The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was established on the tenth anniversary of the atomic bomb, in August 1955. It is dedicated to documenting the events surrounding the bombing and its effects, and to the promotion of world peace and an end to all nuclear weapons. It is the focus for the many visiting groups of school children and as such is always crowded (over a million people a year visit it), but don’t let the crowds put you off. You really shouldn’t come to Hiroshima and not see the powerful and moving exhibits it holds.
You enter through the newer East Wing. This two storey building focuses on Hiroshima before the bomb, the background to the decision to drop the bomb (including some fascinating documents detailing the process that went into choosing which city it would be dropped on), and the impact on the fabric of the city. Models and photos show the city before and immediately after the bombing (seen in my photos in my “Some history” and "Peace Memorial Park" tips), as do numerous old photos. This section ends with information about the nuclear age and the city’s efforts for international peace.
The West Wing is altogether more personal and more harrowing. It concentrates on the damage caused by the bomb, both to the city and to the lives of its inhabitants. It is divided into sections such as Material Witness )clothing, watches, hair, and other personal effects worn by victims of the bomb – the most distressing section); Damage by the Heat Rays (looks at what happened to wood, stone, metal, glass, and flesh in the intense heat); Damage by the Blast (the destruction caused by the after-shocks); and Damage by the Radiation (the health effects suffered by survivors and also the challenges they faced in being accepted in society). Viewing all of this is not a comfortable experience but it brings home the individual impacts caused by the bomb in a way that the big numbers quoted in relation to the various monuments cannot do.
Photography is allowed throughout the museum but I felt uncomfortable taking pictures of the most personal exhibits so those shown here were taken in the East Wing (photos 1-3) and the Damage by the Heat Rays section of the West Wing. I have also used photos taken here to illustrate several of my other tips on this page. Photo three, by the way, is of a replica of a position paper by some of the scientists involved in developing the atomic bomb. They opposed the use of the bomb without warning and proposed instead a demonstration, on the grounds that simply to show that the Allies had the bomb and its potential effects would be enough to persuade Japan to surrender. The paper was submitted to the Interim Committee, but the committee ignored the scientists' advice and reconfirmed its decision to bomb without warning.
Entry is a very reasonable 50¥ for adults and 30¥ for school children and seniors. The museum is open year round apart from a couple of days over the New Year; the hours are 8.30-18.00 for most of the year but it closes at 17.00 in the winter (December-February) and stays open until 19.00 in August, and till 20.00 on August 5th and 6th, when the anniversary of the bomb is commemorated.
Visiting the museum, like much of the Peace Memorial Park, can be a challenging and even distressing experience at times, but the perfect antidote is an encounter with some of the Japanese school children who visit Hiroshima
This promontory between two rivers in the centre of Hiroshima was once the city’s busiest downtown commercial and residential district, known as Nakajima. Models in the museum show the “before and after” scene here (photos four and five). It had been a thriving commercial area since the Edo period, with boats coming up the river to unload goods here. In the Meiji era(1868-1912), it was the political, administrative, and business heart of Hiroshima, home to the City Hall, the Prefectural Office and various commercial facilities. It was also heavily populated, with an estimated 6,500 people living in its seven cho (neighbourhood units) at the time of the atomic bombing.
Following the war the city decided that rather than reconstruct Nakajima as it had been, the entire district would be developed as a park that would not only serve as a memorial to all who had lost their lives but also as a focal point for the city’s new commitment to advocate for world peace and an end to nuclear weapons.
The park covers approximately 122,100 square metres. There are a large number of monuments and memorials dotted around it, some of which I describe in my following tips. Some are dedicated to individuals, some to particular groups of people (e.g. teachers and students, or those working in specific industries such as coal, civil engineering and agriculture). Others are more general, dedicated to peace or to all who died in the war.
