Holiday, Photography, Travel

Japan Day 10: Hiroshima Day 2, Part One – Peace Everything (05/04/2015)

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I was really looking forward to visiting Hiroshima and I really enjoyed the time we spent there, I wish we had been able to stay for longer. However, I just want to get one thing off my chest: Peace.

Absolutely everything* in Hiroshima has “Peace” in the name. There’s Peace Boulevard with its Peace Walk leading to Peace Park which contains the Peace Memorial, the Peace Memorial Museum, The Children’s Peace Monument, the Peace Clock Tower, Peace Bell and, winner of the longest title of any tourist attraction I’ve ever visited award: The National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims as well as even more. All of these are wonderfully interesting and thought provoking attractions and I can see why a city which suffered such a terrible fate during war would want to emphasise and promote peace but after hours of going round visiting them one by one, I personally became more than a little Peaced out.

Providing a welcome break from the Peace overload, there are also the Memorial Tower to the Mobilised Students, the Cenotaph for Korean Victims and most famously the A-bomb Dome. We visited all of these attractions and more in just one day. That’s not to say that we didn’t spend much time on each one but Hiroshima is very compact and nothing seems like more than 5 minutes walk from the last.

I’m going to let the photos do the talking for most of this post, I’ll try to put informative captions to as many as I can. We started off with a stroll down the Peace Boulevard which was disappointingly just a normal large street with some nice trees down the sides. It had been raining and a lot of the blossoms had fallen which was a shame. It was a nice walk though almost directly from our hotel to the Peace Park where most of the things that tourists come to Hiroshima to see are to be found.

Some interesting places we visited where we didn’t take any pictures.

The National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims
Although somewhat cumbersomely named and containing the ubiquitous “Peace” this part of the Peace Park is a bit of a hidden gem for me. I say “hidden” for 2 reasons, firstly I hadn’t heard a thing about it until I was standing almost next to it and secondly, it is literally hidden from view under the ground. The first reason may just be down to the quality of my research of course!

The sound of running water is present throughout this memorial, the water is an offering to the souls of the bomb victims and a salve for their wounds. Water cascades down stepped falls alongside the staircase that descends to the underground entrance and disappears. The entrance hall is like that of any small museum, complete with gift shop. From the entrance hall, you enter the memorial proper and proceed to descend down a gently curving ramp and the sound of water is back with you as if it never left. The pathway is sparse and the concrete walls are only occasionally broken with brief exhibits about the events leading up to the bombing. The hushed sound of running water follows you down the spiral combining with the spare and lofty space to form a mournful and contemplative atmosphere.

At the bottom of the spiral ramp, the pathway opens up to the left and immediately the sound of water is much louder. The more lively sound of water dispels some of the mournful atmosphere of the walk down but the feeling of contemplation remains. You step out into a large domed circular room which is set out like a clock. There are 12 pillars reaching to the ceiling and 12 individual seats around the edge facing a fountain in the centre. This is definitely a space suited to individual reflection rather than groups of tourists. I’m not sure whether we were lucky to be among only about 4 others in the room or if the museum staff regulate numbers to make sure it doesn’t get crowded.

The ceiling of the dome is a mosaic made of tiles which depicts the view from this spot after the bombing and is based on photographs taken by the US army. The fountain in the middle of the room is designed to evoke the time 08:15 when the atom bomb was detonated above Hiroshima. Disappointingly this simply consists of a flat circle of stone with a wedge indicating the space between the minute and hour hands in a different colour. The sound of the running water from the fountain is much more important to the experience than the appearance of the fountain itself.

The National Peace Memorial Museum
The National Peace Memorial Museum was half closed for renovations when we visited which is a bit disappointing and also made it very crowded in the parts that were open. Near the start of the museum tour is an interesting map of the town accompanied by documentary footage of the bombing. There are also exhibits about the secondary effects of an atomic bomb like the fallout and the “black rain” which was contaminated with radioactive soot from the fires following the explosion..

The majority and most effective of the open exhibits in the museum consisted of personal effects of victims of the bombing accompanied by short biographies of the people and what they were doing at the time. This museum is probably the best I have visited in Japan for having English translations of the descriptions of the exhibits. A surprising number of the victims seem to have been school children who were engaged in work parties demolishing buildings to make fire breaks in case the allies tried to create fire storms in the mostly wooden city as they had done against other Japanese targets. There are also collections of day to day items that have been caught in the blast, some becoming almost unidentifiable, collections of glass bottles melted into lumps, roof tiles covered with tiny blisters where the surface melted in the heat.

Towards the end of the museum we get to find out more about Sasaki Sadako who was exposed to the blast at the age of 2 and sustained no apparent injuries. By the age of 12 though she had been diagnosed with terminal leukaemia. Her story and passionate belief in the power of folding 1000 paper cranes to grant any wish is the inspiration for the Children’s Peace Monument which you can see pictures of above.

The museum was incredibly crowded and had a number of quite insensitive people visiting whose loud talking, jostling to get to the front to see exhibits and habit of taking pictures of things with loud mobile phones made for a less solemn atmosphere than the subject matter deserves but I found that waiting for particularly large/annoying groups to pass was a good strategy.

Anyone visiting Hiroshima for more than a few hours should definitely budget to spend about half a day in this museum, but perhaps look up whether it is fully open and definitely try to go on a day when it is unlikely to be crowded!

Following the museum we still had a few hours before dinner time so we decided to see what else we could find to look at in Hiroshima. This post is already far too long so I’ll make another one about what we found.

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