At 8:15 on August 6 1945 the first nuclear bomb in the history of warfare detonated over Hiroshima, obliterating the city within a 1.5 mile radius and killing outright some 80,000 people, with around another 70,000 dying of radiation and burns by the end of the year. Japanese pilots flying on reconnaissance missions to the city after all radio transmissions went dead said that `practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death`.
The A-bomb dome (genbaku dome, originally Hiroshima Trade Promotion Hall) was only 150 meters away from the blast hypocenter. It survived because of its strong stone construction, while almost every building around it burned to the ground.
Hiroshima A-bomb dome.
If you want more facts on the bombing of Hiroshima, there`s plenty on Wikipedia, so I won`t rehash them all here. What I will do is give you some context on it from my end of things. I`d been to Hiroshima once before, raring to see the remnants of the atomic blast, and the peace museum. That was about 6 years ago, before I`d gotten into actively seeking haikyo. I was always interested in ruins though, so the A-bomb dome seemed a natural fit.
The Genbaku Dome was originally scheduled to be demolished with the rest of the ruins, but the fact that it was mostly intact delayed these plans. As Hiroshima was rebuilt around the dome, it became a subject of controversy; some locals wanted it torn down, while others wanted to preserve it as a memorial of the bombing.
Close up on what might have been a water fountain.
Shot from a river ferry headed for Miyajima.
At first I was quite underwhelmed by it all. The small-ish Peace Park, the single remaining dome, the blandly shaped museum. I don`t know what I had expected, but probably just more. Perhaps some combination of the preservation level found in Pompeii mixed with the scope to be found at the Washington monuments. It seemed a momentous location commemorating a terrible point in human history, and I expected more of it to be on show as a reminder of the past, with a larger park to help mourn and remember.
The bomb hypocenter was almost directly above the dome – only 150m away and 600m above the ground.
Well, I didn`t know much about Japan then, and I think I know more now. I know that it was a fight to even preserve the dome- numerous people wanted to tear it down as an ugly reminder of the past. In fact most buildings in Japan don`t survive for more than even 50 years, and the past tends to be scrubbed out in favor of things that are new and shiny, especially things tainted with the failure of the pre-war and war era. I know from research that the Peace Museum and Park were instituted over objections from both China and the USA. I know that space is at a premium, so even the Peace Park as is took a lot of effort to keep from falling into the profitable hands of real estate.
Taking those things into consideration, I looked at the place through new eyes. By Japanese standards it`s one heck of a memorial. But that new perspective was also colored by other bits of knowledge I`ve accumulated in my 7 years in Japan. The Pacific war for Japan was one of aggression and imperialism. They occupied Korea for 50 years. They subjugated the Manchurian area of China. Stories abound of slaughter, sexual slavery (under the guise of `comfort women`), and brutal war crimes. Crimes, wars, and occupations that to this day (so I`ve come to understand, at least) the Japanese government has never officially apologized for nor paid reparations towards. Some of Japan`s top war criminals are still buried in one of the country`s most sacred shrines- Yasukuni, which until recently the Prime Minister himself would regularly visit and pray at. These visits without fail would enrage neighbouring Asian countries every time they happened.
To get an idea of the outrage they feel, imagine the German Chancellor going to pray at the church where German war criminals were buried. It wouldn`t happen.
About a third ofHiroshima’s 350,000 population was killed within a week of the bombing. Many more have since died through radiation sickness.
The Dome is now tended and cleaned by just three elderly ladies.
How did that color my perspective of the A-bomb dome? It`s hard to say. The necessity and efficacy of the bomb have been and probably still are being debated by people much better informed than me. I know that it`s good that Japan`s imperialist dreams were stopped short. In that they were victimizers. When the bomb fell the roles reversed and they became victims. There`s no debate that what happened in Hiroshima was terrible. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died. They were victims, not soldiers. But their country was a victimizer. When I was in the Peace Park I only felt the sense of victim. I don`t know what to say beyond that, except that maybe there should be more balance. For Japan to acknowledge their status as victim in Hiroshima is of course reasonable, but if at the same time they ignore the victims they created in China and Korea then aren`t they misrepresenting their legacy, and valuing the lives lost differently? To balance things it seems they ought to take responsibility for all their actions during the war, something I don`t think they`ve yet done.
I went back to Hiroshima because my mother is visiting. We stayed for 2 days in Hiroshima followed by 2 days in Kyoto. The trip was really great, and we had the chance to do many things I hadn`t done before, chiefly led by the fact that my mom`s partner is a vegetarian. That took us to a vegan Zen restaurant in a temple, a funky little family-owned vegetarian cafe, and a Turkish coffee bar staffed by an old collector of Persian antiquities. Great fun.
And so, onto the Peace Museum. I`ll include some photos and bits of art from the museum- all of which it is OK to photograph and reproduce here. A warning though, some of it is pretty grim stuff.
Monument to Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who died of radiation poisoning. She believed that if she made enough paper cranes, she`d survive. Children around Japan still send thousands of cranes to be displayed in the glass cases. The statue is a girl holding up a paper crane.
Some of the many cranes.
Museum in back, eternal flame in the arch (which will burn until all the world`s nuclear weapons are destroyed), and line of sight to the genbaku.
A watch stopped at 8:15.
Mock-up of the dome.
Letters from the mayor of Hiroshima to various ambassadors pleading for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Model of Hiroshima before the blast.
After. he A-bomb dome is at right.
Photos of the aftermath.
Aerial reconnaissance photo before.
A model street in ruin.
Grisly model of zombie-like burns/radiation victims, walking along with arms outstretched and the skip stripping from their bodies.
Model showing the bomb hypocenter.
A tricycle that was hit by the blast then buried to remember the child who`d ridden it. Unearthed fairly recently and donated to the museum.
A water pump with the shadow of its handle burned onto the wall.
Glasses fused by the heat.
A Buddha statue melted.
Artworks, often drawn by soldiers who went into Hiroshima on relief missions. Here you can see the A-bomb dome in the background.
The final corridor of the museum had these sketches. This one tells the story of a man searching for water, who found a fire cistern that was already occupied. The picture at left shows the occupants hair spreading out over the water surface.
A well already filled with the dead and people burned down whichever side of their body had been facing the blast.
A terrible story of a young soldier`s regret. He was ordered not to give burns victims any water as it would only hasten their death (which seems it would be a mercy, then). One woman called out for water for days, but he didn`t give her any. He says he still dreams of her cries and regrets his inaction to this day.
Line of sight from the museum to the genbaku.
You can find more ruins explorations in the galleries:[album id=4 template=compact]