The southern end of the park is dominated by the buildings of the Peace Memorial Museum and also an international Conference Centre. Every August 6th the park is the venue for a Peace Memorial Ceremony designed to console the victims of the atomic bombs and to pray for the realisation of lasting world peace.
We spent a lot of time in the park but even so only got a close look at some of the many monuments. My next few tips describe these, starting with one of the first that we came to, the Peace Bell
The Peace Bell is located towards the northern end of the Peace Memorial Park, just across the river from the Atomic Bomb Dome. It was added to the park in September 1964 by the A-bomb Survivor Hiroshima Hope Fruition Society with the declaration:
”This temple bell/temple hall is standing at the dearest wish of Hiroshima aiming at the creation of a world of a true peaceful coexistence without any nuclear weapons or wars, and was built as a symbol for this spiritual and cultural movement. We wish that the sound of the bell resound in each corner of the world and reach the hearts of each and every human being.”
The bell was designed by Masahiko Katori. On its surface is an embossed world map without national boundaries and the “sweet spot” where the log hits the bell depicts the atomic energy symbol, expressing hope for the abolition of atomic and hydrogen bombs. Visitors are encouraged to ring the bell for world peace (see photo four) and you can hear the mellow deep toll ringing out repeatedly as you stroll through the park. In 1966 the sound of the bell was selected for the government Environment Agency's "One Hundred Sounds the Japanese People Wish to Preserve".
Not far from here is the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound
After the bombing the bodies of some victims were claimed by relatives, but very many were unidentifiable and thus unclaimed, while others had no relatives left alive. This area, like much of Nakajima, was strewn with dead bodies after the bombing. Innumerable corpses, including those pulled out of the river, were brought here and cremated on a temporary altar at a temple on this site. There were also many who were effectively cremated by the bomb itself.
In 1946 a temporary memorial mound, vault and chapel were built here to house their ashes, funded by private donations. In 1955 Hiroshima City took over the site and rebuilt the dilapidated vault. Unclaimed ashes that had been kept in various other places were also brought to this new vault. The vault lies under the mound and contains the ashes of roughly 70,000 victims. Those that were cremated as individuals have their own white porcelain urn and, if their name is known, it is inscribed on the outside. Each year the local newspapers publish the list of these names, and each year several are claimed and transferred to family graves elsewhere in the country or even abroad. As of 2010, the latest figures I could find, just over 800 remain here of the original 2,432 placed here in 1955. But the vast majority of those whose ashes lie here don’t even have the dignity of these urns. Behind curtains that hang in the vault are pine crates marked with the names of sites where human dust and bits of bone were found—a factory or a school or an apartment block. Beyond that, the ashes are anonymous. Thousands may still grieve for these victims but there is no way that they can ever be separated or identified. Under this mound therefore, in a handful of wooden boxes, are all that remains of a quarter of the population of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. A sobering thought as you stand before it.
But moving on through the park we come to the Children's Peace Monument where the message is of hope rather than of grief.
The Children's Peace Monument is probably the most striking of the memorials in the park and, from what we observed, the focal point for the many school groups that visit.
The monument, which was erected in 1958, is dedicated to the memory of Sadako Sasaki, a two year old girl living in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945, about a mile from ground zero. She survived the blast, despite being flung out of a window, but in 1954 developed leukaemia and died the following year. Shocked by her death, her classmates put out a national call to "build a monument to mourn all the children who died from the atomic bombing." With the support of students in more than 3,100 schools around Japan and in nine other countries, the Society raised enough to build this monument to Sadako and to all the other children. The pedestal is topped with a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane, and on each side are suspended the figures of a boy and a girl symbolising a bright future and hope (you can see the girl figure in photo two). At its foot is a black marble slab on which is inscribed in Japanese:
“This is our cry. This is our prayer. Building peace in the world."
Thousands of paper cranes are offered here every day by the visiting children and others, and are displayed in glass cases around the monument. I made a video of one such group as they sang a song in front of the monument, having previously laid their paper cranes at its foot.
