Famous for… well, you know what Hiroshima is famous for. Hiroshima isn’t really the happiest place to visit in Japan. In fact, it’s probably the saddest, but a visit here is really a must for international tourists. Destroyed by the world’s first atomic bomb over 70 years ago, the city of over two million people today is just like any normal city – you would never know that any sort of tragic events took place here during the waning days of World War II. Enter the Peace Memorial Park and all of that quickly changes. I obviously knew what happened here on a basic level, but I didn’t know all of the terrible details of the bombing. The experience I received in Hiroshima was one the most educational I’ve had on this journey.
A few highlights of my time in Hiroshima:
Atomic Bomb Dome:
The Atomic Bomb Dome – previously called the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall – was almost directly under where the atomic bomb went off at 8:15am on August 6, 1945. An estimated 70,000 people died instantaneously, including everyone inside the promotion hall, but the skeleton of the building somehow remained. Despite initial opposition, the remains of the building were maintained and are now a peace memorial. It’s of note that the 70,000 figure above represented about one-fifth of the entire city at the time, and does not include all of the people who died weeks, months, and years later from complications related to the bomb.
Peace Memorial Park:
Across the river from the Atomic Bomb Dome, Peace Memorial Park has many monuments and memorials to the victims of the blast. A cenotaph frames the Flame of Peace, which will only be extinguished when the last nuclear weapon on Earth has been destroyed. Two of the most touching monuments were the Children’s Peace Memorial and the Korean Atomic Bomb Memorial. The Children’s Peace Memorial was inspired by a little girl who died of leukemia a decade after the blast. Many people who survived the initial blast died some weeks or months later from complications caused by burns or radiation poisoning, and years and decades later due to cancers that most likely were caused by the bomb. The Korean Atomic Bomb Memorial educated us on how 20,000 Koreans died in the blast in Hiroshima. The Japanese brought over the Koreans as forced labourers (a.k.a. slaves) and denied them compensation for this for many years.
Peace Memorial Museum:
The haunting Peace Memorial Museum gave all of the gory details that I didn’t want to know. Preparing for more fire bomb attacks, the Japanese ordered all seventh and eighth graders to work to help clear buildings to create fire breaks. On the morning of the attacks, thousands of these schoolchildren were sent to work in the area where the bomb went off. They all died, but their parents – safe at home – all lived. The museum also had lots of depressing pictures, pieces of burned clothes, and other melted items. Two of the more haunting ones were a set of bank steps with a dark spot on them (where someone had been sitting when the blast went off – the rest of the steps changed colour) and roof tiles that bubbled under the heat (but the portion of the roof tiles that were covered by other roof tiles were left smooth).
National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims:
While many countries – such as Vietnam, Cuba, and others – fill their museums with propaganda, lies, and blame, the Japanese are humble and honest in their approach to the events that lead to the atomic bomb. The information inside the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims clearly stated that Japan initiated hostilities against the United States, United Kingdom, and others, and that the events that unfolded forced them to reflect on their national policy. There was no blame laid; no fingers pointed. The memorial, the museum, and the monuments are presented in a way that tell the facts without taking a side either way. Despite being absolutely depressing, everything was well-presented. The people of Hiroshima have done an admirable job.
Outside of the Peace Memorial Park area, there were a few other things that we did in Hiroshima just to cheer ourselves up.
This was one of the highlights of Japan for me: the Mazda Museum and factory tour. Mazda is from Hiroshima and its 23 sq km headquarters contains the world’s longest assembly line: 7 kilometres long. The guided tour took us through the past, present, and future of Mazda, as well as displays on how they design and build cars and their famous engines. The best part: the assembly line. It was one long line producing sedans, sports cars, SUVs, and more – both left-hand and right-hand drive – all on the same line. It was spectacular. I’ve never been particularly into Mazdas (my three cars were Toyota, Honda, and Nissan), but I now want to check them out when I next am in the market for a set of wheels.
A short ferry ride from the suburbs of Hiroshima lies the island of Miyajima. Famous for its “floating” tori, the island is one of the top three spots for domestic tourists in Japan. Miyajima is also home to the world’s largest rice scoop, a bunch of temples, and a whole lot of deer. The highlight for me was the cable car ride up Mount Misen, and the 20-30 minute walk to the summit. Despite it being a hazy day, you could make out the outline of Hiroshima and a big cargo ship full of Mazda cars was on its way out of port past the island.
I also visited Shukkei-en garden while in Hiroshima. Modelled after West Lake in Hangzhou, China, the garden is supposed to represent a miniature version of one of China’s biggest (domestic) tourist attractions. I was in Hangzhou in 2011, but the lake was pretty obscured by pollution (as all of China is) so I don’t know if the replica is legit or not. Aside from the above, there wasn’t all too much in Hiroshima that I thought would sound too appealing to international visitors.
Of course I ate food in Hiroshima. Duh. I had my first udon soup, first seaweed rice dumpling, and my first Coco Curry House – a big chain of Japanese curry restaurants that I had seen all over Taiwan and Japan. It was Miyajima, however, that proved to be the best little spot to eat. Miyajima is famous for its maple leaf-shaped pastries filled with red bean, cream, or whatever else. I also had my first sweet corn on a stick (which a random deer tried to commandeer from me), a beef bun, and soft serve ice cream (as per usual) out of an oddly buttery bread roll (as per unusual).
Hiroshima was toward the end of my time in Japan, and it’s where Lenora left me to head back to the USA. I, however, had one more city to check out before I headed back to Tokyo to mark completion of the first half of my gap year. But first, let me take a selfie.
To see more photos of my time in Hiroshima, follow this link: