industrial Promotion Hall 1915. Everyone died inside the building from the blast, but it was one of the few buildings left standing and preserved as a memorial. In December 1996, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The winter day we visited, it was appropriately gloomy, and the building was actually going under some structural reinforcing, so it was surrounded by scaffolding. At first, I was a tad bummed, because I wanted to see the building on its own, but then it still made a stark figure against the sky and was not at all a disappointment in conveying the depth of meaning and history burned into its walls.
And burned into walls of the building history was.
The T intersection of the Aoi Bridge was the “X” that marked the spot for the Enola Gay that day. The original bridge has of course been destroyed, but there is a new functional one in its place today, with a steady traffic of cars flowing over it.
The Peace Memorial Park area surrounding and connecting the various memorials and museums on both sides of the river is peaceful, beautiful, and solemn.
There is a peace bell in the park that visitors can go up to and ring, and if you go up close to where the wooden rod strikes the surface of the bell, you can see a melded image of the atomic symbol there, eerie, symbolic, and appropriate. The sound of the bell is both resonating and pure at the same time, evoking memory, repose, and reflection.
As many of the victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima were children because students happened to have been summoned to the area that day to work on reconstruction projects, there is a specially dedicated Children’s Peace Monument for them. The stories of children with their clothes burned into their backs, of the suffering they endured from the radiation poisoning that caused them to vomit their own intestines out, the loss of family and friends, the melting of their flesh–there are no words that can fully describe the horror of it all.
The Peace Memorial Museum offers an expansive reflection pool outside, wide open contemplative areas, and a museum full of records on the horrendous events of that day and the terrible aftermath that followed.
Rest in peace.
After the whole Hiroshima experience, I felt compelled to go to Nagasaki, too, but looking up the travel that would be required, there just wasn’t enough time that day to travel down there, even with the almighty powers of the Japan Rail Pass and the godspeed of the shinkansen trains. It was not something we could take a day trip down from Kyoto for the next day either, because the travel itself would have taken all day. So, we had to leave a visit to Nagasaki for a future trip to Japan.
Next up, near Hiroshima is the beautiful Miyajima Island.