It is never easy to forget the macabre chapters of history, especially those related to the World Wars. Nothing shook the world more than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the fateful morning of August 6, 1945, and the horrors of the ensuing nuclear holocaust that ended World War II. The road to peace and rehabilitation was long and excruciatingly painful with long-term fallout of the radiation evident in more than one generation of survivors.
A visit to Japan is incomplete without paying respect to the A-bomb victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So, on a bright April morning, when the cherry trees were coming to full blossom in the warmer parts of Japan, I set out on a day trip to Hiroshima from Osaka by train with a few friends who had joined me for a backpacking trip through Honshu and Hokkaido.
On the way, we got down at Himeji station and explored Hiroshima’s famous Himeji Castle – one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country.
After the visit, we took another train from Himeji station bound for Hiroshima. A short bus ride from the station brought us to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
While crossing the bridge over the Motoyasu river flowing around the Peace Memorial Park, I felt a surge of compassion as we came face to face with the stark reality of the holocaust in the form of the Atomic Bomb Dome – half-exploded remains of the Industrial Promotion Hall.
Quietly, we got off the bus and walked towards the ‘Flame of Peace’ – a monument dedicated to the bomb victims. The flame burned continuously since it was lit in 1964. On the other side of the flame was a saddle-shaped monument that covered a cenotaph holding the names of all of the people known to be killed by the bomb. There was a plaque on the ground with the epitaph “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil”. We offered our prayers to the innocent victims for their souls to rest in peace.
Walking around the park, we came across the Peace Memorial statue, the Monument of Prayer, the Children’s Peace Memorial, the Peace Bell with a symbolic world map without boundaries embossed on it, Peace Clock Tower – symbolizing the hands of the Hiroshima citizens, united in prayer for endless peace – which rang precisely at 8.15 am daily marking the time of bombing, and the grass-covered Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound that contained the cremated ashes of tens of thousands of unidentified victims of the bomb. Entering the Hall of Remembrance, we were horrified to find the extent of devastation in a 360 degree panorama of the city after the bombing – recreated using tiles – as seen from the hypocenter.
Our final stop was the Peace Memorial museum. We purchased tickets (200 yen/person) at the counter on the first floor and took the escalator to the third floor. The pictures on the walls of the first room depicted the destruction and despair we were already familiar with, and yet, found it difficult to take in. There was also a video panorama showing Hiroshima on the morning of the holocaust and after the mushroom cloud, formed by the blast, lifted. In another room were details of the ‘Manhattan Project’ that was responsible for planning and creating the bombs and finally, dropping them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We continued to the second floor where we found exhibits displaying the rebuilding of Hiroshima as well as how people tried to return to daily life in the years after the bomb blast.
We found the first and the B1 floors to be most disturbing. On the first floor we came across mementos and exhibits such as a broken watch that had stopped at exactly 8:15 when the bomb dropped, a tricycle of a 3-year old boy who died of radiation exposure, and a tattered school uniform that was actually a combination of uniforms of three boys representing over three hundred junior high school students who were in charge of cleaning up a building after demolition less than a 1000 meters from the hypocenter at the time of the bombing. All of them succumbed to their injuries. Visual stories of many such victims filled the sombre space. The B1 level was dedicated to the items donated by Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital that was engaged in relief operation after the blast. There were exhibits of pictures, burnt clothes of patients, and explanations of procedures adopted by the doctors and nurses to treat the victims. I was trying hard to hold back tears while looking at pieces of burnt hair and skin stuck to soiled clothes of victims. Although photography (without flash) was allowed inside the museum, we simply didn’t have the heart to take any!
With a heavy heart, we exited the museum and stepped onto the main square. The Fountain of Prayer, overlooking the Atomic Bomb Dome and Hiroshima Peace City Monument, brought us some solace. In front of it stood the statue of Mother and Children in the Storm – depicting a mother’s strong love while enduring suffering and overcoming grief – which restored our hope for a peaceful world.
We walked back towards the riverfront near the Atomic Bomb Dome to take a closer look at the dome as well as few other ruined buildings. We also visited the hypocentre of the blast, a medical establishment named Shima Hospital that was immediately razed to the ground when the bomb detonated mid-air right above it. The hospital was rebuilt after the war. We stood in front of the plaque – showing a photo of the devastation and a message stating the bare facts – marking the hypocenter.
The entire park and its exhibits earnestly appealed to people worldwide to walk on the path of peace and avoid another nuclear holocaust at all costs.
Hiroshima Memorial taught us life’s profound lesson in just a couple of hours. What are we without our humanity and tolerance for each other?