Hiroshima: International City of Peace 🕊️

“It was an unusually quiet summer morning in 1945, with clear blue skies as far as the eye can see. Air raid alarms went off regularly back then. On August 6, however, there were no air raid alarms. Then, at 8:15am, the sky turned bright white. My siblings and I were knocked off our feet and violently slammed down. We had no idea what had happened.

As we sat there shell-shocked and confused, heavily injured burn victims came stumbling towards us. Their skin had peeled off their bodies and faces and hung limply down on the ground, in ribbons. Their hair was burnt down to a few measly centimetres from the scalp. Many of the victims collapsed, forming a pile of contorted bodies. The stench and heat were unbearable.”

Although I didn’t expect Hiroshima to still be a radioactive wasteland, I was still surprised to find such a thriving modern metropolis. This is a truly beautiful city built around seven rivers that flow through it towards the sea. We learnt that this is a brave city that is determined to never forget its legacy as the first place in the world to be devastated by a nuclear bomb, a city resolute in the belief that the world should never be allowed to ignore what happened here.

Arriving at the bustling Hiroshima Station, we headed for the information desk and were guided to catch the hourly red tourist bus which would pass close to our hotel. As we found our way to the embarkation point, we were just in time to see it pull off with a full load of passengers. Plan B was the subway, the bus or the streetcar (tram) system. We’d become quite partial to the idea of travelling above the ground, as it affords so many more opportunities to sight-see. We located the tram and squeezed aboard with our suitcase. Arriving at our hotel “The Knot”, could not have been easier and we were pleased to see that we were only a short distance away from the famous Memorial Peace Park.

Checking in was easy. The hotel has the unusual setup of the lobby being on the top floor and the views of the city whet our appetite to get out and about. Our second suitcase sent from Tokyo, was waiting patiently for us. We blessed Japanese efficiency and honesty once again!

It was mid afternoon and the city was awash with gorgeous light. We decided to take advantage of the good weather and begin to explore the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was featured on the 2016 itinerary of Barack Obama who was the first sitting US president to visit the city; he met its hibakusha (persons affected by the atomic bomb) after giving a speech on the need for nuclear disarmament and peace.


The Atomic Bomb Dome

The Atomic Bomb dome is the most obvious reminder of the devastation. It has been preserved because it was the only structure left standing in the aftermath, and is seen as a visual representation of human destructiveness and the accompanying hope for world peace. The Dome became a subject of controversy, with some locals wanting it torn down because it is a cruel daily reminder of what had been lost, while others wanted to preserve it as a memorial of the bombing and instead turn it into a symbol of peace. I did find the crude metal of the remains of the dome to be emotionally jarring, but I also agree that it becomes so easy to forget what transpired if it is too easily disguised by fresh modernity.

We spent some time contemplating the ruins of the Dome and then entered the park via the Motoyasubashi bridge. Walking along the canal afforded us great views of the Dome so we were able to get some good shots. We wandered through the beautiful gardens, noticing that the Autumn leaves were starting to turn here too.

The Peace Bell

The Peace Bell hangs beneath a sombre grey dome in the middle of a sacred lotus pond. Up close, we were able to admire the detail of the bell. The concrete dome is meant to represent the universe. Completed in September of 1964 by bronze and metals artist Masahiko Katori, the peace bell is intricately etched. The outside of the bell has a map of a boundary-less world. Geoff rang the bell so that we could experience it’s haunting echo. 

The hope is that the sound of the bell reverberates in every corner of the world to reach the hearts of every single human being. It was hard not to have a lump in my throat.

Bell of Peace

“We dedicate the bell
As a symbol of Hiroshima Aspiration
Let all nuclear arms and wars be gone,
and the nations live in true peace!

May it ring to all corners of the earth 
to meet the ear of every man

For in it throb and palpitate
The hearts of its peace-loving donors.

So may you too, friends,
Step forward, and toll the bell for peace!”

Dedicated September 20th, 1964
Hiroshima Higan-No-Kai.

