HIROSHIMA – devastation and a new hope
Saturday am – today sees us heading for two places of interest – Hiroshima and Miyajima Great Floating Torii Gate. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – this part is dedicated to Hiroshima – past and present.
Everyone knows the history of Hiroshima when on that fateful day at the end of WWII, the first Atomic Bomb was dropped. This post will give you some more insight. It is going to be rather lengthy so I hope you have all rested up and have a drink nearby.
Let’s get started – we are off again to catch the train – it is not a long journey – about 30 minutes or so. I just love Japanese train stations – they have so many interesting things – there are little shops that have different kinds of Bento Boxes. These are the prepackaged meals to take on long journeys.
So many different types – even Hello Kitty ones. I am amazed!
Arriving on the platform the amazement does not subside. Would you believe there is even a ‘Hello Kitty‘ train? This special train only travels once a day and we are lucky enough to see it.
I still have a long way to go on this holiday and the mind boggles as to what I will see next. I am becoming my own worst nightmare as I snap and click away at anything and everything – a loud cheer for digital cameras.
Back to the reason for our journey – our train arrives – a very sleek and clean mode of transportation. It is about 45 minutes to Hiroshima so we have plenty of time to relax and take stock of what we are going to see and experience today.
Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park has several monuments and memorial facilities dedicated to the atomic bombing on 6th August 1945. You can read about most of them on the above link but I will also put little history lessons if you are too lazy to click.
I will endeavour to take you through each of them as our day unfolds. A short walk when we arrive at the station and I am standing in front of the most recognizable feature of Hiroshima – the A-Bomb Dome. To stand here under leafy trees while the birds sing and the leaves rustle, it is hard to imagine the horror that went on here all those years ago.
Although, the Atomic Bomb Dome, originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, was located almost directly underneath the explosion, it somehow avoided complete destruction and the remains of the building still stand today.
The ruins of the hall serve as a memorial to the 70,000 people who were killed instantly, and another 70,000 who suffered fatal injuries from the radiation.
The residents of Hiroshima decided to keep this tragic reminder of war intact. The site was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1996.
My next stop is the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students. To make up for the labour shortage, the government enacted the Student Labour Service Act in August 1944. This act required students in middle school and higher grades to perform labour service in munitions factories and the like. In November, many students were required to participate in tearing down homes and other buildings (building demolition).
The purpose was to create fire-breaks to limit the expansion of fire in the event of air attacks. In Hiroshima City, of the roughly 8,400 students in the national upper level schools, about 6,300 died on the day of the bombing. Most students working at various industries around the city were also killed.
After the war, the government only permitted mobilized students killed in the atomic bombing or in air strikes whose names and date of death were known to be enshrined in Yasukuni Shrine.
In response to this, bereaved families began a movement to create a list of the dead and donated funds to build this tower. The statue is most interesting – it looks very Indian-sub continent at first glance – don’t try and work it out – just remember what this memorial means. It is a very sad place.
The day is warming up – maybe the gods are telling us that no matter how sad you feel – the sun is shining to remind you that life goes on.
This is the Children’s Peace Monument. This monument was built to commemorate Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of other innocent children who died due to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Sadako Sasaki was a young girl who was exposed to the radiation of the blast at the age of two and died ten years later from leukemia. Sadako, who continued to fold paper cranes throughout her long illness, can be seen at the top of the monument holding a wire crane above her head.
Even today, folded paper cranes symbolizing the pursuit of peace arrive at the monument from all over the world. I stand and wonder and then I ring the bell as my prayer for peace.
This entire complex is huge but the walking is easy and there are lovely shady spots to rest on your journey.
In front of this monument (depending where you are standing) is the Flame and Pond of Peace. The flame has burned continuously since it was lit on August 1, 1964.
It symbolizes the anti-nuclear resolve to burn the flame “until the day when all such weapons shall have disappeared from the earth.”
The Pond was designed to encircle the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims so as to suggest that the monument is floating.
This concrete saddle-shaped monument covers a chest 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 open field on August 6, 1952. The arch shape represents a shelter for the souls of the victims.
The figures of a mother and child were made by Katsuzo Enisuba and was built with money sent by students all over Japan and by the Hiroshima Chamber of Commerce.
A child held by his mother, is playing a trumpet while they stand on the crescent moon in the foreground. The meaning is described as ‘From parent to child, not yesterday but tomorrow the crescent moon will become a full moon. I want to sound the trumpet for peace in the search for a new future’.
