In all honesty this is a blog we have been putting off writing somewhat, mainly due to the difficulty that arises when trying to describe, or sum up, a place such as Hiroshima. Throughout my life I have always felt the word ‘Hiroshima’ has come to mean more of a thing, an event, something that happened – part of history – rather than somewhere that you can actually go to; a tangible place you can visit and stay in. So to say that our stay in Hiroshima was a sobering, quietening experience is probably the grossest understatement I can come up with.
I suppose we found everything we should have expected to see in the Memorial museum, but it still felt like more than we could have been imagined. The exhibition there is really interesting, explaining the actions that led up to the dropping of the bomb with a great sense of neutrality, and it made me realise that I really knew not nearly enough about any of the history of it all, in fact.
The first part of the exhibition was exactly that – factual. It was a straightforward and descriptive timeline of events, complete with maps, newspaper clippings and black and white photos of the Japanese war effort prior to the bomb. So far so familiar, I’d done this at school.
We weren’t quite so prepared for the next part of the exhibition. After a few rooms dedicated to the explanation of nuclear physics, and our feet beginning to get tired, I was jolted severely awake by the last room. This room was full of belongings. It was full of stories of real people. We saw charred school uniforms from students who had stumbled home to frantic parents (only to later die), twisted spectacles from bodies otherwise unidentifiable, and the petrified remains of lunchboxes found next to piles of human bones. Other displays (indescribable, and unimaginable in any other museum) left us unable to speak to each other as we looked around, and we found it hard to hold a decent conversation long after exiting the museum.
Across the canal from the museum is what is now known as the ‘Atomic dome’ (then the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall). This is one of the only buildings that was left standing after the blast, and has been preserved as such ever since.
All but a few buildings within 3km from the epicentre were completely destroyed in the blast.
Amongst the modern high rises and the hotel boulevard that now lines the canal, it stands as an eerie reminder of the bomb, and feels much older than its 65+ years. Perhaps the scariest thing is that the bomb is still in living memory of many of Hiroshima’s citizens.
It would, however, do Hiroshima no justice to end there. Very successfully, the museum is able to communicate the driving ethos of the city, which is one of peace and rebirth. The epicentre of the city, and the target of the bomb, is now given over to a peace garden.
The city is astonishing in its quiet beauty – it is more ‘built up’ than I would have imagined and (from our experience) it was the most welcoming of any of the cities we’d stayed in. Hiroshima was an incredible experience that gave us something of an insight in to Japan’s struggles in the war, and has put all of our travels so far into perspective. To say it was purely an experience though would be frivolous, and to mention that I had nightmares each night we were there would be petty, and unfair on a city that seems to have accomplished the impossible in such a small number of years, but I’m not sure how else to put it, or how else to end this blog.
Thank you, Horoshima, for teaching us something.
I’m now going to go read up on some history.