hiroshima   13 comments

Wednesday, August 2:  At 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb in human history was dropped on Hiroshima.  “The explosion decimated 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days later, a second B-29 dropped another A-bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 40,000 people. Japan’s Emperor Hirohito announced his country’s unconditional surrender in World War II in a radio address on August 15, citing the devastating power of ‘a new and most cruel bomb'” (History.com: Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Ever since I read the book Hiroshima by John Hersey, I’ve wanted to visit Hiroshima. When I lived in Korea from March of 2010-March of 2011, I only had a short break for the Lunar New Year in February; I went to Kyoto because it was the easiest place to get to from Busan, S. Korea. My first choice was Hiroshima, but in the short time I had, it didn’t seem possible.  Now that I’ve been to Japan, I know it would have been possible, but those years were my first years of traveling solo, and I didn’t want to overwhelm myself. Kyoto was wonderful, so I had no regrets.

When I planned my one week trip through Japan, I thought I’d have at least 1 1/2 days in Hiroshima because I assumed I’d be able to leave my apartment early on August 1.  However, since my company scheduled my apartment inspection for close to 3 pm, I didn’t arrive in Hiroshima until 8:40 pm, leaving me only one day in the city.

This Wednesday morning, from the brunch room at the top of Hotel Sunroute Hiroshima, I see a clean and beautiful city, sitting placidly in a bowl surrounded by mountains, with several rivers threading through. It’s impossible to imagine the devastation that occurred here nearly 72 years ago.  A beautiful blue-sky day beckons.

After breakfast, I head out directly to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, sitting just catty-corner from my hotel.

view from Sunroute Hiroshima

Before the A-bomb, and after the Meiji Restoration, the event that restored practical imperial rule to Japan in 1868 under Emperor Meiji, Hiroshima grew to be the largest city of the Chugoku Region and one of Japan’s leading military bases.  During the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) the Imperial Headquarters (primary command center) was established in Hiroshima, with Ujina Port utilized largely for military purposes.  Each time Japan took military action, troops gathered in Hiroshima for dispatch to battle.  Military facilities expanded year after year.

Hiroshima was also a leading education city, boasting the only Higher Normal School outside of Tokyo.  Moreover, manufacturing growth between the world wars developed it into an industrial city.

Why did the USA choose Hiroshima as its first target? According to a plaque at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum: Evaluation of Targets: The Target Committee, comprising military personnel and scientists, evaluated potential targets from a military standpoint.  At the first meeting on April 27, 1945, criteria for target selection were developed, and 17 areas were selected for further study.  At the second meeting on May 11, 1945, after examining such issues as city size and topography that would magnify the effects of the blast, the committee shortened the list to four: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Yokohama, and Kokura.  They also agreed that psychological effects against Japan were of great importance.

It seems the city was chosen because it was a military as well as an industrial hub, and because it sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains which maximized damage from the blast.  It was very unlucky for the residents of Hiroshima, but, if there is a silver lining, at least the cultural treasures of Kyoto were not destroyed.

From Hotel Sunroute Hiroshima, I have a clear view down the Motoyasu River to the A-Bomb Dome on the right bank.

view down the Motoyasu River to the A-Bomb Dome

view down the Motoyasu River to the A-Bomb Dome

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park now occupies what was at one time the city’s busiest downtown commercial and residential district. The park was built on an open field that was created by the explosion. Every year on August 6, a Peace Memorial Ceremony is conducted by the Hiroshima Memorial Service Association, in addition to the Hiroshima Inter-Faith League and other religious groups.  The park is abuzz with activity today as people are setting up for the ceremony which will be held in four days. The ceremony is held to console the victims of the atomic bombs and to pray for lasting world peace.  A moment of silence is held at 8:15, the moment the bomb exploded over Hiroshima.

The Peace Memorial Park’s purpose is to not only memorialize the victims, but also to preserve evidence of nuclear horrors and to advocate world peace.

Sadly, today I find that the West wing of the The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is closed.  Only the newly renovated East Building is open today.

Inside the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, I walk along a curved wall that displays floor-to-ceiling black & white photos of Hiroshima before the bomb.

Photos of Hiroshima before the Atomic bomb went off

Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall before the blast

The video below shows black & white photos of Hiroshima before the A-bomb as I walk along the curved wall.  I’m sorry it’s a little shaky.

A single bomb indiscriminately killed tens of thousands of people, profoundly disrupting and altering the lives of survivors.  Through belongings left by the victims, A-bombed artifacts, testimonies of A-bomb survivors and related materials, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum conveys to the world the horrors and inhumane nature of nuclear weapons and spreads the message of “No more Hiroshimas.”  (From a plaque at the museum)

The time Hiroshima was hit

the A-Bomb Dome after the bomb exploded

After the A-bomb, the central columns of the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall Building remained intact, although the bomb exploded almost directly overhead.  In another room, I walk along another curved wall showing photos of the city after the bomb hit. This is so moving, it brings tears to my eyes.

aerial view of Hiroshima

In the center of the curved room is an aerial view of Hiroshima and a simulation of the bomb exploding.

aerial photo of Hiroshima

Below is my video of the aerial simulation of the blast.

