Japan City Guides: Hiroshima Peace Park & Peace Memorial Museum
Hiroshima Peace Park
The history of Hiroshima and the world changed irrevocably at 8.15am on August 6 1945, when the US B-29 bomber "Enola Gay" unleashed the world's first atomic bomb attack on an inhabited city.
The 3m long, 4 ton "Little Boy" bomb dropped on Hiroshima carried 50kg of uranium 235 and the fission of 1kg of uranium relased the equivalent of 16,000 tons of high explosive.
The city was leveled by the intense heat rays (which witnesses describe as creating a "second sun") and the huge blast, the combined force of which destroyed nearly all the buildings within a 2-3km radius of the hypocenter, resulting in approximately 140,000 recorded deaths by December 1945.
Hiroshima's Peace Park is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains a variety of memorials to the victims of that terrible tragedy in 1945.
Hiroshima's most recognizable symbol of the events of August 1945 is The A-Bomb Dome - the former Industrial Promotion Hall, built in 1914-15, and designed by acclaimed Czech architect Jan Letzel.
Hiroshima's A-Bomb Dome is an enduring symbol of the post-1945 city
Although almost at the hypocenter of the nuclear explosion, the structure was one of very few buildings, along with the Former Bank of Japan Hiroshima Branch, to remain standing in a 3km radius from the bombing. Parts of the concrete in the building were burnt and even melted, exposing the steel frame of the dome to the skies.
Just south of the A-Bomb Dome is the Mobilized Students' Merciful Kannon Monument, which plays a recording in English and Japanese relating the story of thousands of young people who were mobilized to fight during the Second World War.
The majority of Hiroshima's peace momuments in the Peace Park are located on the long, slim, delta island formed by the splitting of the Otagawa River into the Honkawa River to the west and the Motoyasu River to the east. The West Peace Bridge and the Peace Bridge across the rivers at the southern end of the Peace Park were designed by Isamu Noguchi.
The National Peace Memorial Hall For A-Bomb Victims (Tel: 082 543 6271), is free to enter and contains a national archive of the names, photos, letters and memoirs of the victims. The building was commissioned by the national government in 2002 and designed by Kenzo Tange.
The Children's Peace Monument, was erected in 1958 to remember Sadako Sasaki and other child victims of the atomic bombing.
The monument features millions of folded paper cranes and recalls the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young athlete, who died of radiation-related illness but tried to cure her sickness by folding a thousand origami cranes. A statue of Sadako Sasaki holding a golden crane stands atop the monument.
Nearby is The Peace Bell, a large traditional Japanese bell, which visitors to the Peace Park are encouraged to ring loudly for world peace.
The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound contains the remains of 70,000 yet unidentified people who died in the bombing.
The Cenotaph For Korean Victims of The Atomic Bomb honors the 20,000 Korean forced laborers who perished in August 1945. The memorial was dedicated in 1970, but was only allowed into the Peace Parkin 1999 due to the continued friction between Koreans and Japanese over the events of World War II and Japan's pre-war colonization of the Korean peninsula.
The Memorial Cenotaph and the Peace Flame located in the center of the island park form a peaceful concrete and water garden monument to the city's A-Bomb victims.
The Cenotaph, designed by Kenzo Tange, is shaped like the figurine clay saddles found in ancient tombs and underneath its arch is a chest containing the names of those who died in the atomic bombing with the inscription: "Repose ye in peace, for the error shall not be repeated."
The Peace Flame will remain alight until all nuclear bombs are decommissioned and the threat of another Hiroshima is over for ever. It is here that a memorial service is held on August 6 each year when white doves are released.
The Peace Memorial Museum is a must-see for visitors to Hiroshima. The linear, concrete building has been expanded to comprise the newer East Building and the West Building. Visitors enter through the East Building.
The ground floor (1F) sets the scene for the nuclear bombing, including information on the Manhatten Project - the US development of the atom bomb - and the reasons it was dropped on Japan and Hiroshima in particular are analysed.
The US was faced with the choice of a costly invasion of the Japanese mainland, inviting the Soviet Union to join the war on Japan or using the atomic bomb. The use of the bomb was also intended to send a message to the USSR and limit its influence in the Far East.
Hiroshima's importance as a military HQ for the dispatch of troops on Asian campaigns is explained in a balanced way, along with Japan's militarism in the 1930s and attack on the US and Britain in 1941.
There are scale models of Hiroshima before and after the attack and images of watches stopped at the exact time of the blast. Hiroshima was finally selected as the first target, possibly because it was the only one of the four cities without an Allied prisoner-of-war camp.
Normal bombing against the target cities was stopped so the full effects of the A-bomb could be analysed. On August 6 1945, three B-29 bombers, one, "Enola Gay", carrying the bomb, one carrying photographic equipment and the other loaded with scientific instruments, appeared over the clear skies of Hiroshima and at 8.15am carried out the world's first atomic attack.
The first and second floors of the East Building (2-3F) detail the "Nuclear Age" as the world's powers built up their nuclear arsenals. Exhibits here also trace the beginnings of the peace movement centered on Hiroshima.
The West Building has the most shocking exhibits as artifacts from the day's events have been collected. These include strangely twisted and melted bottles, coins, Buddhist statues, roof tiles, burnt clothing, ceramics and even golf clubs. The fireball reached temperatures of 5,000 degrees centigrade and left black shadows on stone steps where humans had been sitting or standing.
Dioramas of wax figures with their skin falling like candle wax and photos of the victims and their terrible injuries and suffering are extremely saddening.
Further exhibits detail the damage caused by the heat rays, black rain, the blast and radiation. The effects of radiation continue to cause suffering for the estimated 300,000 surviving hibakusha (Atomic bombing survivors).
There is a particularly poignant panel display dedicated to the young girl Sadako Sasaki, who lost her fight for life against radiation-related sickness, despite her determination to survive by folding a thousand paper cranes.
Finally visitors emerge from the darkened museum to a light-filled corridor as you exit. On your right here is a guest book and photographs of world leaders who have made the pilgrimage to Hiroshima.
It would seem only just that every leader with their finger on the nuclear button should have to make a journey to Hiroshima.
To the south of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum on Peace Boulevard are the Gates of Peace - ten translucent nine meter tall glass arches inscribed with the word "peace" in 49 languages. The promenade monument was opened in 2005 and was designed by artist Clara Halter and architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the creators of the Wall for Peace in Paris (2000) and the Peace Tower in Saint Petersburg (2003).
Access: Hiroshima Peace Park is a short street car ride from Hiroshima Station to Genbaku Dome Mae stop. Admission to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is presently 50 yen with a recorded museum tour in a selection of 17 languages 300 yen. Hiroshima can be reached by shinkansen from Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Kobe, Nagoya, and Yokohama.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
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