On August 6, 1945 at exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital. Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow, sat in her kitchen watching a neighbour tearing down his fence. Three different unsuspecting people doing mundane things on a seemingly regular day… bound together by one common label: atomic bomb survivors.

August 6, 1945 will always be remembered in the history of mankind for the first ever use of a nuclear weapon. It was the day which effectively obliterated the city of Hiroshima. With August 6 being the A-Bomb Day or Hiroshima Day, it is only fitting that I write about our soul-stirring visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum. It takes an entire day to visit the four major places in the Peace Memorial Park Complex. An entire day may seem like a lot and can be mentally taxing and emotionally draining, but that’s what dark tourism is about. It demands and deserves such serious time investment.

I should warn you; this isn’t like any other tourist attraction. There is unspeakable horror in this place. Here are the major places to visit:

1. The Peace Memorial Museum

The entrance to the museum is brightly coloured and has a happy vibe. It shows pictures of Hiroshima before the bombing. How it was a city that thrived, how the skyscrapers were so architecturally sound and how people were contented with their lives. And then one morning, the clock struck 8:15. As one single atomic bomb neared the ground, the city died in an instant. Houses crumbled, people evaporated, an immense ball of fire shot skywards, and a terrible wave of super-heated gas bulged out from ground zero, flattening skyscrapers for miles.

During our visit, we noticed other visitors completely absorbed. they were speaking to each other in soft muffled voices. It was almost as if that place was sacred. It felt sacred. One could feel the lingering melancholy in the air. I fought with myself for over an hour before I took the first picture.

 You enter a cold and harrowing world as you see the haunting pictures of Hiroshima after the bombing, the belongings of the victims, the charred exhibits, and survivor’s memoirs. If you are brave enough, you can also see video testimonies of the survivors.

2. The cenotaph for A-bomb victims

 It is officially named the “Memorial Monument for Hiroshima, City of Peace”. The names of the 290,000 innocent lives lost on that fateful day are inscribed inside the central stone vault regardless of nationality. Every year, new names are discovered and added to the list.

This structure is so designed that the Atomic Bomb Dome is visible through its arch.

3. The children’s peace monument

This monument was built to commemorate Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of other children who died due to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. A joyous toddler, Sadako was only 2 years old at the time of bombing. 10 years later she developed leukaemia due to exposure to radiation. According to an ancient Japanese legend, if you make a thousand origami paper cranes you will be granted one wish. Cranes are a symbol of longevity and happiness in Japan. So, while on her deathbed, she started folding paper cranes. Her only wish was to live but as fate would have it, she died on an October morning in 1955.

This monument is also called the “Tower of a Thousand Cranes”. On the top of the three-legged pedestal stands the bronze figure of Sadako holding up a golden origami crane.

Sadako’s story inspired a nationwide spate of paper-crane folding that continues to this day. Surrounding the monument are strings of thousands of colourful paper cranes sent here by school children from around the country and all over the world.

“Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”, a historical children’s novel written by Eleanor Coerr was based on this true story.

4. The Atomic-Bomb Dome

Originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, this building was the only structure left standing near the bomb’s hypocentre. The locals wanted to preserve it as a memorial of the bombing and Hiroshima was rebuilt around the dome. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the iconic remains of the A-Bomb Dome represent both horror of nuclear war and the hope for peace.

The A-Bomb Dome conveys to the world the horrors of nuclear weapons and spreads the message of “No More Hiroshimas”

As you move out of the complex, the surrounding park offers plenty of tranquillity to unwind. I found myself a bench under a shady tree. I needed to sit. To gather myself… emotionally, to pause and reflect about the thought-provoking, gut-wrenching and life-changing experience that I just had, to close my tearful eyes and say a little prayer for those who died and for those who survived. For how tormenting it must be for the survivors to wake up each morning and go on with life, wondering why they were alive when their loved ones weren’t…

But, I guess that’s the thing about tragedy. It can stun us, it can make us feel pounded and battered. As we grapple with the pain of the present, the future may seem remote and unapproachable. We might even weep and question everything. But the human spirit shines within us and so we know that life must go on.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park Information

  • Address: 1-10 Otemachi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken
  • Phone: 082-241-4004
  • Hours open to visitors: 8:30 to 18:00. Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time.
  • Admission Fee: 200 yen
  • Directions: From Hiroshima station, take tram line 2 or 6 to Genbaku-Dome Mae Station.
  • Website: http://hpmmuseum.jp/?lang=eng

Chetnaa Dua

Tokyo based Indian writer. Have fallen in love with all things Japan! Follow chetnaadua on Insta for more.
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