The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall (approx. 160 meters from the hypocenter) was completed in April of 1915 under the design and supervision of Czech architect Jan Letzel.  Noted for its unique green dome, it was primarily used for arts and educational exhibitions.

The atomic bomb exploded at an altitude of 600 meters, approximately 160 meters southeast of the Industrial Promotion Hall, instantly killing everyone inside the building, which was seriously damaged and completely burned out.

The East Building of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum includes exhibits of belongings left by the atomic bomb victims, and photos and other materials that convey the horror of the atomic bombing. There are also video recordings of atomic bomb survivors’ testimonies and special exhibitions.

According to the introduction to the museum’s English guide: “The East Wing—the newest addition—explains the history of Hiroshima City before the bomb, development and decision to drop the bomb, the lives of Hiroshima citizens during World War II and after the bombing, and ends with information about the nuclear age and efforts for international peace. Included in this section is a model showing the damage done to the city. It has some important letters exchanged between scientists and top leaders of that era talking about atomic development and predicted result of its use” (Wikipedia: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum).

Below are photos of some of the items in the museum with descriptions taken directly from the plaques.

Tricycle – 1,500 meters from the hypocenter: Sinichi Tetsutani (then, 3 years and 11 months) loved to ride this tricycle. That morning, he was riding it in front of his house.  Following a sudden flash, the heat rays burned Sinichi and his tricycle, leading to his death that night.  Thinking that little Sinichi would miss his home and could ride his favorite tricycle, his father Nobuo buried Sinichi’s body in the backyard of their house together with the tricycle.  In the summer of 1985, forty years later, Nobuo dug up Sinichi’s remains and transferred them to the family grave and donated the tricycle to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

Sinichi Tetsutani’s tricycle

Sinichi Tetsutani and his sister (?)

watch

Human shadow etched in stone – 260 m from the hypocenter:  A person sitting on the steps to the bank waiting for it to open was exposed to the flash from the atomic bomb explosion.  Receiving the ray directly, the victim must have died on the spot from massive burns. The surface of the surrounding stone steps was turned whitish by the intense heat ray.  The place where the person was sitting became dark like a shadow.  Several bereaved families have suggested that one of their family members may have created this shadow.

Sadly, this is only a photo of the stone steps of the bank.  This was one of the main things I was interested in seeing when I came to Hiroshima; it must be in the closed West Wing, because it is nowhere to be found here.

Human shadow etched in stone

According to the introduction to the museum’s English guide, “The West Wing, which was part of the old museum, concentrates on the damage of the bomb. Sections include Material Witness, which shows clothing, watches, hair, and other personal effects worn by victims of the bomb; Damage by the Heat Rays, a section that looks at what happened to wood, stone, metal, glass, and flesh from the heat; Damage by the Blast, focusing on the destruction caused by the after shocks of the blast, and Damage by the Radiation which goes into details about the health effects suffered by humans” (Wikipedia: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum).

It seems that the stone steps from the bank must have been in the West Wing during my visit.

burned clothing

The Holocaust at Hiroshima (Ceramic Wall Painting Replica): The renowned painter Ikuo Hirayama was exposed to the atomic bombing on August 6, 1945 while working as a mobilized student at the Army Weaponry Depot.  Seeking refuge after the bombing at his birth place to Setoda-cho, he stopped along the way at Mt. Ogonzan and gazed in astonishment for several hours as all of Hiroshima became engulfed in flames.

The painting expresses images of eternal peace and of Hiroshima, an immortal phoenix reborn from its own ashes.

The Holocaust at Hiroshima

Wedding Costumes: Ms. Toshiko Iida (then 25) was exposed to the A-bombing together with her daughter, Makiko (then, 4), her son Kunihiko (then, 3), her father Chiematsu Shinnaka, her mother Fumiko, and her younger sisters Hiroko and Michiko, when she was at her parents’ home in Kako-machi, nearly 1km from Ground Zero.  The house had collapsed, trapping all of them under the fallen structure. However, they managed to get out of there and ran barefooted in desperation.  When Toshiko and her two children were stranded around the Sumiyoshi Bridge, they were rescued by a ship of the Akatsuki Corps right before evening, and the ship carried them to Miyajima Island. Afterward, they moved to their relative’s home in Yamagata County.  Although Toshiko was nursed there, her hair fell out and her body including her lips turned bluish-black as a result of the effect of the radiation.  Her symptoms worsened, from fevers to bloody discharge and necrosis.  She finally died on September 4th, followed by Makiko on the 5th.

