While museums are usually a celebration of achievements, some of them exhibit something quite heavy for their visitors. Rather than showcasing something extraordinary, they remind viewers of a painful past with goodwill that people take as a lesson learned and hopefully never happen again.
I ended my visits to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum with a heavy heart where I learned the price had paid with wars.
1945.08.06. 8:15 am
Perhaps Hiroshima is best known for being the first city (and the only two) in history to be attacked by a nuclear weapon. Before the atomic bombing, Hiroshima was a major urban center of the Sanyo region of Japan. It is beautifully situated on the Ota River delta coastline of the Seto Inland Sea with six rivers running through the city center.
The nuclear weapon was developed during World War II as the US government initiated the Manhattan Project. Originally, four cities were chosen as the target: Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, and Nagasaki (while lots of city legends about the selection of the attack, these four places were the official places). Hiroshima was targeted because at the time the city was a supply and logistics base for the Japanese military, also was a communications center, a key port for shipping, and an assembly area for troops. It was the first choice because it was the only one of the four targeted cities without Allied prisoner-of-war camps.
Because the A-bomb would have to be dropped using a method quite different from conventional bombs, a series of training sessions were conducted in the desert in the United States. For more realistic training to help the bombardiers familiarize themselves with local geography and ensure an accurate drop, A-bomb dummies (the pumpkins) were dropped on Japanese cities in July and early August. The order to drop the atomic bomb was issued on July 25, 1945.
The bombardier was ordered to conduct a visual bombing, the most reliable method at the time. Before dawn on 6th August, weather reconnaissance took off for Hiroshima, Kokura, and Nagasaki from Tinian, Mariana Islands. Three B29s took off later: the Enola Gay carrying the atomic bomb, a second bomber carrying scientific observation equipment, and a third with photographic equipment. receiving the report that the sky over the primary target was clear, the Enola Gay headed straight for Hiroshima. When the U.S. Army Air Forces dropped the bomb “Little Boy” at 8:15 am on 6th August 1945, the destruction was effective. At the instant of detonation, the bomb generated tremendous heat and blast. The heat from the super-hot fireball raised temperatures on the ground near the hypocenter to 3,000 to 4,000 degrees centigrade, igniting fires throughout a shockwave followed by a powerful blast wind that instantly crushed buildings. Within two kilometers of the hypocenter – Ninety percent of the city was destroyed.
After Japan surrendered, the nation picked up the pieces and rebuilt the entire city from the shambles. Today, 70 years after the attack, the once devastated city has been restored to a thriving modern metropolis of 1.2 million people. Yet it doesn’t mean the painful past has been forgotten.
The building now known as the A-bomb Dome was designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel. Completed in April 1915, the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall soon became a beloved Hiroshima landmark with its distinctive green dome. While its business functions included commercial research and consulting services and the display and sale of prefectural products, the hall was also used for art exhibitions, fairs, and cultural events. Through the years, it took on new functions and was renamed the Hiroshima Prefectural Products Exhibition Hall, then the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, As the war intensified, however, the hall was taken over by the Chugoku-Shikoku Public Works Office of the Interior Ministry, the Hiroshima District Lumber Control Corporation, and other government agencies.
At 8:15 am, August 6, 1845, an American B29 bomber carried out the world’s first atomic bombing. The bomb exploded approximately 600 meters above and 160 meters southeast of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, ripping through and igniting the building, instantly killing everyone in it. Because the blast stuck from almost directly above, some of the center walls remained standing, leaving enough of the building and iron frame to be recognizable as a dome. After the war, these dramatic remains came to be known as the A-bomb Dome.
For many years, public opinions about the dome remained divided. Some felt it should be preserved as a memorial to the bombing, while others thought it should be destroyed as a dangerously dilapidated structure evoking painful memories. As the city was rebuilt and other A-bombed buildings vanished, the voices calling for preservation gathered strength. in 1966, the Hiroshima City Council passed a resolution to preserve the A-bomb Dome, which led to a public fundraising campaign to finance the construction work. Donations poured in with wishes for peace from around Japan and overseas, making the first preservation project possible in 1967. Several preservation projects have since been carried out to ensure that the dome will always look as it did immediately after the bombing.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Today, the Peace Memorial Park is still the “epicenter” of the city of Hiroshima – and the number one place tourists come here to pay respect, and learn about the painful past. Once we got off the tram at the Genbaku-Dome-Mae Station (the Atomic Bomb Dome), we were walking on the Aioi Bridge. Many thought that the Atomic Bomb Dome was the hypocenter of the bombing, but it was not the case. In fact, the original target was the Aioi Bridge, an unusual T-shaped bridge that straddles the Ota River, as it was an outstanding target for the Air Forces to easily recognize as a marking from the air. In the end, the bomb exploded directly over the nearby Shima Hospital and the Atomic Bomb Dome, which was the only structure that was left standing and is now a city landmark, and a World UNESCO Heritage Site. While the force of the blast came from almost directly above the dome. It survived from collapsing like the surrounding structures. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was built at ground zero as a memorial of the people who were killed and suffered in the incident.
