To most people, Hiroshima means just one thing. The city’s name will forever evoke thoughts of 6th August 1945, when Hiroshima became the target of the world’s first atomic bomb attack.
|A painting of Hiroshima at night|
Late last month I mastered the Japanese transportation system and made a 4 hour trip to Hiroshima for the weekend. It proved to be the most memorable, moving and insightful experience to date and I am extremely glad I made the effort to go.
I have travelled on the bullet train a couple of times, but this was my first long distance trip. Honestly, I could rave about the bullet train all day, not only are they extremely fast, but also hyper-efficient. Routes are timed to the second, delays are declared if trains arrive more than one minute late and they stop on the platform with clockwork precision. Also on board every train is an earthquake detection system (detects an earthquake 40 seconds before the shaking), the train will come to an abrupt stop if an earthquake is detected. It was the fastest and least stressful 450 miles trip by public transport ever. Arriva Trains Wales, Virgin trains and friends you have a lot to learn.
Fresh faced and ready to explore I arrived in Hiroshima at 9am and bought a 2 day trip card (2000 Yen, roughly £14) which is valid on all streetcar lines, the ferry to Miyajima and Miyajima ropeway. It is worth every penny as one trip on the rope way will cost you 1800 Yen if bought separately.
The starkest reminder of the destruction visited upon Hiroshima is the Atomic Bomb Dome. The building was an Industrial Promotion Hall until the tremendous bomb obliterated nearly everything within a two kilometre radius. It is a tragic reminder nestled amongst a modern, thriving and international minded city. I was so lucky with the weather and got many postcard worthy photos of the dome.
Across from the A Dome is the peace memorial park, which is dotted with memorials including the cenotaph which contains all the names of the known victims from the initial blast or exposure to radiation. Over 220 000 names are engraved on the memorial.
The inscription on the cenotaph memorial reads – “let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.” It expresses the spirit of Hiroshima, pursuing harmony and prosperity for all, and yearning for genuine, lasting world peace.
The cenotaph frames the Flame of Peace which will only be extinguished once the last nuclear weapon on earth has been destroyed.
Nearby is the Children’s Peace Monument, inspired by Sadako Sasaki. When Sadako developed leukaemia at 11 years of age, in 1955, she decided to fold 1000 paper cranes. In Japan, the crane is the symbol of longevity and happiness and she was convinced that if she achieved that target she would recover. She died before reaching her target but her classmates folded the rest. The story has spread around the world, and now, approximately 10 million cranes are offered each year before the Childrens Peace Monument.
Throughout the day, many groups of school children from across Japan came to the memorial to offer their own cranes. All the groups sang and read speeches before presenting the cranes. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were singing it was very emotional. I watched humbled, as many children shed a tear for the children they never knew who suffered at the hands of the bomb.
|Group of school children singing before presenting the cranes they had made.|
|The Golden Crane Bell inside the memorial.|
|Cranes donated by people all over the world.|
|A statue of Sadako Sasaki stands on the top of the memorial.|
All visitors are encouraged to donate cranes to the memorial. I made an offering of two cranes to the monument and registered my desire for peace.
|The cranes I made and donated.|
Also in the park is the Korean Atomic Bomb Memorial. Many Koreans were shipped over to work as slave labourers during WW2 and Koreans counted for more than one in 10 of those killed by the atomic bomb. The Korean victims were given no funerals or memorial services and it was said that their spirits hovered for years unable to pass on to heaven. Then, on April 10th, 1970, the monument to Korean Victims and Survivors was erected.
After a quiet and contemplative walk around the park I headed to the Peace Memorial Museum (only 50 Yen to enter, roughly 7p). The museum presents the history of the city leading up to the dropping of the bomb, depressing displays of salvaged items from the aftermath of the explosion and the city’s redevelopment. The displays here are harrowing; amongst the displays are ragged clothes, a child’s melted lunch box and scooter, and some distressing photographs. It is really moving to read the stories of those killed by the explosion and for some visitors to the museum it was simply too much. At the end of the museum you can hear the testimonials of survivors. It serves as a reminder to not take peace for granted.
I am sure that my single signature will not create peace alone, but like millions of others; I signed a petition for world peace on my way out of the museum.
Next to the museum is Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall, a walkway circles down to a contemplative underground hall of remembrance and a room where the names and photographs of atomic-bomb victims are kept, along with testimonies from survivors.
With a mix of emotions, I decided that it was time to explore more of Hiroshima away from the crowds. I visited Shukkei-en which translates as shrunken-scenery garden. Valleys, mountains and forests are represented in miniature in the gardens landscapes. Around the main lake there are a couple of tea houses and it was the perfect setting to enjoy watching a traditional tea ceremony. I then took a short walk to Hiroshima castle, a traditional wooden castle re-build after the bomb.
After a busy day, I tucked into Hiroshima okonomiyaki. It consists of thin pancakes, topped with cabbage, and various other toppings such as shrimp, pork, garlic etc. Hiroshima okonomiyaki also includes either soba or udon noodles all topped with a special sauce. It is all cooked right in front of you on a hot griddle; I had opted for garlic okonomiyaki with pork and shrimp, oishii!
I took some night shots of a beautifully lit up Atomic Dome and headed back to the hostel. I intended to have an early night ready for an early start but I ended up talking for many hours and drank gin with my fellow hostel stayers. My room was a traditional tatami Japanese style room, it was basic but very comfortable.
|Hiroshima at night|
As my first day came to a close I wished that visiting Hiroshima was mandatory for every person at least once in their lifetime. Many westerners often skip Hiroshima for the grandeur of the temples of Kyoto and the vibrancy of Tokyo city. The world has a constant reminder of the destruction and devastation caused by war, and worse, nuclear war. The city of Hiroshima and those who visit hope that we can, if not immediately, then perhaps with a new generation, get closer to the promise of enduring world peace.
I am catching up with my blog! I will be leaving Japan in 3 weeks time, but watch this space, australiaismycanvas and newzealandismycanvas are next!
I have had over 4500 views of my blog from all over the world. Thank you to all the strangers that get in touch. I am really keen to pursue a career in art, so if anyone knows of any internships starting in April in the UK or abroad please drop me a message!