These are the costumes worn by Toshiko for her wedding ceremony.  Since they had been relocated from their original storage place together with other items on August 5th, the day before the atomic bombing, they remained safe.

Ms. Toshiko Iida’s wedding costumes

A Young Girl’s Death from Leukemia – Sadako Sasaki: Sadako Sasaki was exposed to the A-bomb at the age of two but escaped without apparent injury.  She grew into a strong and healthy girl.  Nine years later, in the fall of her sixth year in elementary school, she suddenly contracted leukemia and was hospitalized in February the following year. She folded paper cranes continuously hoping they would help her recover, but after an 8-month battle with the disease, she succumbed.  Sadako’s death triggered a movement to build a monument to all the children who perished due to the atomic bomb, and the Children’s Peace Monument was erected in Peace Memorial Park with donations received from all over Japan.  Sadako’s story has since traveled around the world.  Now countless paper cranes are sent to this monument every year.

Sadako Sasaki

The Children’s Peace Monument stands in memory of all children who died as a result of the atomic bombing. The monument was originally inspired by the death of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako’s untimely death compelled her classmates to call for the creation of a monument for all children who died due to the atomic bomb.  Built with contributions from more than 3,200 schools in Japan and donors in nine countries, the Children’s Peace Monument was unveiled on May 5, 1958.

At the top of the 9-meter monument, a bronze statue of a girl lifts a golden crane entrusted with dreams for a peaceful future.  Figures of a boy and a girl are located on the sides of the monument.

The inscription on the stone block under the monument reads, “This is our cry.  This is our prayer.  For building peace in this world.”

Children’s Peace Monument

Below are some of the countless folded paper cranes, symbols of world peace, at the Children’s Peace Monument.

Paper cranes

Paper cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument are sent here by children all over the world.

 

Near the center of the park is a concrete, saddle-shaped monument that covers a cenotaph holding the names of all of the people killed by the bomb. The monument is aligned to frame the Peace Flame and the A-Bomb Dome. The Memorial Cenotaph was one of the first memorial monuments built on the open field on August 6, 1952. The arch shape represents a shelter for the souls of the victims.

Memorial Cenotaph

The Peace Flame is another monument to the victims of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, but it has an additional symbolic purpose. The flame has burned continuously since it was lit in 1964, and will remain lit until all nuclear bombs on the planet are destroyed and the planet is free from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

The Peace Flame

The Bell of Peace was dedicated as a symbol of “Hiroshima Aspiration: Let all nuclear arms and wars be gone, and the nations live in true peace!  May it ring to all corners of the earth to meet the ear of every man, for in it throb and palpitate the hearts of its peace-loving donors.  So may you, too, friends, step forward, and toll this bell for peace.”  ~ Dedicated September 20th, 1964 by Hiroshima Higan-no-Kai.

Bell of Peace

The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound:  Here are laid the ashes of 70,000 unidentified victims of the bomb.  Being close to the hypocenter, numerous corpses were collected at this spot and cremated.

The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound

Paper cranes also hang around The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound.

In July 1955, as part of the 10th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb, the present memorial mound was constructed with an underground cinerarium through the leadership of the City of Hiroshima.  The ashes of victims excavated around the city were placed here.

The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound

At the Cenotaph for Korean Victims: Among the 400,000 people who were killed or exposed to lethal post-explosion radiation, at least 45,000 were Korean, but the number is uncertain, because the population has been neglected as the minority. Additionally, 300,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki returned to Korea after liberation from Japanese colonialism. The monument, beautified with Korean national symbols, is intended to honor Korean victims and survivors of the atomic bomb and Japanese colonialism.  The monument’s inscription reads “The Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A[tomic]-Bomb. In memory of the souls of His Highness Prince Yi Wu and over 20000 other souls”, while the side-inscription reads “Souls of the dead ride to heaven on the backs of turtles.”

Cenotaph for Korean Victims

In December 1996, the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, soon commonly called the Genbaku (“A-Bomb”) Dome, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a reminder to the entire world of the horrors of the atomic bomb and a symbol of world peace.

The structure was scheduled to be demolished with the rest of the ruins, but most of the building was intact, including the the exposed metal dome framework at its apex, delaying the demolition plans. The Dome became a subject of controversy, with some locals wanting it torn down, while others wanted to preserve it as a memorial of the bombing and a symbol of peace.  Ultimately, when the reconstruction of Hiroshima began, the skeletal remains of the building were preserved (Wikipedia: Hiroshima Peace Memorial).

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

As I cross a bridge over the Motoyasu River from Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, I can see the Atomic Bomb Dome on my left.

view down the Motoyasu River to the A-Bomb Dome

The Red Bird Monument is a literary monument dedicated to Mickichi Suzuki, a distinguished novelist of the Meiji and Taisho Period, who was born in Hiroshima City. In 1918, he launched the children’s literature The Red Bird, which gave birth to the first songs and fairy tales for Japanese children.  The monument, built in 1964, serves as a symbol of Hiroshima’s recovery from the atomic bomb’s devastation and the hope for world peace.