My next stop will be most probably the most poignant of them all – ‘The Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims’.
A building to mourn the victims of the atomic bomb and pray for a lasting peace. The structure in the centre indicates the exact time of the bomb detonation – 8:15am. Memoirs from survivors and portraits of the victims are displayed inside the memorial hall.
It is very inconspicuous and is set in an extremely quiet place in the park. In the entrance foyer when you go down the stairs there is an information desk where there are rows and rows of tiny origami cranes. I ask the lady if I can purchase one to take home but am told no – they are not for sale – they have been made as donations but I will give you one that I will make. It is tiny – only about 2cm and I do not know how she does it. The lady does give me a set of instructions on how to make them but I think my hands are 4 times the size of her tiny little ones so I have no hope. Still, I smile and bow and say thank you – arigato.
Further inside the memorial you can take photos – no flash of course.
I do manage to get a panorama shot of Hiroshima after the bomb had hit. So hard to get everything lined up and clear. There are not many people here so I am able to move freely.
There is nothing but sheer devastation. I cannot even try to imagine what this was like. It’s like the world had ended – but then again – for some – it had. As I walk through this part of the Memorial there are plaques on the wall telling the story of Hiroshima and this day. Every one of them has a built in hope that this does not happen again. Further on there are portraits of people who lost their lives – very sombre – and definitely, out of respect, no photos in here.
Walking back into the sunshine it is time to find a nice shady spot and rest. So far the emotions have been churning and I am worn out.
Looking up at the sky, a memory comes to mind.
I remember when we were in Washington DC we visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Institute aka Steven F Udvar Hazy Centre . It was here we saw the Enola Gay – the plane that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
To sit in this plane and press the button while you are thousands of feet in the sky would maybe give you a barrier to what was actually going on below and of course those times were totally different. All you would have seen was a big flash and felt some shock waves and then you were miles away. What these men felt when they saw the photos of the aftermath is incomprehensible.
I look at the sky and try to imagine this beautiful silver plane up there in a wonderful blue sky – it is very depressing what us humans can do to each other – on all sides of war. As I think of these things I also think that maybe, somewhere in all of this, there is hope for all of us as I hear the children laughing and playing in this huge area. Let’s just continue to hope that all of us can get our act together so they do not suffer through anything like this.
Time to head back – past the Peace Bell.
This temple bell / temple hall is standing at the dearest wish of Hiroshima aiming at the creation of a world of a true peaceful coexistence without any nuclear weapons or wars, and was built as a symbol for this spiritual and cultural movement. ‘We wish that the sound of the bell resounds in each corner of the world and reach the hearts of each and every human being’ on the erection on September 20, 1964, A-bomb Survivor Hiroshima Hope Fruition Society.
During this time an Official comes along and starts sticking dirty big bits of paper on the bell. As I do not speak Japanese and not wanting to go through the language difficulties I wander on. Hello – what’s this? I am surrounded by university students doing a survey. They have a little machine that I talk into with my answers. Lots of smiles and bows and then they take off to find someone else. I am happy to help out.
Back at the entrance time for some photos of the Peace Memorial Fountain and the A-Bomb Dome.
Today, Hiroshima has recovered into a bustling manufacturing hub with a population of 1.1 million people and growing. It is hard to believe the amount of ‘modern’ buildings that have grown out of the ruins and are now reaching skyward.
There are some markets close by but even the hustle and bustle of those does not distract – an incredible place of an equally incredible time in the history of Japan and the world. I am glad I came – sad – but glad.
Once all our group returns we head off to a lovely restaurant for lunch, unfortunately I do not remember the name. Just goes to show I should take photos of EVERYTHING!
I am told that they have the best Okonomiyaki around. Doesn’t mean anything to me but I’ll give it a go. Upstairs we are seated and given the menu – in English with photos. I choose the Special Okonomiyaki topped with cuttlefish and shrimp at a cost of Yen 1100.00 (about $15.00).
Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake topped with a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “how you like” or “what you like”, and yaki meaning “cooked”.
Our table is next to where they are being cooked. Most Japanese dishes have an egg either laying on the top or underneath everything so I ask for mine not to have any egg. This causes a minor disturbance as the pancake on the bottom is made of egg but everything is sorted. The food arrives – sans pancake – and it is delicious. The cuttlefish and shrimp are cooked to perfection and melt in the mouth.
After lunch we head back to the station for the second part of our day – the floating Torii Shrine.