The prevailing image of Hiroshima is that of a city obliterated by the nuclear weapon “Little Boy”, on that fateful summer morning in 1945. Today, however, Hiroshima is far more than that: it’s a city which lives and breathes forgiveness, peace and hope.
After four days in Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto, we were ready for another bullet train adventure – this time taking us further south to Hiroshima. Our regional passes necessitated a change at Shin-Osaka; from there we caught the Nozomi Shinkansen to Hiroshima. As we were travelling during Obon – an annual Buddhist event which commemorates the spirits of one’s ancestors and one of Japan’s busiest holiday seasons – the train was extremely busy and we had to stand the whole way.
Upon arrival in Hiroshima, we were given free packets of wet wipes and origami shinkansen; the former came in very handy, as Hiroshima’s climate was sweat-inducing to say the least. After dropping our luggage at our hostel and filling out the required paperwork, we took the tram to the Atomic Bomb Dome.
After circling the skeletal remains of the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, known today as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial or Atomic Bomb Dome, we stopped where a small crowd of people had gathered to read copies of That Day by Mito Kosei. We pored over the binder, taking in the testimonies and the cold hard facts. Whilst the building remained – to some degree – intact, everyone inside perished. Some 70,000 people were killed instantly; by the end of 1945, taking the side effects of radiation into account, the death toll surpassed 140,000. That Day was available in several languages; it was a difficult but compelling and pertinent read, since the threat of nuclear warfare lives on.
Wending our way through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, we crossed the bridge towards the Children’s Peace Monument, which was inspired by the death of Sadako Sasaki and is dedicated to all of the children who lost their lives as a result of the bomb. Sasaki was just two years old when the bomb exploded, but developed leukaemia almost a decade later. She believed that if she managed to fold 1,000 origami cranes she would survive; sadly she never reached her target and her classmates folded the rest. Today, there are hundreds upon hundreds of multi-coloured paper cranes surrounding the monument.
Further on, the Memorial Cenotaph frames the Flame of Peace and the Atomic Bomb Dome. We then joined the lengthy queue for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Filled with artefacts, harrowing images and haunting memoirs, it was a poignant reminder of the horrors Hiroshima endured. Although the queue moved quickly, we felt as though the museum was a little too crowded; this made it very difficult to pause to read something without being swept along by the crowd.
After a bite to eat at a nearby café, we visited one of the Peace Bells (Laurence rang it) before moving on to the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, where the ashes of thousands of unidentified victims are interred.
Later in the afternoon, we decided to wander up to the reconstructed Hiroshima Castle – the original was, of course, destroyed by “Little Boy”. Nevertheless, the reconstruction looked majestic and was surrounded by a substantial moat. We entered one of the buildings for free, but decided not to enter the main building.
Returning to the Peace Memorial Park, we sat by the river with iced teas (just writing this makes me want a carton of Lipton Pineapple Tea) and biscuits across from the Atomic Bomb Dome. We rounded the day off with a stroll through the Gates of Peace – a dozen or so arches inscribed with the word ‘peace’ in many different languages – before hunting down the local delicacy (okonomiyaki, a sort of savoury pancake with vegetables, meat, noodles and egg) for Laurence to try.
- We stayed at Hiroshima Hana Hostel, primarily due to its proximity to the station, which was useful for depositing our stuff upon arrival and for our early departure for Miyajima the following day. It cost us approximately £45 for one night in a private twin room/shared bathroom.
- Hiroshima’s tram system is easy to navigate and operates a ¥160 (£1.11) flat fare system.