The Children’s Peace Monument

This monument  commemorates a young girl Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of child victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Sadako was only two years old on the day of the bombing. Her exposure to radiation lead to her dying of leukaemia by the age of 12. While in the hospital, Sadako remained optimistic and resilient. An ancient Japanese legend promised that anyone who folded a thousand origami cranes would be granted a wish, such as long life or recovery from illness or injury. Today the the origami crane has been transformed into an international symbol of peace. We saw origami cranes throughout our visit to Japan.  The story of the origami cranes inspired Sadako. She began folding one thousand origami cranes.  Soon she filled her room with hundreds of colourful origami cranes of all different sizes. After folding her thousandth crane, Sadako made her wish, to be well again. Sadly, Sadako’s wish did not come true.

Children all over Japan were so moved by her struggle that they petitioned for and raised money to build the Children’s Peace Monument in her honor at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in 1958. Symbolizing a cry for world peace, the monument is constantly surrounded by arrangements of origami cranes sent as tributes by people from all over the world.

Statue to a Prayer for Peace

We came across a poignant statue of a mother and her child balancing on a crescent moon. This is another symbol of lasting peace that brings this poem to life:

Dear little child,
embraced in your mother’ s love,

play the gold trumpet.

Sound the clear tunes of peace over the earth
and to heaven.

Puffing up your cheeks, play the gold trumpet,
the tunes of No More Hiroshimas,

No matter what our future will be like.

By Shinpei Kusano, August 1978

The Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound

This mound was designed to represent an imperial tomb from the Momoyama Period (1583 – 1600). It is typified by the stone pagoda and its purpose is to hold the ashes of the deceased that are unclaimed either because they were unidentified or because all their relatives had also died.

The area near the hypo centre was strewn with corpses after the bombing. Many bodies were pulled out of the river and brought to this spot for cremation. The ashes are held in the vault below the mound and is estimated to hold the remains of 70 000 victims. 


The Peace Flame

The flame has burned continuously since it was lit on August 1, 1964. It symbolises the anti-nuclear resolve to burn the flame “until the day when all such weapons shall have disappeared from the Earth.” 

The Cenotaph for the Victims of the Atomic Bomb

This beautiful arch was built in 1952. Inside is the register that contains the names of all the known victims of the bombing, regardless of nationality. Sadly names get added to the registry every year as deaths attributable to the bombing continue to take their toll.

The memorial is designed with a roof like structure which represents the eternal sheltering of the souls of those who lost their lives. It is engraved with the words: “Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.”

It is unspeakably sad.

The Atomic Bomb Peace Museum

Although we had not intended to try and visit the museum on the first day, we found ourselves gravitating towards the queue and before long we found ourselves inside the museum.

To visit the Peace Museum is a harsh awakening.  It was hard not to shed tears for victims I had never met, when reading their stories of how August 6, 1945 forever changed their lives and the history of Japan. 

Inside the museum, we stood around a huge circular viewing screen to watch the horror of how that morning played out on August 6, 1945.  We watched a simulation showing the city from the moments when it was still intact.  A clock inside the circle counts down to the second when the bomb was dropped. 8:15.

The bomb explodes at an altitude of about 2,000 ft.  Blasting light, followed by intense heat, then fires burn in every corner.  In mere moments, about 140,000 lives were destroyed.  The heat was 3,000 to 4,000 degrees Celsius.  I struggle with 35 degrees. How does 4,000 degrees Celsius, feel to one’s body? 

These were real people, in their ordinary life, on an ordinary day, who perished at the command of a few human beings just like them, from across the globe.  It seems that it is easy to kill invisible enemies.

The Fountain of Prayer, commemorates the victims of the A-bomb disaster in 1945. It lights up the night sky with its impressive water display that reaches up to 10 meters. It is dedicated to the spirits of the victims who died while desperately seeking water.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was opened in 1955. The building was designed by renowned architect Kenzo Tange and represents the resurgence of a postwar architecture, untainted by imperialist history.

On August 6, 1945 at 8:15 a.m, during World War II (1939-45), an American B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, dropped the world’s first deployed “new and most cruel” atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” detonated with the energy of the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT (energy), destroying five square miles of the city and immediately killing an estimated 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure. Three days after the destruction of Hiroshima, another American bomber dropped a plutonium bomb code-named “Fat Man,” over Nagasaki, some 185 miles southwest of Hiroshima, at 11:02 a.m.

Almost everything within a little over a mile of ground zero was destroyed by the blast and heat rays. Within one hour, a “black rain” of highly radioactive particles started falling on the city, causing additional radiation exposure.

(Below right: The Gokuku Shrine was located less than 1km from the hypo centre. The Torii gate from the main entrance survived undamaged.)

