Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima
On August 6th, 1945 the first ever atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima. A large military city throughout World War II, the US Government secretly decided to use the bomb as a means of bringing the war to an abrupt end in the Pacific region. Targeted at the Aioibashi bridge – a visible landmark from the sky – the atomic bomb was detonated over the Nakajima District, which at that time was the political, commercial and administrative hub of Hiroshima. Within two to four months of the initial attack almost 90,000 to 146,000 people had died, an estimated 50% of the city’s total population.
The only structure left standing near the bomb’s hypocenter was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. Built in 1915 by Czech architect Jan Letzel, the hall was made from industrial steel and brick – at that point in time uncommon materials in Japan as most buildings were made of wood. Because of this and the bomb detonating directly overhead, the hall remained for the most part intact. Soon to be known as Genbaku or the ‘A-Bomb Dome’, the structure was set to be demolished along with the rest of the ruins. However, due to a public outcry for it to be preserved as a memorial to the victims, it was officially decided that the dome would be preserved. Many years later in 1996, the A-Bomb Dome was inscribed on the World Heritage List as a powerful symbol of human destruction and as a reminder of the hope for world peace and complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
In August 1949 it was decided that the area surrounding the dome, the once bustling Nakajima District, would be turned into a park devoted to peace memorial facilities. Kenzo Tange, the designer selected from the 145 proposals put forward, completed the park in 1954. As of the present day, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park covers an area of 122,000 square metres and features 60 monuments, a museum, memorial hall and conference centre. Overall, the park is dedicated to the victims who perished as a result of the bomb and to memorialise Hiroshima as the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack.
At the southern edge of the peace park stands the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Comprised of two buildings, the east building and the main building, the museum traces the events leading up to the bomb and the subsequent disaster that engulfed the city. The east building, which is currently undergoing renovations, explores the military history of Hiroshima before and during World War II and how this linked to the decision to drop the A-bomb over the city. A large series of maps, photographs and a reconstructed model of the A-bomb Dome provides visitors with a detailed insight into the physical destruction of the city and on a global scale, how the nuclear age and the ongoing nuclear arms race, stemmed from this moment in time.
The main part of the museum tends to focus more on the damage caused by the bomb, in particular the human impact following the immediate explosion and the continued health issues many of the victims experienced as a result of radiation poisoning. Survivor testimonies are paired with the charred and torn belongings of victims as a way to demonstrate the horrors inflicted on the Hiroshima locals, as well as emphasise the sheer scale of human lives lost. Visitors are able to further learn about the experiences of survivors at a series of video terminals stationed in the exhibition space. Messages of peace from global leaders, past and present, adorn the walls as visitors exit the main building. Approximately one million people visit the Hiroshima Peace Museum every year.
Directly outside of the museum stands the peace plaza. Situated in the centre of the plaza, and the park as a whole, is the memorial cenotaph. Built in 1952 (and reconstructed in 1985), the memorial is an arched shaped structure, covering a large box that inside, contains a book with the names of all the people who died in the blast and the many years following – as of 2015, the total number was 297,684. As one of the first monuments to be erected in the park, the structure visually frames the peace flame and beyond that, the A-bomb Dome. The peace flame was constructed in 1964 as another memorial to the victims of Hiroshima. The flame has continually burned since that time, and will remain lit until the world is completely free of the threat of nuclear war. The memorial cenotaph and the peace flame tend to be the main sites of commemoration and memorial ceremonies.
Scattered throughout the park are a number of memorials and monuments dedicated to the various victims of the atomic bomb. Some of these include:
The Children’s Peace Monument: Built in 1958, the statue of the girl holding a paper crane above her head is devoted to all the children who lost their lives as a result of the bomb. The statue is based on the true story of Sasaki Sadako, an 11 year old girl who contracted leukemia after exposure to radiation from the bomb blast. Based on the traditional Japanese belief that folding 1,000 origami cranes would ensure her recovery, Sasaki made more than 1300 cranes before she died eight months after her diagnosis. To this day, school children from all over the world send paper cranes to the monument as a sign of global peace. The cranes, almost 10 million each year, are displayed in glass cabinets nearby the monument.
The Peace Bell: Located near the Children’s Peace Memorial, the large Peace Bell was built in 1964. The bell hangs from an overarching belfry that represents the universe whilst the bell itself is engraved with a map of the world without country borders to symbolise one world. An atomic energy symbol is engraved on the bell, exactly where the log hits it – a feature designed specifically to voice the hope for abolition of all atomic bombs. Visitors to the park are encouraged to ring the bell as a message of hope.
Monument in Memory of the Korean Victims of the A-bomb: Built in 1970, but moved into the park in 1999, the monument to Korean victims honours the estimated 20,000 Koreans who died in the bomb blast. Thousands of conscripted Koreans who were forced to work in Japan throughout the war were affected by the aftermath of the atomic bomb - many eventually dying from radiation exposure back in Korea after they were able to go home after the war ended. The monument itself stands on a sculpted stone turtle with the words ‘Souls of the dead ride to heaven on the back of turtles’ inscribed on the side.
Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound: Situated in a flat open area of the park, the memorial mound is a large grass covered knoll that contains the ashes of 70,000 unidentified victims of the atomic bomb. Special visitors are able to enter the mound and view the canisters and boxes that contain the ashes of the victims.
Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall: The Japanese National Government constructed one of the most recent additions to the Peace Park, the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall in 2002 as a place to remember and mourn the victims of the atomic bomb. Built underground, the memorial hall features a number of displays, a seminar room, a library and a victim’s information area as a means to provide visitors with an insight into the devastation, and the ways in which the victims dealt with the aftermath. The centre point of the facility is the Hall of Remembrance, a cylindrical space that presents a 360-degree view of the destruction surrounding the bomb’s hypocenter.
Every year on August 6th, a large ceremony is held in the park to commemorate the anniversary of the bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. Important officials conduct speeches, wreaths are laid at the base of the cenotaph and at 8.15am, the exact moment the bomb was detonated, a minute of silence is held. Thousands of people from Japan and all over the world attend the ceremony to pay their respects and remember those who died. In the evening of the same day, people write messages of peace on lanterns and float them along the river as a way to send the spirits of the victims on to a better place.
Ran Zwigenberg, Hiroshima: The Origins of Global Memory Culture (Cambridge UP, 2014), http://www.cambridge.org/de/academic/subjects/history/east-asian-history/hiroshima-origins-global-memory-culture?format=HB&isbn=9781107071278#MwPSCTZkkpqOfvgv.97