Beyond the War Horror, There’s Much Life to Absorb in Hiroshima
By Ashwin Rajagopalan
8.15 am, August 6, 1945.
A B-29 bomber makes a hasty exit after hovering around one of Japan’s major cities.
43 seconds later, a huge fireball rises — followed by a mushroom cloud that goes almost 9,000 metres in the air.
The first nuclear bomb has been dropped on Hiroshima.
A third of the 350,000 residents die, while scores are scarred for life after exposure to radioactive particles from the 64 kg of enriched uranium in the bomb. The city itself? Is reduced to rubble.
Some countries would have relocated survivors, buried this incident, moved on. But this was Japan — resilience is a given. I’m at the epicentre of this horrific incident 70 years later and Hiroshima looks like any other bustling, modern Japanese city — except, at its heart is a memorial to commemorate August 6, 1945.
It’s impossible to imagine that any structure could have survived this massive impact.
One did — at least partially — and has become the symbol of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
The Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall dates back to 1915 and was envisioned by a Czech architect. It has come to be known as the A-Bomb Dome and serves as a stark reminder, despite its picture perfect presence. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum just across the Ota river captures the grief and pain of the city.
Flattened Lunch Boxes and Water Bottles: Horrific Reminders
It is heartbreaking to see the endless list of exhibits at the museum. Among other things, there is a flattened lunch box, a kid’s bicycle bent out of shape… All frozen in time. All embodiments of the horrific blast they survived.
These exhibits are part of the West Wing of the museum that focuses on the impact of the bomb through its different sections — Material Witness, Damage by Heat Rays and Damage by the Blast.
It’s impossible to walk through the West Wing without feeling a deep sense of empathy with Hiroshima…
My favourite part of the memorial park is the Children’s Peace Monument that doesn’t just stand as a memorial to the children who died during the bombing but also captures the indomitable spirit and hope of Sadako Sasaki.
A victim of radiation, this young girl believed that she would be cured if she managed to fold 1,000 paper cranes. She was 12 in 1955 when she eventually succumbed, but this site — with a statue of a girl with a paper crane — receives thousands of paper cranes to this day from children around the world.
I left Hiroshima with the flickering image of the Peace Flame. This flame has burned continuously since 1964 and will remain lit until the world rids itself of all nuclear bombs.
We can only hope it happens in our lifetime.
There’s more to Hiroshima than the Peace Memorial Park. If you’re in the city for 24 hours make sure you also:
Visit the magical Itsukushima shrine on Miyajima island:
Just 40 minutes from Hiroshima is one of Japan’s most magical shrines (6th century AD) and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Sunset is probably the best time to be here. Watch the ochre coloured sky merge with the vermilion of the floating ‘torii’ (gate to the shrine) that is actually built in the Inland Sea of Japan. Find your zone within the tranquil shrine or walk around the Omoto-Sande main street on the island and sample local delicacies.
Sake and dine around the city:
Don’t leave without trying Hiroshima’s soul food, Okonomiyaki — a savoury pancake with cabbage, bean sprouts, pork, egg and noodles. There are at least 2,000 Okonomiyaki restaurants in the city — including the legendary Mitchan (where this dish was supposedly invented about 70 years ago) and lesser known outlets like Benbe.
The city is renowned for oysters — sample them grilled, fried or cooked in vinegar. The Saijo district is often referred to as Japan’s ‘Sake town’ — especially since it hosts an annual Sake festival and awards ceremony. The sakes vary by season — shinsu (new brews) in spring, hiyaoroshi (pasteurised once; Sake is usually pasteurised twice) in fall and shikomi (fermented in a large tank) in winter.
Getting there and around: While Japan’s Shinkansen (Bullet trains) are always a great way to travel, flying is a better option from Tokyo (1 hour / 800 kms). The city has a network of ‘streetcars’; perfect to get around downtown.
Accommodation: ANA Crowne Plaza (www.crowneplaza.com) is one of the best located hotels in the city.
(Ashwin Rajagopalan enjoys communicating across boundaries in his three distinct roles as a widely published lifestyle writer, one of India’s only cross cultural trainers and a consultant for a global brand services firm. Ashwin writes extensively on travel, food, technology and trends.)