Red Bird Monument

another monument

The Atomic Bomb Dome

Fountain near The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb Dome

A-bomb Survivor Groups: Despite the unspeakably grim living conditions in Hiroshima after the bombing, residents rose from the ashes to rebuild their lives and toiled to bring their city back.  Help came as well from elsewhere in Japan and from overseas. The road to recovery was strewn with obstacles, but the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law enacted in 1949 facilitated the gradual redevelopment of urban infrastructure.  Today, Hiroshima’s population has grown to more than one million.

Even as the city came back to life, many residents contended with severe physical and psychological problems caused by the bomb.  In 1957, the A-bomb Survivors Medical Care Law allowed the Japanese government to assist the A-bomb survivors.  This assistance has improved over the years.

Looking downriver at the A-Bomb Dome on the right

U.S. Investigation of A-bomb Illnesses: In November 1946, U.S. President Harry Truman ordered the creation of an organization to investigate the aftereffects of the atomic bomb.  In March 1947, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) was established in Hiroshima.  The Nagasaki ABCC was established the following year.  A-bomb survivors had high expectations, hoping that the ABCC would treat their illnesses, but the ABCC performed only examinations and research.

view down the Motoyasu River to the A-Bomb Dome

Reading about the current situation regarding nuclear weapons is quite depressing.

Situations around the World regarding Nuclear Weapons: The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which includes a ban on all types of nuclear tests involving a nuclear explosion, has still not received the necessary ratification by America, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, Iran, and North Korea, and therefore cannot be put into effect.  In January and September of 2016, North Korea performed underground nuclear tests.

At present, international conferences are held once every two years to promote the implementation of the Treaty; however, there are no prospects for ratification by the necessary countries.

In October of 2016, the United Nations General Assembly First Committee adopted a resolution to begin negotiations towards enacting a nuclear weapons convention. The resolution, approved by 123 nations, discusses the catastrophic humanitarian effects brought about by the use of nuclear weapons and the danger caused by their existence. Negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention began in March of 2017.

However, this resolution is opposed not only by countries possessing nuclear weapons such as America and Russia, but also by countries such as Japan and Australia, and there are various issues remaining.

*************************

My time in Hiroshima is short, but its impact is powerful.  We’re lucky that we’ve survived 72 years so far without another nuclear attack, but I fear for our world as long as powerful and crazy men continue to control nuclear arsenals the world over.  I can only hope that the world never sees another devastating attack like the ones at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the afternoon, I get on a boat near Peace Memorial Park, which takes me to the island of Miyajima.

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13 responses to “hiroshima

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  1. Very moving. I will never understand a roomful of people calmly deliberating which city to obliterate.

  2. A beautiful and interesting post, Cathy.

  3. I could finally visit Hiroshima last month. Wanted to blog about it later though I don’t have as much information as you do. We only had a few hours there, since we took a shinkansen from Osaka and had to return in the evening. It is hard to describe the feeling being there. On one hand I was surprised on how beautiful the city looks now, on the other hand we were all feeling very uneasy being in the park. I feels too much like a cemetery. Do you have the same experience? Too bad we didn’t visit the museum. Great post!

    • I’m so glad you were able to visit Hiroshima, Juli. I only spent a half day here myself, as I went in the afternoon to Miyajima. I was also surprised by how modern and clean the city is now, and how beautiful, hemmed in by mountains and threaded through with rivers. The park does feel like a cemetery, but I think it’s meant to remind everyone of how many people were killed. I wish I could have gone in the museum’s West Wing. I feel like I missed out on a lot by not going in there. Thanks for dropping by and sharing. I see you’ve been visiting Korea. I also lived there for a year, from March 2010-March 2011. 🙂

  4. Another city with a sad past. If only we could rid the world of nuclear weapons, but I fear those who have them will not easily let them go. Love the Children’s Peace Monument. And the paper cranes.

    “This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in this world.”

    • Thanks, Jude. It is a sad city, but it has built itself back up beautifully. I loved the paper cranes and the Children’s Peace Monument too. The whole purpose of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial is to make sure such massive destruction never happens again. But I feel very jaded and pessimistic about the whole situation. I agree with you; I don’t think those who have them will ever let them go.

  5. This is a very moving post, Cathy. I will never understand why anyone would even consider using such destructive force.

    • Thanks so much, Robin. I’m afraid the full impact didn’t hit me while I was there as I was so rushed and didn’t have time to sit and let it all sink in. It is very depressing though, learning about such carnage and destruction of so many civilians. Thanks for visiting and commenting. Nice to hear from you! 🙂

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