The Museum aims to communicate the reality of the damage and to contribute to the abolition of nuclear weapons in order to realise world peace.

The impact and implications of the bombing are explored through pictures, movie clips, displays and original art. Artist impressions bring to the life the horror of the day. Recovered items, burnt and melted are also on view. There is also an exhibition room that deals with the realities of living in an age of nuclear weapons.

Even though this happened almost 80 years ago, there are lectures held where A-bomb survivors share their stories and experiences.

Have we learnt anything at all from Hiroshima?

At the start of 2023, nine countries—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) and Israel—together possessed approximately 12 512 nuclear weapons, of which 9576 were considered to be potentially operationally available.

Russian president Vladimir Putin insinuated that nuclear attacks are not off the table in the war with Ukraine. While NATO leaders have not used such threatening rhetoric, the international organization conducted nuclear exercised in October 2022 simulating dropping B61 nuclear bombs. US president Joe Biden’s also abandoned a “no first use” policy he previously supported. (www.wired.com; Feb 24, 2022)

Tired, emotionally drained, and beginning to get hungry, we set off in search of the renowned Hiroshima version of Okonomiyaki, the famous pancake layered with fried noodles, and  topped with different varieties of meat, fish, and vegetables. Because Hiroshima provides most of Japan’s oysters, the oyster topped version is highly recommended.

Okonomi-mura, literally means Okonomiyaki Village. It takes about 10 min to walk from Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to Okonomimura, which is a Hiroshima institution. There are roughly 20 plus different okonomiyaki stalls spread over three floors. Each has its own variant of the Hiroshima-yaki pancake. The restaurants use a special okonomiyaki sauce created especially for Okonomi-mura.

We navigated using Google Maps to the the area but struggled to locate the 3 floors! we weren’t perturbed though as we came across a great looking place right on the street level. They were running a queue, but our timing was perfect and we pitched up just as there was a lull.

We were disappointed that we couldn’t be seated at the grill, (seems that places had been reserved) but after a glass of the delicious seasonal plum wine, we were no longer concerned.

Our waitress spoke no English at all and we struggled to communicate that Geoff wanted a ginger hi-ball (Whiskey and Ginger Ale). Seems that this is drink native only to Tokyo, but after much gesticulation and to-ing and fro-ing, we got what we wanted. Things did not go as smoothly when I enquired as to where we could purchase the plum wine. There was some heated conversation with the restaurant owner, who eventually shrugged and the waitress was then seen wrapping the unique tumblers from which we were embibing the plum wine. When she presented us with a box of glasses we realised that there had been another misunderstanding!

Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki with noodles and oysters

We took a slow stroll through the covered Hondori shopping street, where we met some interesting locals.

When I woke up it was my 60th birthday! I was blessed with perfect weather. A cold snap had come through and I was able to wear one of the jerseys acquired in Tokyo. It was still beautiful and sunny. Geoff had been hard at work identifying somewhere special to have breakfast. Our plan was to have a delicious coffee and a pastry or two and then head off to explore the Shukkeien Gardens.

Andersen bakery is an “Ooh-Aah” shop, as Lorna used to say. The building itself was originally built in a historic Renaissance style in 1925 to house a bank. It was one of the few structures to survive the atomic bombing. The name “Andersen” is derived from that of the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. Just as Hans Christian Andersen awakened the dreams and hopes of people through his fairytales, the owners’ claim to “seek to deliver joy and happiness through bread (and Danish pastries)”.  And deliver they did! We spent ages marching up and down, deliberating over this cinnamon roll or that almond croissant. We had both.

Like most places in Japan, Shukkeien Garden has a long history dating back to the 1600s, when it was constructed as part of a villa for a feudal lord. Eventually it became a public garden and was designated a place of national scenic beauty, but it was extensively damaged when the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during WWII. When we arrived at the Garden, we were approached by a gentleman who introduced himself as a volunteer guide, emphasising that there would be no charge for him to show us around. This is an organisation that is voluntarily managed by people who sincerely love Hiroshima, and they have been guiding tourists around Shukkeien and the Peace Memorial Park since it’s inception in May 2002.

