We have recently been busy with visitors and showing them around both Tokyo and greater Japan which included a trip down to Hiroshima. This is one of those places that many people visiting Japan want to visit not so much for the historic shrines, castles and beautiful gardens that they do elsewhere but more to visit the Hiroshima Peace Park and get a better understanding of the horrific atrocities that befell this city (and Nagasaki) during WW2. This was the main reason also for our visit.
|Main street of Miyajima|
Arriving in Hiroshima mid-morning after a leisurely ride down from Kyoto in the Shinkansen we dropped our bags off at our hostel and caught the train / boat out to Miyajima Island as this was one of the other places we had identified as looking quite interesting. Miyajima Island is only a short boat ride from the mainland and is home to one of the most photographed Torii in Japan. The island was the closest to paradise we had experienced since leaving home, golden sand beaches and the warm sunshine made it feel much like Golden Bay in New Zealand, with the addition of the "wild" deer freely roaming the streets. They may have been wild by virtue of the fact that they aren't farmed but in reality they were pretty tame, with the kids enjoying patting and hugging them as they roamed around the island.
|A deer taking a shortcut across the beach in front of Miyajima Island's giant Torii.|
|The kids enjoying some animal time which they have missed.|
Miyajima is a very picturesque island with many photo opportunities and a lot of fish restaurants and I would recommend that to make the most of this beautiful and peaceful place that you stay overnight in one of the island's Ryokans or hotels, next time we are down this way we definitely will. There is also a very impressive shrine there situated over the water, which we didn't have time to visit but would be well worth the time to wander through.
Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum
|The Peace Dome|
As this was one of the primary reasons to visit this part of the world we thought it best to dedicate a whole day to view in case it was needed. We set off early in the morning arriving at the Peace Dome, the quintessential Hiroshima image I am sure everyone identifies with. This is the remains of the City Hall which was close to the Hypocentre of the explosion being adjacent to the "T" bridge which was the target point for the A bomb dropped here. I have seen this picture many times over the years but it is not until you are there and see it with your own eyes that the enormity of the destruction and the sadness at the resulting death toll really starts to hit home. From the dome we headed into the Peace Park and viewed the many memorials to the various groups, schools and businesses that were effected by the bombing, again reading the stories of offices, schools and military units which were devastated in seconds was enough to put a lump in your throat and even bring a tear to your eye. Even though we were there on a week day the park was bustling with people, especially a large number of groups of school children who apparently are brought here as part of their school programmes from all over Japan. After wandering through the park and checking out a lot of the memorial sites we ventured into the Peace Museum, which at 50 Yen is exceptionally good value.
Now if there is one place I never want to go again but which I would recommend all visitors to Japan to visit it is this place. Reading the stories of the people (largely innocent people at that) who were unlucky enough to have been caught up here in the bombing was nothing short of horrific. There are models showing the extent of the devastation compared to the bustling city that was there before, and apart from a handful of buildings there was nothing but dust over a huge area.
|Memorial Cenotaph with Peace Flame and the |
A-Bomb Dome in the background
One thing that I have really found interesting in our travels is discovering the other side of our history (especially our history of conflict), the version that our enemies (at the time) tell. It would seem that nothing has changed much with the deceitful game of war, the justifications for resorting to armed conflict and the manipulations and machinations behind fostering a conflict. The involvement of America in WW2 seems to be another one of those stories we are told in the west was due to a surprise attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese, however the Japanese side of the story is that the American's were actually fully aware of the impending invasion but let it happen to give them justification for entering the war to support Britain's efforts in Europe and to stomp on the Japanese who were advancing throughout the Asia/ Pacific region. By entering the war without provocation they would have been viewed as the aggressors and public opinion would have been against them so they needed a reason and what better reason than a "surprise" attack on their own soil. Another interesting correction to my own historical knowledge I discovered was that Kyoto was not in fact saved from destruction due to the historical importance of its many shrines, temples and castles but in fact due to the fact that it (and a number of other cities) had been identified as a preliminary target for the Atom Bomb drop and all target cities were sparred aerial bombing due to the fact that they wanted to be able to measure the effect of the A Bomb once it was dropped. It was also interesting to find out that the A-Bomb was used not just as a means of quickly bringing Japan to its knees but as a demonstration of American might to the Russians who were quickly working to end the war in Japan as well, so by getting in first and doing it in such a devastating way it was a reminder to the Russians not to mess with America after the war. It seems some things don't change despite the painful lessons of the past....
Despite the graphic nature of some of the displays, and the utterly horrific stories of the deaths of thousands of men, women and children who did nothing more wrong than living in the wrong place at the wrong time this museum was seen for what it was by our kids as a reminder of the futility of war. Sure they may have seen things that children probably don't want to see, but they took it all in and will now have the memories of Hiroshima firmly etched in their mind as they seek to be peaceful citizens of the world and to encourage others to do the same.
On the bright side, the belief at the time was that nothing would grow in the area affected by the destruction for decades, however soon after growth reappeared and now 70 years later the area is a lush parkland proving that life does go on and nature will always prevail despite the propensity of man to destroy whatever he can.
|Inscription on the Gates of Peace|
|Gates of Peace|
In the centre of the park is the Memorial Cenotaph which frames the view of the Peace Flame and the A-Bomb Dome on it is an inscription in Japanese -
"安らかに眠って下さい 過ちは 繰返しませぬから"
The English translation is
"Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil."
The "we" refers to all humanity while the "evil" refers to the evil of war.
Maybe it is time for our current world leaders to make their pilgrimage to Hiroshima.