We took the Shinkansen (Bullet) train north to Hiroshima and because of Japan been small and the high speed of the train, we were in Hiroshima not long after midday. Coming here from China is taking some adjusting, in China the trains run at the same speed as Shinkansen and we still spent half days and whole days on the train travelling across the country. In Japan the hotels all have check out times of 10am or 11am and check in times of 3pm. So far we haven’t been allowed into a room before 3pm, so either they are always getting a thorough cleaning, or the rule applies even if the room is ready. To avoid disappointment in the future if the room isn’t ready maybe?
As we couldn’t get into the room we grabbed both umbrellas and headed out for lunch and to explore. The next day was already planned, in the morning we were going to the Mazda factory and in the afternoon to the Peace Museum.
Less than a 5 minute walk from our hotel was the Peace Memorial Park and the famous A-Bomb dome. These are here because on August 6th 1945 at 08:15am an American bomber dropped the first atomic bomb in human history over Hiroshima, it exploded 600m above the dome and flattened the city in seconds. It killed over 100,000 people and flattened every building in the centre of the city, except the dome which was directly beneath the hypocenter. We stood by the dome for a few minutes, just staring at it and imagining the destruction it has seen.
In the memorial garden is the Children’s Peace Memorial. This was designed in reference to a 12 year old girl, Sadako Sasaki, who survived the atomic bomb at the age of 2 but developed leukaemia 10 years later and was given at most a year to live. There is a legend in Japan that if you fold a thousand paper cranesyour wish will come true. Sadako started folding the paper cranesbut it’s unclear whether she made it to 1,000 or not, one version of the story says she did, another days she only reached 644 before her death. The moment was made to look like a paper crane and shows children playing with paper cranes. It is a memorial to the thousands of children who were killed by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Inscribed on it are the words, “This is our cry, this is our prayer: for building peace in the world.”
After seeing that we walked along the river for a bit and around a large but dilapidated garden and into the castle grounds before heading out for tea.
Hiroshima has a local dish called Okonomiyaki, which I had roughly translated as ‘sick on an omelette’. At lunch time we’d looked at a restaurant serving it and I didn’t want to go. But, this trip is about experiences and trying things, so that evening (after spending a while in front of the restaurant debating) we decided to give it a go. They are basically noodles, omelette and pork with a choice of toppings. Annemarie chose spring onions, and I was more daring with Kimchi. They are served onto a large hotplate in the middle of the table, just hot enough to keep the food warm and not continue cooking it. They were quite nice. Nice as in we’d order them again in 6 months and not before! We washed it down with some Sake.
In the morning we had booked the free guided tour of the Mazda Museum and production line. It didn’t start well! The tram which had taken only 15 minutes the day before took a total of 30 minutes to get us to the train station. This meant we missed the train we wanted and the contingency train which departed 10 minutes later. We had to be at the Mazda head office before 10am and just made it a minute or so before the tour started.
The tour was a bit crappy actually. The museum was filled with boards of text and had plenty of cars, but the guide gave a very brief overview of just a few sections and then moved on, ignoring the majority of each exhibit. The group were mostly Americans and they were loving it for some reason, so we went with the flow and skipped over everything. We know that Mazda have invested more time and money into Wankel Engines, but we didn’t know they had been doing so since the 60s. The tour guide didn’t care and skipped over most of the wankel engine information anyway. Considering that the wankel engine is about the only thing that makes Mazda interesting, we thought it was amusing to skip over it and focus on the boring everyday cars that Mazda have built. The production line was as expected and as seen on TV. The only difference now is I can say I’ve stood over one and seen it in person. Luckily the Mazda promotional video shown to us at the beginning of the tour had no effect and we left thinking Mazda was still a boring car for older drivers…
We caught the train back to central Hiroshima and then the tram directly to the A-Bomb Dome. We grabbed a quick lunch in a nearby cafe then headed for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The museum was excellently setup, one of the best museums we’ve visited on this trip (the second best, Hong Kong history museum is the best we’ve visited). It starts by detailing Japan’s rise in Asia in the 19th century and it’s domination over its neighbours. Then it moves onto the war and finally the bombing. It is unbiased and honest.
A display shows the city before and after the bombing:
Hiroshima is now dedicated to peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. The mayor of Hiroshima writes a letter of protest to the leader of any country conducting a nuclear weapons test. On the wall is displayed a copy of all 600+ letters written so far.
The museum is pretty powerful stuff. Almost on par with the museum in South Vietnam detailing the effects of American napalm and Agent Orange on the population and makes a very strong case for nuclear disarmament. There are sections of the exhibit which contain children’s clothing from that day. The clothing is torn, burnt, ripped and usually stained with blood. These items of voting were worn by the children during the bombing and is usually what they wore when they died, hours or days later. It shows photos of people hideously deformed, or burnt after the bomb and details how they died. We could see bottles, coins and household goods all melted and twisted together from the heat of the explosion.
A piece of wall covered in black streaks is the Black Rain which feel over the city after the bombing. This is nuclear fallout and was poisonous to the inhabitants of Hiroshima. By December 1945 over 140,000 people had died.
The museum subtly makes the claim that the bombing was an experiment with America flexing its muscles rather than a method to end the war quickly and reduce the number of casualties that would have been incurred by prolonging the war and an American invasion of Japan. The museum shows the initial demand for Japanese surrender, ignoring things like the right to keep the Emperor. This meant the Japanese would never sign it and the Americans knew that. Plus the fact that when America once again demanded Japan surrender as part of the meeting of the ‘big three’ at the Potsdam Conference, Truman didn’t mention the atomic bomb as a threat to force the surrender. After the bombing the Americans allowed the Japanese to keep the emperor. The museum also states the Soviets were going to enter the war within weeks which would have seen Japan carved up in the same way as Europe was. The bombing ended the war before the Soviets joined, it showed the soviets how powerful America was and lastly, it justified the $2 billion spent developing the bomb. The fact that the Enola Gay was accompanied by two scientific planes to record and measure the effects of the bomb indicates this was a live test and a show of force. The museum put forward all the main arguments as to why the bomb was dropped and how Hiroshima was chosen as the site. On the second floor the exhibition also looked at the history of nuclear weapons as well as detailing how radiation works and the effects of it on Japanese society even today.
After the museum we visited the Shukkei-en Garden. It was almost deserted and we enjoyed wandering around and relaxing in the sun. It made a change to the rain we’d had most of the time since arriving in Japan. It was also really nice to enjoy the garden. It was peaceful and relaxing, just how a garden should be. A world away from the gardens of China.