The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
c/o Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
1-2 Nakajimama-cho, Naka-ku, Hirosima City 730-0811, Japan
Number of interments: 70,000 or more
Admission: The park is free to visitors. Admission to the museum is 50 yen for adults, 30 yen for children under 18.
Museum hours: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (or until 7 p.m. in August). Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time. Closed: December 29 to January 1.
The Genbaku Domu — the Atomic Dome — caps the ruins of the Industrial Promotion Hall on the shore of the Ota-gawa River: Ground Zero on August 6, 1945, when the Enola Gay dropped the world’s first atomic weapon. The bomb exploded, as hot as the surface of the sun, leveling tens of thousands of buildings instantly. The rubbish was set afire by the burning winds. Only the Industrial Promotion Hall, at the eye of the storm, survived amidst the devastation.
Behind the Atomic Dome, the entry to the Peace Museum winds through a darkened hallway. Photographs in window frames recorded the surrounding destruction. Here and there buildings huddled amidst the rubble, windows gaping and roofs ripped away. In the black-and-white photos, Hiroshima glowed the color of ashes.
In another room, little cases display articles of clothing, still stained with blood 60-some years later. In clipped BBC English, the narrative tape assures that the Germans, Russians, British, Italians, and Japanese had all been developing atomic weapons. Whoever won the race and produced the first nuclear bomb felt they had to drop it before the others could. The narration carefully deflected blame from America.
Hiroshima had been chosen as a target specifically because it was an industrial city with a large population that had escaped the firebombing inflicted on the rest of Japan. Any damage Hiroshima received on August 6, 1945 could be attributed solely to the atom bomb.
On that day, children had been released from school to create fire lanes through town in case America dropped conventional bombs. After the daily American fly-over at 7 a.m., the all-clear siren sounded. Everyone who could be outside was, leading to the staggering loss of life: 140,000 the first day.
Winds generated by the bomb fanned a firestorm that leveled 75% of the buildings between the mountains and the sea. Museum cases held a pair of broken eyeglasses or a dented metal water bottle: sole mementos of children who vanished that day. One of the cases contained fingernail clippings and dried strips of skin, all that a woman had been able to save of her husband.
Outside the museum, the Peace Memorial Park holds a jumble of monuments. A polished granite cenotaph in the shape of a bomb recorded the names of the victims. Millions of paper cranes, folded out of bright origami paper, lay in heaps around it. Nearby stood a statue of Kannon, bodhisattva of mercy. The most shocking sculpture captured an almost fishlike creature, fallen on one side, supported in midair at the shoulder and hip. Its limbs had been reduced to sticks, its features and flesh chiseled away. It looked like nothing so much as a charred corpse.
The simplest monument is a grave. In the center of the park, a grassy mound rises like the barrows on Salisbury Plain. This tumulus holds such victims as could be recovered, pried out of collapsed buildings or hauled, bloated, from the contaminated river.
A plaque said that the barrow contained the ashes of the 70,000 victims. In keeping with Buddhist tradition, they had all been cremated. The mound of ashes stood twelve feet high.
Nearby, a huge deep bell tolls. In Japan, temple bells are upended cups of bronze. They have no clappers. Instead, a baton — sometimes big as a tree trunk — is suspended outside the bell. Anyone can pull the striker back and let it swing forward to sound the bell. In this case, every peal said a prayer for the repose of the dead.
This Saturday, August 6, the city of Hiroshima will hold a Peace Memorial Ceremony with speeches, the laying of wreathes at monuments in the Peace Park, and a moment of silence at 8:15 a.m., the time when the bomb was dropped. More information is here.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Guided Tour of the Peace Park
Why the Peace Park is a World Heritage site
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