Day 10: Beautiful Hiroshima and it's Horrific History
With plenty of travelling ahead of us, we packed and headed for the bus stop only to be stopped by two of our fellow Japanese guests who very kindly offered to drop us to the station in their car. After only getting mildly lost (and phoning their daughter to let her know they had a Irish and Singaporean in the back seat) we were dropped safely to the station. Photo's taken all round - I guess in case their daughter is the distrusting type - and we were on our way back down the mountain funicular and onto to Osaka to meet our bullet train to Hiroshima.
Once again absolutely in awe of the Japanese public transport system. Not only did we descend from the mountains with celestial ease but there in Osaka was a fully steamed up shinkansen ready to bullet us to our next destination, Hiroshima. First impressions of the city are like most of the others we have seen, somewhat modern with little to distinguish it architecturally atleast from the station doorways. The first real novelty was the fact that the city has an active tram network (something which not only survived the Atomic Bomb but was back up and running and incredible 3 days after the it fell!!!!) We are staying at the World Peace Centre close the epicentre of the bomb and as soon as we dropped our bags we were able to walk back to the peace park that now constitutes the majority of the initial bomb site.
The visitor centre is extremely well done. It is notable that the first 30 minutes of your visit are devoted almost entirely to the historical context of the bombing and importantly the role that Hiroshima feels it has to play in advocating a world without nuclear weapons. There is a very touching display of every letter of objection that the mayor of Hiroshima has penned to each world leader after their country has felt the need to test yet one more nuclear device. Sadly and tellingly, this list of letters covers over two walls.
It is only when you venture upstairs that the museum dares to expound upon the nature of the horror of the nuclear attack itself. There are the ragged remains of clothes worn by schoolchildren on that day. There are first hand accounts of nuclear burns, skin falling from bodies and radiation poisoning. There are the tiles on rooves that melded together in the heat. There is the outline of a person who was sitting on a granite step waiting for the bank to open, of which all that is left was a dark shadow. You cannot leave the entire exhibition without a profound feeling of the great evil that was committed in this nondescript port town 60 years ago.
It was our good fortune that the permanent exhibition is currently being supplemented by a photographic study made by one of the few Japanese photographers to visit the city soon after the bombing who also returned to the city two years later to document its recovery. It is a stunning testament to the will of human life to regroup and recover when you see the reconstruction that was achieved in two short years.
Though the illeffects of the radiation are still being endured by unfortunates within the population today, it is simply breathe taking to see how quickly the roots of life in Hiroshima (both of nature and of humans) retook to growth once again. A large industrial exhibition hall close the epicentre has been left as lasting tribute to the destruction wrought on that day but as a local comments in one of their video stories, it is noticeable how this monument grows smaller each year as the city regrows and indeed exceeds its original size around it.
You leave the museum with the most poignant reminder, a clock which counts the days since the explosion which is these days thankfully a rather large number and a second below it which counts the days since the last nuclear test was conducted somewhere on this earth- a much more depressingly recent 545 days.