If I said the sole reason for me visiting this internationally known city wasn’t because of the events of 75 years ago, then I’d be lying. The city unfortunately achieved worldwide recognition due to the catastrophic events which completely annihilated the city and everyone within it. An event that forever ruined countless lives, both the ones lost and those lucky enough to survive the massacre. A stark reminder of the horrific devastation humanity can cause. That is what brought me to Hiroshima.
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Coming the Long Way
Becoming comfortable with my surroundings in Kyoto was the sign that it was time to move on. There was much more to see on the long road ahead. Before heading towards Hiroshima further down the country, I decided to take a detour to the nearby city of Osaka. A city that comes with quite the reputation.
Despite the hype behind it, it was very much underwhelming. Though it was incredibly exciting and vibrant, I simply saw it as a smaller version of Tokyo, a city which would be hard to beat. It had everything the capital had; flashing lights, enormous market strips, tiny yokocho bars, megalithic pachinko halls and dolled-up kawaii girls advertising their cafes. Nothing was really a surprise to me anymore. Call me ungrateful, but I had more ahead of me that I was looking forward to, and was inpatient to get there.
Arriving in the City
Stepping off the bus, immediately I was struck with a feeling I hadn’t felt in a very long time. A cold-shiver and an agape jaw, the realisation of exactly where I was. I was walking through Hiroshima, the one of only 2 cities in the entire world that had been unfortunate enough to be the victims of an utterly devastating atomic bomb. The city that only 75 years ago was completely flattened to nothing more than a pile of rubble, an apocalyptic wasteland.
I couldn’t help but feel a complete sense of awe. How could a city recover, and so quickly? How could a city be rebuilt to the point it was so easy to forget what had once happened here. That feeling stayed with me the entire way to my hostel. Situated in the heart of the city, it was no more than a mile from the very point the fateful bomb had been detonated above the city.
An Eye-Opening Experience
First day, and there was no question to where I would be headed. Though the frankly impressive amount of development throughout the city makes it hard to realise the tragedies of past, there is a stark reminder found not too far from where the centre of the devastation occurred. One sole figure which stands in the city to remind the entire world of the devastating catastrophe. But we’d get to that a little later.
Before heading there, first there was a necessary stop; the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The entire complex was just at the end of the road from my hostel. It seemed appropriate to educate myself on the events and its consequences before seeing it’s last remaining remnants.
It’s difficult for me to describe the experience as anything positive, somehow it doesn’t feel appropriate. What I can say is that it was truly extraordinary and eye-opening. From the very first exhibit, it was unbelievably spine-shivering and devastatingly heartbreaking. To see artefacts and remnants that followed the disaster, seeing charred and blood-stained pieces of clothing on display. Reading first-hand stories of the incomparable tragedies, tales of individuals begging for mercy from the agonising pain.
What evoked me more than anything else were the tales of the children that were affected. Tear-jerking stories of children screaming in agony, begging for relief from the pain. Mothers holding onto their babies as they took their last agonising breaths. These are children who had no fight in the war, forced to endure the most excruciating pain and suffering imaginable. The whole experience left me feeling anger, enraged at the thought of how anyone could come to the decision to inflict such horrendous torture on innocent children. Not once, but twice.
It was a difficult experience walking through the displays. I felt truly uncomfortable throughout, and that’s how I should have felt. The museum serves the exact purpose it should. You should feel uncomfortable, you should leave feeling disturbed and disgusted at what you have seen. Its purpose is to make you realise the inhumanity and evil which comes with using such a devastating weapon, and war in general. To make you come to the realisation that such an event should never happen again.
It’s pretty easy for my generation, and even that of my parents to think of the atomic bomb as just a part of history. Not having any real connection to the consequences and the effects which it had. To have as little bearing to it as the burning of witches or medieval beheadings, simply out of our capacity of understanding. This museum is a fucking shock to the system, an extraordinary eye-opener. A brutal reminder why this event in history should remain as a single terrible mistake.
The Last Remnant
Suffice it to say, the museum had well and truly put me in a state of complete shock and horror. That had just been the result of photographs, a few artefacts and first-hand testimonies. Now it was time to head to the last remaining relic of that horrific event 75 years before. One of the few remaining structures that stood intact following the earth-shattering blast. It was the skeletal remains of the Atomic Dome.
In a city which had been turned to nothing but rubble and dust, a minuscule number of structures somehow survived the worst of the blast. The best example of this is the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. As it was effectively directly beneath the hypo-centre of the blast, a large proportion of it remained intact, though only a small percentage compared to what it once was.
It was visible from the museum, and during the entire walk towards it I was transfixed in total fascination. From everything I had just seen in the museum, to everything I had learned in history class and every documentary I had seen, here it was. The last remaining remnant of an apocalyptic destruction, exactly as it appeared seconds after the blast. The best and only real remaining example of what horrific destruction such a weapon is capable of. I sat at the banks of the river that ran beside it gazing in wonder and spine-tingling horror as the city around me continued with its normal life. Though it might not be for others, for me it was one of the most fascinating spectacles during my entire time in Japan.
It was safe to say, the next day I needed to clear my head after such a disturbing event. Just off the coast of Hiroshima sat yet another famous site. The image of which is much more recognisable than the name; Miyajima. It’s home to the enormous red torii gate which stands in the middle of the ocean looking back to the coast of Hiroshima. However I was in for disappointment.
A short tram ride and ferry later and I was dropped onto the island. Just like the city of Nara, the island is home to enormous amounts of free roaming deer. Yet again, they were completely unfazed by the presence of people. They only payed attention when they heard the sound of crinkling plastics; a sure sign of food.
It was time to head to the gate for a disappointment which I had been prepared for. I had learned a few weeks before, just like a hell of a lot of attractions in Japan during this time of year, it was under reconstruction. It was completely covered in a thick tarp, away from public gazes. How fucking irritating. It’s the main reason for anyone to come to the island, and it had been this way since October! There’s yet another once in a lifetime opportunity I was forced to miss out on.
To ensure that my time on the island wasn’t a complete waste of time, I kept exploring the island. I visited the temple for which the torii gate belonged. It had the unique feature of having the ocean waves run beneath it, depending on the tide. As well as this I delved deeper into the island, escaping the crowds by visiting another temple and scaling its secluded pagoda for a view back onto the coast.
It was also a great opportunity to hike through one of the many mountain trails that the island had to offer. Slowly making my way to its peak I had the trail completely to myself. My solitude was only interrupted when I met with the occasional curious deer. Throughout the hike I was rewarded with a look back towards the coast and relishing the opportunity to get back to nature. I finally made my way to the peak of the island for a panoramic view of the surrounding coast and scattering of islands. A fitting farewell to Hiroshima and the mainland of Japan.