Hiroshima: Peace Memorial Park and Museum
Although Hiroshima was almost completely flattened by the world’s first nuclear attack in 1945, the rebuilt city now stands as an international monument to peace. More than one million people visit it every year. Hiroshima’s famous Peace Memorial Park stands at the city’s center, in the midst of what was once its busiest residential and commercial area. The park itself has over 50 cenotaphs and monuments, and there is a special memorial ceremony held each year on August 6, which is the anniversary of the 1945 bombing.
From the cenotaph in the middle of the Peace Park, there is a clear view of the A-Bomb Dome, which is basically the upper shell of Hiroshima’s former Industrial Promotion Hall. This building was the closest structure to ground zero to remain partially standing.
The Peace Memorial Park is home to three Peace Bells, the largest of which was donated by the Greek embassy. It bears an inscription from Socrates in ancient Greek, Japanese and Sanskrit, which translates as “Know Yourself”. Its surface depicts a world map without borders, and the pleasant tone of the bell resounds frequently throughout the park as visitors step up to ring it.
Visitors to the Peace Memorial Park will also discover the Children’s Peace Monument, a particularly powerful place to sit quietly and reflect on things. The domed monument is topped with a statue of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who developed terminal leukemia from exposure to nuclear radiation. During her final three months of life, Sadako famously attempted to fold 1000 origami cranes in order to receive a wish from the gods: that she be granted a normal, healthy life. Sadako only managed to fold 644 cranes before her death, so her young friends completed the 1000, which were then buried alongside her. To this day, Japanese schoolchildren leave long chains of brightly colored paper cranes at her monument in Hiroshima.
Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Dome
The most recent addition to the Peace Memorial Park was built in 2005, and comprises ten glass Gates of Peace. Each gate represents one of Dante’s nine circles of hell, with the tenth gate symbolizing the living hell caused by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. The word for “peace” is inscribed on the steel frames of the gates in 49 different languages.
Perhaps the most difficult place to visit in Hiroshima is the Peace Memorial Museum. The museum provides a largely unbiased account of the 1945 bombing, and the atmosphere inside is hushed and almost reverent. One display sign inside even reads “The Japanese were not blameless victims.”
Many of the museum’s exhibits display a tremendous level of detail. The main building contains actual artifacts from the blast, and other areas use both models and images to show the effect of the bombing. There are also screened documentaries, along with some fairly chilling testimonials from survivors. There is an area for visitors to write their own impressions and leave messages of peace. All in all, a visit to the Peace Memorial Museum is a somber but profoundly affecting experience, and worth spending some time over.