Monuments in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park:
Atomic Bomb Dome
- Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the Atomic Bomb
- Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound
- Peace Clock Tower
- Children’s Peace Monument
- Cenotaph of the Atomic Bomb Victims
- Rest House
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims
Please visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum on the other side of the park as it recorded the history and the aftermath of the bombing. I was not prepared for the visit and the images and information there was a brutal realization of how destructive war is.
The outskirt of hiroshima
On a more positive note, Hiroshima has recovered somehow with infrastructures that support the lives of the next generation, it is also a popular transportation hub of tourists with its international airport, connecting them to the nearby incredible attractions such as Iwankuni, Kintaikyu, and Miyajima.
1945.08.09 11:02 am
While Hiroshima was in chaos after the attack, the second (and currently the last) atomic bombs exploded after merely three days and basically led to the end of World War II. As there was no indication of Japan surrendering, the Allied decided to proceed with dropping another bomb. Kokura, where one of Japan’s largest munition plants was at that time, was the next target. It was eventually spared from the attack due to poor vision over thick clouds; and Nagasaki, a major seaport and a historical city in southern Japan, became the next target.
The name, Nagasaki, means “long cape”. The city is located in the northwest corner of Kyushu with beautiful harbors. On the first day we arrived at the city we took the city tram and then walked up to the Hypocenter from the Hamaguchimachi Station – where the “Fat Man” was dropped by the U.S. Air Forces at 11:02 am on 9th August 1945. The attack happened three days after the explosion at Hiroshima. The bomb was assembled at Tinian Island on August 6. On August 8, Field Order No.17 issued from the 20th U.S. Air Force Headquarters on Guam called for its use the following day on either Kokura, the primary target, or Nagasaki, the secondary target. That same day, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. The B29 bomber “Bockscar” reached the sky over Kokura on the morning of 9th August, but abandoned the primary target because of smoke cover and change course for Nagasaki, the secondary target – and once again Kokura escaped the bombing.
Nagasaki has more than one traumatic history – not only war but also religion. The Urakami district of Nagasaki was the site of Christian missionary work from the latter part of the 16th century. The people of Urakami suffered persecution constantly, from 1587 when Christianity was outlawed until 1873 when the ban was finally lifted. Over the course of 20 years, these faithful people built a church, laying one brick upon another. Their labors were rewarded in 1914 with the completion of the grandest church in East Asia. The church’s twin 26-meter-high spires were completed in 1925. But the explosion of the atomic bomb blew the spires down and reduced the church to a hollow shell of rubble.
Compared to the Hiroshima Memorial Park, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, memorials, and peace park in Nagasaki is smaller in scale and much less crowded.
Somehow the serenity gave me chills as we were walking through the green, knowing that it was the center where a bomb exploded mid-air over 70 years ago and killed tens of thousands of people.
Monuments in Nagasaki Peace Park and the Hypocenter:
- Hypocenter Cenotaph
- Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
- Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims
- Nagasaki Peace Park
- Peace Statue and Fountain of Peace
- Peace Memorial Hall
I do hope the exhibit and horrific photos in the museums would remind people of the importance of lasting peace and the abolition of such weapons.
Other must-sees in Nagasaki
Nagasaki is a unique city in Japan with a diverse range of attractions, from churches, Shinto Shrines, Meganebashi Bridge, to the spooky Gunkanjima (Battleship Island), which is also featured in the James Bond movie series with a fascinating back story to the urbrexers.
Among all, don’t forget to climb up Mount Inasa at night because it is also named the three million dollar night views in Japan.
Find out more about planning a Perfect Week-Long Itinerary in North Kyushu from Fukuoka to Miyazaki.