The day was less than pleasant, with rain falling steadily. It seemed fitting though, for our journey was taking us to Hiroshima. I was excited to learn more about the first city to experience a nuclear attack, even knowing what a sobering effect it would have on me. After reading and learning about what happened in school, witnessing the aftermath firsthand is something else entirely. It wasn’t just something that I had learned about any more, but rather a very real event that changed the lives of thousands. For my own part, I can say that my views were changed, or became more assured after visiting Hiroshima. The cherry blossoms in full bloom and the bustle of the city were a stark contrast to the horrifying history that occurred here less than 100 years ago.
When we were putting together a list of where we wanted to go in Japan, my brother and I both knew that we wanted to see Hiroshima. Why? Because Hiroshima is the site of one of the greatest tragedies in history. I wanted to see where the bomb dropped and understand how it affected the people of Japan. I know it’s morbid, but we can’t look away from and ignore bad things that happened in history. We can, however, understand them and learn from them, so that such tragedies never happen again. If you are planning a trip to Japan and are wanting to visit Hiroshima, here are some things that you can do and see while you are in this wonderful city.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Hiroshima is the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack. In the center of the city, lies Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. This park is dedicated to the victims who were both directly and indirectly affected by the atomic bomb that lay waste to the city on August 6,1945. Not only is this park here to memorialize, it is also a place that advocates for world peace. There are many monuments and museums around the park. Although we weren’t able to see them all, I can say that any of them are worth visiting.
Atomic Bomb Dome
The Atomic Bomb Dome is a symbol of nuclear destruction. This building was located almost directly underneath the explosion, which somehow allowed it to maintain its structure, even while other buildings in the area were completely wiped out. At the time, this was a Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. All of the people inside at the time of the blast were killed instantly. Just seeing this structure up close, is enough to give you chills. We experienced the dome on a rainy day that seemed to suit the somber mood surrounding the building. It is unlikely that you will miss this if you are in Hiroshima. It is right off the road, and is even a stop on the streetcar route (the stop is called Atomic Bomb Dome, or Genbaku Dome). You can walk the perimeter of the building, but you cannot go inside or touch it.
The Bell of Peace
The Bell of Peace is located within the park and was created as a symbol of a unified world living together peacefully. You will see people going up to ring the bell while you are in the park. Take a moment to ring the bell and say a little prayer for the world to become a better place, without nuclear weapons.
Children’s Peace Monument
This monument commemorates Sadako Sasaki and the other innocent children who were affected by the blast. Sadako was two years old when the bomb fell, and passed away 10 years later due to leukemia. There is a book about her called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Ronald Himler and Eleanor Coerr. She folded paper cranes while she was hospitalized, dreaming of survival. To this day, children from all around the world will leave paper cranes at this monument.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is not to be missed. This is where you will learn the most about what happened that day. The museum has a collection of belongings left by victims, photos, stories, and other materials that truly convey the horrors of the bombing. You will learn not only the events that occurred that day, but also how it affected people for years to come. The purpose of the museum is to educate with the hope of inspiring new generations to abolish nuclear weapons. We simply are not meant to have that kind of destructive power, and after visiting Hiroshima, you will find yourself starting to agree.
I learned the full scope of the explosion while in the museum when I saw burned clothing and personal items of the victims. My vision blurred at the sight of a section of stone wall with the shadow of a human who had been disintegrated by the blast. I witnessed stories of victims who were injured, or who were affected later on in life. If you are in Hiroshima, you should go to this museum. If you are in Japan, you should go to this museum. A lifetime of reading about what happened that day can’t replace actually seeing some of the destruction itself and hearing the stories of those who were there.
Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims
The Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall is a heavy experience. Outside of the hall you will see a monument in the shape of a clock indicating 8:15, the time the bomb was dropped. Inside, the Hall of Remembrance is a place to quietly remember and mourn the victims of the atomic bomb. To enter the hall, you walk down a slope in a counterclockwise direction, going back in time as you pass the clean beige walls. Upon entering the hall, you will see the walls covered with 140,000 tiles that come together to form the skyline of a destroyed Hiroshima as seen from the explosion’s hypo-center. 140,000 is the number of victims as of December 1945. With a fountain at its center, the Hall of Remembrance makes you feel both at peace and incredibly sad, knowing the number of victims that were claimed because of a single decision.
In addition, the Memorial Hall is host to a victims’ information area where you can view photos and names of victims. You can also watch videos with commentary of personal accounts of the blast. Furthermore, the Hall hosts regular public readings of these personal accounts. Unfortunately, we were not able to go to one of these readings, but if you are planning to be in the area, I’m sure this would be an unforgettable experience. The readings are in English and are held on the second Sunday of every month.
Hiroshima Castle stands not too far from the Peace Memorial Park. Just a walk across the street and down the river will lead you to the beautiful castle grounds. Hiroshima was originally a castle town, with the castle being the center of the city. Also, known as Carp Castle, Hiroshima Castle stands five stories tall. It is so interesting going into castles in Japan. You can learn so much about the history of Hiroshima, and what kind of city it once was.
The original castle, built in 1589, was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945 along with the rest of the buildings in the vicinity. It was rebuilt in 1958. In fact, most of the castles now standing in Japan are not the originals. They would be destroyed during wars by fire, or by natural disasters. Climbing to the top of this particular castle is a great experience. To be able to look out on this thriving city from the top is breathtaking, especially knowing what once happened here.
What to Eat
One more thing to mention. We were not in Hiroshima for very long, but we did have one very delicious meal while we were here. The meal that I am referring to is one called Shabu Shabu, or Hot Pot. I had had it before, but this was next level. Shabu Shabu consists of a boiling pot of broth in the middle of the table with vegetables and thin slices of raw meat to cook in the pot. The man who served us was very excited to have foreign customers to speak with(we weren’t the only ones). He taught us the proper way to cook and eat our food in the most delicious manner. There is nothing quite as enjoyable as a nice hot bowl of Shabu Shabu after walking around in the rain all day. The fine food and atmosphere warmed me from the inside out.
After dinner, we returned to our hostel. We stayed at J-Hoppers in Hiroshima. They have multiple locations throughout Japan. It was a very comfortable hostel and the girl at the front desk was very helpful and accommodating. The next day we set out to Miyajima Island.
If you ever find yourself in Hiroshima, be sure to immerse yourself in its rich history and culture. I already know what I want to see and eat on my next visit! If you haven’t already, read my previous post on Hakone. It will tell you all about the best place to go to see Mt. Fuji! If you are going to Japan and intend to travel by train, read my article about Japan transportation here. Thank you so much for reading!