World Heritage Site
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (広島平和記念公園)
As soon as I arrived in Hiroshima, I dropped my bag off and headed straight for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, a very different World Heritage Site than the one I had visited just that morning. It is interesting how we often use words to signify something that we don’t have but that we want. In a place where such destruction took place and where such pain had occurred, we call it “peace.” I understand the intention.
The Peace Park is a massive park which takes up most of the island in the center of the city. The first atomic bomb used against a civilian target detonated almost directly above the park on August 6, 1945. The intended target was a T-shaped bridge at the northern end of what is today the Peace Park, but the bomb drifted slightly during its descent and exploded above a medical clinic a block away.
In the park today, at least on a week day, you’ll see hundreds of Japanese middle school students. My friend had told me that essentially everyone in Western Japan (Ōsaka and beyond) will visit either Hiroshima or Nagasaki during their school years and the number of students in the area was remarkable. Unfortunately, about half of the museum and many of its exhibits were closed when I visited because the museum is under renovation. But the exhibits that I was able to see were remarkable.
Anyone who visits Hiroshima (or Nagasaki I assume as well) is left with a sickening realization of what we are capable of doing to each other. One hopes that we are able to avoid these weapons in the future, even as Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un seem hell-bent on testing them once more. It’s shocking to see the melted earth and ceramics as well as the other signs of nuclear destruction in the museum.
I wandered through the park and up to the A-Bomb Dome, which was called the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall at the time of the bombing. The structure was half-flattened in the blast and remains that way until today. This particular building marks the actual World Heritage Site and the only remaining standing symbol of the destruction (everything else is in the museum or re-built).
One of the museum artifacts that touched me most deeply was a little boy’s tricycle (likely because I have my own son and daughter who love their own tricycle)
Shin’s Tricycle (伸ちゃんの三輪車)
Exposed 1,500m from the hypocenter, Higashi-hakushima-cho
Shinichi Tetsutani (鉄谷伸), then 3 years and 11 months, loved to ride this tricycle. That morning, he was riding in front of his house when, in a sudden flash, he and his tricycle were badly burned. He died that night. His father felt he was too young to be buried in a lonely grave away from home, and thinking he could still play with the tricycle, he buried Shinichi with the tricycle in the backyard.
In the summer of 1985, forty years later, his father dug up Shinichi’s remains and transferred them to the family grave. This tricycle, Shinichi’s best friend, was donated to the Peace Memorial Museum.
After walking around the A-Bomb Dome and sitting next to the river for a while, I wandered the block over to the hypocenter, or the point over which the bomb exploded. Interestingly, the medical clinic that was there in 1945 was rebuilt after the war and remains there today.
Hiroshima City (広島市)
Earlier in the day when I had arrived in Hiroshima, I had noticed how new the Station looked. All train stations in Japan are relatively well kept (for mass transit) and mostly modern, but this station was very new looking. It seemed like half of the station was bring rebuilt as I walked through it. On the tram from the station to my hotel (a capsule hotel for the first time!), it was crowded with students making their way to the Peace Park. Hiroshima is a mostly modern city (the whole thing was reset in 1945), but not that remarkable outside of the Peace Park area. It was comfortable and nice, with a beautiful river running through the middle, but seemed quite comparable to the other cities in the region.
After finishing at the Peace Park area, I headed out to look for okonomiyaki (お好み焼き: what you like on the grill), a dish for which Hiroshima is well known. At one point, as I walked down the street, I noticed that the sun looked very odd (picture below). It was both beautiful and haunting to see the sun morphed into an odd non-circular shape by the clouds, but haunting and beautiful is how I can best describe Hiroshima. The okonomiyaki I found was delicious and well worth the search.
I do have to write a small paragraph to fully describe the capsule hotel experience. Before staying in one, I was a bit curious, but assumed it was more like a coffin with a microwave door. Maybe some of them are like that, but the one I stayed in was actually perfect for what I needed: a clean and quiet place to sleep. The capsule hotel that I stayed at had different floors for each gender, lockers for your bags, common break areas, shared (but walled-off) showers, and a sink area. The capsules themselves were comfortable, with small lights and chargers inside the capsule for necessary electronics. It was basically 3 feet or so tall with a super twin sized bed inside. The door didn’t fully lock, but was more like a mini sliding garage door. Overall, I was impressed. I slept very well that evening after a long week of exploring. But I wasn’t quite done yet!