On our way to Hiroshima, Kyoko told us that it was noted for four B’s: bridges, branch offices (of major Japanese corporations), banks, and baseball. It is also one of the best places to get shoku, Japanese vodka, about which the Japanese have a saying: “One glass of shoku makes a happy bird, two glasses a sleepy bird, and three glasses a dead bird.”
Upon arriving in Hiroshima, we observed several of the mentioned bridges, then stopped on the Aioi Bridge, where the Motoyasu and Honkawa rivers converge, so that we could get out and look at this grim reminder of World War II.
The Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall was constructed in 1915 as a base for promoting the sale of goods produced in Hiroshima Prefecture. The building, designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel, was highly regarded for its imposing, European-style design. Its name was changed to Hiroshima Prefectural Products Exhibition Hall and then to Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Intensification of the war led the government to discontinue commercial uses of the Industrial Promotion Hall in March 1944. Instead, it housed the branch office of the Chugoku Shikoku Public Works Office of the Internal Affairs Agency and the offices of the Hiroshima District Lumber and Japan Lumber Control Corporation.
When the atomic bomb exploded, it ravaged the building instantly. Heat blazing from above consumed the entire building, killing everyone in it. Because the blast attacked the building from virtually straight overhead, some walls escaped total collapse. Along with the wire framework of the dome, these form the shape that has become a symbol. At some point it became known as the “A-Bomb Dome.”
In 1966, Hiroshima City determined to preserve the A-Bomb Dome indefinitely and solicited funds from within Japan and overseas. To date, the A-Bomb Dome has undergone two preservation projects. As a historical witness that conveys the disaster of the first atomic bombing in history, and as a symbol of the vow to pursue the abolition of nuclear weapons and enduring peace, in December 1996 the A-Bomb Dome was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List based on the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
We next proceeded to the actual Peace Memorial Park, where we were paraded quickly past the Peace Clock Tower, the Peace Bell, the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, and various other monuments (including a Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims), as well as the Pond of Peace and Flame of Peace, in order to reach the museum.
Like every other tourist site we visited, the Peace Memorial Park was mobbed with schoolchildren. For the most part they were well behaved and always looked neat in their attractive uniforms, but some of the children here seemed to find the sight of Western tourists especially entertaining. As we made our way through the park, many of them waved shyly at us. One little boy ran up to us and shouted, “Hello!” Then, seemingly appalled by his daring (which was much admired by his fellows), he darted back into the group, ducking his head. When I replied, “Ohayo gozaimasu!” this was too much for them, and they all dissolved in giggles. Later I tried to take a picture of some of the children surreptitiously, but of course they became aware of the camera and assumed the conventional photo op pose. Here in Hiroshima the explanation of their gesture as a “peace symbol” would not seem unreasonable, but our Japanese visitors have always referred to it as “choki,” the scissors in the traditional game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, which is popular in Japan.
Inside the museum, we encountered more students. These were equipped with workbooks designed to enhance their appreciation of what they were seeing (and ensure that they actually took it in). Part of their assignment was evidently to find a Western (American) visitor and get the answers to a pageful of questions in English. Two of them approached me for this purpose, and I did the best I could. Afterward, I took a picture of them and asked them to write their names, in English and Japanese, on my museum brochure. They were Yukie Yoshida (left) and Kana Yamamoto (right). Later I took a picture of another girl approaching Barney for the same purpose; regrettably, it was time for us to leave, and he didn’t have time to answer their questions.
I believe that photography of the museum exhibits was prohibited, but it wouldn't have mattered, as there was no spare time for pictures. We really didn’t have enough time to do the museum justice. It was, however, one of the best museums I’ve been in and far and away the most accessible of the tourist attractions we visited. All of the exhibits were labeled in English as well as Japanese, and we rented Acoustiguide tape players that played recorded tour commentary keyed to numbers on the exhibits. This commentary provided a great deal of additional detail about each one. Because the exhibits were numbered and our tour brochures included a floor plan labeled with the corresponding numbers, it was very easy to follow the intended path of the tour and be sure of seeing everything.
Some of those in our party somehow found the tone of the exhibits offensive. I disagreed. The whole purpose of the park and museum is to discourage nuclear warfare. To this end, the exhibits graphically illustrated the devastation of Hiroshima. But I found the treatment factual and not accusatory, reflecting the fact that these regrettable events (which could even be represented as necessary and justifiable at the time) are now behind us, and Japan and the United States have a mutually beneficial diplomatic and commercial relationship.
The message of the museum is not lost on the students who visit it. As we were leaving, Jeff caught this scene of a school group posed in front of the Pond of Peace with a PEACE sign.
The Museum and Park have an extensive Web site that includes an excellent virtual tour of both the museum and all the monuments in the park.