These paper cranes have become a symbol of Hiroshima’s efforts for peace and you will see them all over the park, as my next tip explains.
This Memorial Cenotaph was one of the first monuments built on open the open space set aside for the Peace Memorial Park on August 6, 1952 – the seventh anniversary of the bomb. It is designed to resemble an ancient arch-shaped house, to shelter the souls of the victims from the elements. Its Japanese inscription translates as,
"Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil."
But this is an approximation of the meaning, as in Japanese it is possible to omit the subject of the sentence. Thus the real reading is
"Let all the souls here rest in peace, for … shall not repeat the evil."
In this way they sought not to attribute blame either to the US and their allies who dropped the bomb nor to their own people for their part in the atrocities of war. An explanatory plaque in English makes the subtlety of the wording clearer:
“The inscription on the front panel offers a prayer for the peaceful repose of the victims and a pledge on behalf of all humanity never to repeat the evil of war. It expresses the spirit of Hiroshima — enduring grief, transcending hatred, pursuing harmony and prosperity for all, and yearning for genuine, lasting world peace.” [my italics]
The stone chest beneath the arch holds the register of all those known to have died from the bombing, of all nationalities. Names are added to the list whenever anyone related to a death make application. As of August 6, 2001, the registry comprised 77 volumes that list a total of 221,893 names.
Surrounding the cenotaph is a large rectangular pool, the Pond of Peace
The Pond of Peace surrounds the cenotaph and was designed to make it look as of floating. Originally it was a simple two metre wide moat, but was later extended to 17 metres wide and 70 in length, when the Flame of Peace was added in August 1964.
The Peace Flame is another monument to the victims of the atomic bomb. It has burned continuously since it was lit in August 1964, and the city has vowed that it will continue to burn until all nuclear bombs on the planet are destroyed and the threat of nuclear annihilation has been eliminated. The pedestal that supports the flame is designed to suggest two hands pressed together at the wrist and bent back so that the palms point up to the sky. It expresses comfort for the victims unable to satisfy their thirst for water, and a prayer for nuclear abolition and enduring world peace. The flame is sometimes used to light others as a symbol of peace for various events, and in 1994 it lit the flame of the Asian Games which were held in Hiroshima City.
Every August 6th the park is the venue for a Peace Memorial Ceremony designed to console the victims of the atomic bombs and to pray for the realisation of lasting world peace. This ceremony is held here at the heart of the park, in front of the cenotaph, and is attended by families of the deceased and people from all over the world. A declaration of peace is read out by Hiroshima’s mayor and displayed for the rest of the year in the museum. My third photo was taken in the museum and shows the coloured lanterns that are floated on the Pond of Peace around the Cenotaph at this ceremony.
At this point we were more than ready for some lunch.
I once stayed with a friend who lived a stone's throw away from the Peace Museum in Nagasaki and since then, I have always wondered what it was like to live near a building charged with so much poignancy of a painful past. Here, I pondered this again when I first caught sight of it as the bus I had taken from Yunago, Tottori was approaching Hiroshima Bus Center. Dignified, it stood, a solid defiance to the horrors of the nuclear destruction that struck the city at 8.15am in 1945. I couldn't help but wonder if the Japanese living in Hiroshima thought often about the gravity of their city's past as they went about their daily lives.
Formerly known as the Hiroshima Industrial Promotion Hall, this building created a stir as people were divided as to whether it should be preserved or torn down. I can imagine how the Genbaku Domu would evoke painful memories and dig up old emotional wounds among the locals although I was certainly glad that it escaped demolition. There's nothing like witnessing a concrete, in-your-face remnant to drum in the horrors of nuclear warfare; photos and videos just won't deliver the message of world peace as profoundly.
The A-B0mb Dome was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 if you're into this kind of stuff.