Our guide explained that after the atomic bomb was dropped, the people suffering from the disaster gathered at Shukkeien in search of water. However, the water in the lake and river was contaminated with radiation and the trees in Shukkeien were burned down. All the buildings were completely destroyed, and thousands of people lost their lives in and around the garden. People said the place was like hell.

The garden’s name which translates to “shrunken scenery garden”, hints at the landscape style used.

It contains all the elements of a spiritual Japanese Garden, on a miniaturised scale. This is a highly traditional combination of the elements of stone, water, plants, and fish, and gives the visitor the experience of exploring rivers, mountains and lakes, without ever leaving the city. Shukkeien is centered around a large pond which is inhabited by carps and turtles, and is crossed by a lovely stone arch called the Rainbow Bridge. The pond is surrounded by various types of trees, rock formations and artificial hills, creating a diverse and scenic landscape.

We followed our guide around the winding and connecting paths and bridges and paused often to take pictures and admire the many features, like tea houses, arbours and ornate bridges and to watch the enormous and colourful koi  swimming in the pond. The central pond with its fourteen islands of various sizes is cleverly designed to represent the fourteen islands in the nearby Inland Sea. There is also a miniature bamboo grove, although the bamboo trees themselves were far from small! The grove (where Geoff has his hands around one of the trees, below) was planted in March 2023 and it is already an outrageous height!

Shukkeien Garden is a popular photo spot for weddings and celebrations and we came across an elegant couple who seemed to be newly weds, as well as a family who allowed us to photography their cute kids.

The giant Ginko tree below is the only tree to survive the bombing, although all its branches and leaves were torn off. It stands 17m tall and the trunk is 4m is circumferences. The tree is estimated to be 200 years old. It was moving to read that its seeds have been sent all over the world as an offering of peace.

I was a happy birthday girl after discovering another chrysanthemum garden display, together with two sculptures illustrating “The Year of the Rabbit”.

We were tired from the lazy stroll around the gardens and didn’t fancy the next item on the agenda which would have been a leisurely stroll around Hiroshima Castle.

Instead we opted to head off for an Italian lunch at a restaurant Geoff had tracked down, that came highly recommended. We navigated across the city via streetcars, but when we got to the restaurant it was closed for renovations despite the website indicating it was open. We didn’t need too much discussion to agree to return to the delightful Andersen Bakery. It felt surprisingly sophisticated to be eating Western food again and I opted for the club sandwich which they had managed to perfect! Geoff had a delicious bun-less hamburger.

Birthday dessert was this exquisite filled ‘apple’, blend of cheesecake and fruity apple filling. Delicious.

The streetcars or trams that run through the heart of Hiroshima are one of the symbols of the city.

The streetcars were carrying a large number of people on the morning of August 6, 1945. The route of the streetcars was almost the same as it is today. When the atomic bomb was dropped, it was the middle of rush hour. Seventy of the 123 trams of the Hiroshima Electric Railway were operating on city streets. Near the hypocenter, one tram was blown as far as 5-10 meters from the train tracks. One witness recalls, “Suddenly, from the front of the car, the inside turned red like a fireball. The tram was packed and the passengers fell over like bowling pins as they pushed to get out.”
About 950 employees were on duty and 211 of them were killed, including 30 students.

Despite such terrible damage, streetcars started operating again on August 9, only three days after the bombing.
On the morning of August 7, about 50 workers gathered spontaneously at the head office of the company. More than 90% of all 102,400 meters of power lines were damaged, so workers used trucks to pull power lines out from under the debris. 
Two of the bombed streetcars are, in fact, still in operation. 

For a birthday dinner, I opted for Okonomiyaki once again. This time we managed to locate the 3-storey village. It was humming with people and the smoke from the grills. We were bundled up against the cool night air and had to remove at least 2 layers and were still hot!

We enjoyed some more of my favourite plum wine. Plum wine or umeshu is a liqueur rather than a wine, made by steeping green plums or Japanese apricots in alcohol and sugar or honey. It has an almondy taste that is quite addictive. The Japanese drink it either with soda or on the rocks.
We chose cheesy versions of the okonomiyaki and pronounced them ‘yummy’!

And so our bucket-list trip to Hiroshima came to an end.

Sometimes in death we learn about life.  Death focuses our attention on the moment and brings all the important issues into focus.  I was left with new respect for the Japanese. It takes courage to acknowledge a nation’s mistakes that lead to a calamitous event; it also takes courage to forgive in order to heal.



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