Hiroshima, on the island of Honshu, is a city that you know has to be on your Japanese itinerary, but you expect it won’t be a very pleasant experience.
Whilst sombre reflection on the devastation of the atomic bomb dominates, Hiroshima has re-built itself into a very positive and vibrant city for a short stay.
The riverfront has been thoughtfully developed and our hotel, Hotel Flex, had a great riverside terrace to enjoy breakfast in the morning sunshine. It’s possible to hire bikes and make use of the cycle paths, but as we were stopping for less than 24 hours we didn’t have chance.
There is a very good shopping district, with plenty of random Japanese fashion buys. Most things seemed cheaper than in Tokyo, too.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
But the sobering reason why anyone visits Hiroshima is to visit the Peace Memorial Park.
We started at the reconstructed Aioi Bridge, at the centre of where the US atomic bomb, “little boy,” hit on the morning of 6 August, 1945, instantly killing approximately 70,000 people. The bridge was the centre of the industrial and commercial district and was of strategic importance.
By the end of 1945, the death toll in Hiroshima from burns, radiation, malnutrition, and other injuries related to the atomic bomb had doubled to around 140,000. More than 60% of the city’s buildings were flattened.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial is the iconic dome of the former Product Exhibition Hall, the only building that remained in the centre after the bomb hit.
Opposite is the park, a symbol of unity and hope for peace in the world. This area was once the commercial heart of Hiroshima, but today it is a vast open space dominated by the Memorial Cenotaph and the Peace Flame, which was lit in 1964 and will not go out until all nuclear weapons have been dismantled.
The park also features a bell of peace, which has an iconic origami crane at the top – a symbol of good fortune.
10 million origami paper cranes
Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the atomic bomb hit. She didn’t have any effects at the time, but in 1955, aged 11, she began to show signs of illness and was diagnosed with leukaemia. She started folding origami paper cranes in hospital, following the old Japanese legend that anyone who makes 1,000 cranes can make a wish, but she died eight months later, aged 12. Sadako’s classmates carried on making paper cranes in her memory and wrote letters to campaign for a memorial for children affected by the atomic bomb. Their efforts captured the hearts of Japan and Sadako’s story spread worldwide.
Each year, around 10 million paper cranes are made by schools and groups across the world and donated to Hiroshima to be displayed at the Children’s Peace Monument, as a symbol of unity and peace.