According to the Hiroshima Sightseeing Guide Map, the Peace Memorial Park comprises 67 monuments but the major landmarks you will most probably be interested to see include the Children's Peace Monument, Memorial Cenotaph and Peace Bell.
The unique saddle shape of the Memorial Cenotaph already caught my attention at the Peace Memorial Museum. It was sobering to go up close and personal and see for myself the stone chest that held the names of all those killed by the bomb. An even more sobering experience when I thought of how the list was regularly updated to include the names of people who die from radiation-related illnesses due to the bombing. There was a constant stream of people who stood solemnly to pay their respects; it felt nice that these people weren't forgotten. Walk closer to the epitaph to have a better look at the phrase "Let all the souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil" and you will get a good view of the Peace Flame and the A-bomb Dome.
The Children's Peace Monument was a statue of a girl with outstretched arms. If you visit the museum, you'll learn of the story of Sadako who succumbed to leukemia 10 years after the bombing. Well, this monument was campaigned by her classmates after she died so as to remember her and all other child victims. It was heartwarming for me to learn that children not only had the capacity to care deeply but also had the determination to follow through their big dream.
Last thing to note: Do visit this Peace Park while the sun is setting, for you will get a beautiful view of the A-Bomb Dome across the river.
If you are keen to visit Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, I recommend that you check out Frommer's Japan for its detailed and thorough review. Every thing that I experienced there was adequately described in this review. But if you wish to read a more personal account, then please read on;)
The museum's gruesome images will probably ruin your day but I reckon that it is important to steel yourself and pay it a visit, for this will help you to understand the psyche of the people in Hiroshima better. At the beginning, I blinked my eyes a couple of times as I couldn't believe that the entrance fee was a mere 50 yen. Even a bottle of mineral water costed 100 yen in Japan! Moreover, once I stepped into the gallery, I could see many volunteer guides positioning themselves near the exhibits and taking the initiative to explain them to visitors. There were pictures of letters written by successive Hiroshima mayors to protest against nuclear experimentation. All these little things added up and I was moved by Hiroshima's sincerity and determination in its quest to warn the world of the evils of nuclear warfare.
I suggest that you pay a visit to the Video Theatre where you can watch two English documentaries on the nuclear bombing. Each documentary lasted for about an hour, so I only had the time (and patience!) to catch the first documentary on an appeal for peace from a mother who had lost her son to the bombing. I felt that this hour was very well spent as I got an inkling of the various issues that surfaced from this tragedy--the immediate fallout, the devastasting effects of radiation and Hiroshima's effects to pave the way as a peace adovcate. It greatly facilitated my understanding and appreciation of the exhibits.
I guess the saddest thing for me was coming across so many real-life exhibits of junior high school students who had perished while working at their building demolition work sites. Why did they even have to demolish buildings in the first place? They were barely teenagers! It then struck me hard that I was blessed to be born into a world where I could enjoy peace. Every single day.
I'm working in Japanese elementary and junior high schools now. I have learnt that every Japanese child knows how to fold a crane, for it is their responsibility to come together as an entire class and fold 1000 cranes when they go for study trips to either Nagasaki or Hiroshima. Well, it was interesting for me to learn how this practice of folding cranes had originated from Sadako, a child victim of the bombing. She was 2 when the bombing happened and suffered no immediate health problems but when she turned 12, she developed leukemia. Believing that she would be cured if she folded 1000 cranes, she did so but to no avail. Nowadays, generations of Japanese children carry on this custom as a remembrance to the children who had perished.
Lest this review ends on a depressing note, I shall end here by sharing how the last photograph the visitor would see before he left the museum was a display explaining how new buds had sprouted in spring the next year after the bombing. It was gratifying to know that when there is life, there is hope.
The Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima is housed in a modernist concrete building. The ground floor of the museum contains information panels describing the events leading up to the dropping of the bomb; two scale models of the city (‘before’ and ‘after’) and a scale replica of the Atom Bomb Dome, the only surviving (but ruined) building still standing, which can be seen nearby. This is covered with facsimiles of letters sent by mayors of Hiroshima to various world leaders to protest against nuclear weapons tests. Every time a test takes place, a strongly-worded letter of outrage is despatched to the relevant leader. I found this exhibit the most interesting, and most moving, part of the ground floor exhibition.
I would have liked the historical information panels to provide more explanation of the motivation behind the events that led up to Japan’s entry into the war and the subsequent war in the Pacific rather than just relating what happened.
The upper level deals with the aftermath of the bomb. Information panels tell the stories of those who were caught up in the blast and items on display include shredded and burned clothing and roof tiles twisted and fused by the heat. This is all very moving, but for me, a recreation of the aftermath complete with waxworks of people with burned and melting skin struck a rather off-key Chamber of Horrors note.
More affecting is the story of a child who survived the initial blast only to develop leukaemia ten years later. She hoped to change her fortune by making 1,000 paper cranes, but it did not work. She is commemorated in the Children’s Peace Monument in the Peace Park.
Admission to the museum is 50 yen.
The ‘Atom Bomb Dome’ is the twisted remains of the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall.
The building, designed by a Czech architect, Jan Letzel, was completed in April 1915 and its green dome became a city landmark.
On the morning of 6 August 1945 the atomic bomb exploded approximately 600 m above and 160 m south-east of the building, killing everyone within. But because the blast was almost directly overhead, some of the walls and the iron frame supporting the dome survived. For a number of years after the war, public opinion was divided as to whether the structure should be retained as a memorial or demolished, but in 1966 the City Council resolved to preserve the building as it looked immediately after the bombing. In 1996 the site was registered on the World Heritage List.
Inside the Peace Memorial museum is a reconstruction of the building, covered with facsimiles of letters of protest about atomic weapons testing sent by the mayors of Hiroshima to world leaders.
This is what is left of the dome. On August 6th 1945, the US bomber Enola Gay, dropped a 13-15 kiloton atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The bomb detonated with an air-burst immediately vaporizing all the unfortunate within the hypocenter. Buildings were flattened, combusted, and disintegrated everywhere within the blast radius. Only the hardiest of buildings had skeletal features left standing. One of these was what had most recently been called the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, and after the war referred to as the A-bomb (Genbaku) dome.
Following the war's ending it had been debated whether the dome should be torn down or preserved. Fortunately it was preserved. Without it, younger generations might not realize what had once happened. The dome is a stark reminder to the horror the modern warfare can bear and unfortunately worse.
There are a number of areas to see around Hiroshima Peace Park including the museum itself.
Much of what is here is one of mankind's present day reminders of how bad it can get. This place is to remind us of those who died in the immediate blast and wake of the first use of an atomic bomb on a human population. We should hope that it never happens again as the next time will likely be far worse than Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Ironically, as North Korea and Iran and others try to develop these weapons they're only more likely to have such weapons be used against their own population. Stupid.
We would be better off without such weapons than with them. Still the world seems significantly ignorant of how horrible these weapons are. When your neighbor has a gun and you have a gun, you have a much better chance of shooting each other than if neither of you had a gun. The same goes for nukes. Now that India has the bomb and Pakistan has the bomb, they're more likely to destroy one another (MAD - mutual assured destruction). Stupid.
We can only hope that Japan never develops the bomb in response to North Korea. If it does then I don't think mankind will have any hope left. Hiroshima and Nagasaki must be remembered. Their prior destruction would be in vain if Japan reversed its stance on possession of such weapons of horror. Keep in mind the weapons used then are minuscule compared to some of today's nuclear weapons. If a large scale nuclear exchange took place today between the US and another serious nuclear power, American deaths would number over 100 million within the first hour.
Its the best place to learn what happened in Hiroshima on August 6 1945 and up to now. Some terribly tragic photos are difficult to see straight but the collections are real and learn a lot about the atomic bomb and its cruel consequences.