The nice thing about Japan’s shinkansen high-speed rail network is that you can have a residence booked in Osaka, but spend the day in Hiroshima and get back in time for dinner.
The first thing that comes to mind for most people when they hear Hiroshima’s name is the atomic bomb. It was, after all, the first city to every feel the horrible impact of humanity’s most powerful weapon, and it has remained – thankfully – one of two (the other being Nagasaki) cities to have been attacked with nuclear weapons. The Second World War, specifically the Pacific theater, remains the only conflict in which nuclear weapons were dropped on an enemy.
Perhaps the best-known photo of the impacts of the atomic bomb is that of the dome, the remains of the “industrial promotion hall”, towering over the smoking and completely leveled city. Similar to the “Gedächtniskirche” in Berlin, this mostly destroyed building was left standing, unrepaired, following the end of the war, serving as a memorial for the tragedy that took place here and as a warning for future generations.
When here, make sure to stop by the Hiroshima peace memorial museum as well. Though it is certainly not going to put you into an uplifting mood to continue your visit of the city, it is a very well-made museum and provides a lot of information on the atomic attack on Hiroshima, as well as on nuclear weapons as a whole. Amongst the exhibits is a watch, worn by a man who had been surprised by the bomb and lost his life, as had so many others. It stopped at exactly the time of the explosion: 9:15 Tokyo time.
Though the attack with nuclear weapons undoubtedly contributed to Japan’s capitulation and with it the end of the Second World War, it remains highly controversial. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were civilian cities of relatively low strategic importance; both had received relatively little aerial bombardment prior to the dropping of the nuclear bombs. Therefore, accusations exist which claim that the United States used the occasion mainly to test their nuclear weapons – a thesis also supported by the fact that they were two different types, one a uranium and one a plutonium bomb.
Whatever the reasoning behind the choice of target, what stands out of question is the immeasurable human suffering that the dropping of the atomic bomb caused. Thousands died, and thousands more would feel the impact of the radiation for years or decades to come.
It is therefore not especially surprising that there is a strong movement in favor of global peace in Hiroshima. In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, visitors can (and are invited to) ring the peace bell, and there are tens of thousands of origami cranes to be found everywhere, relating to the children’s book “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”.
Hiroshima has more to offer than just a depressing historical event, though. For instance, the Hiroshima castle, which is the closest I will likely ever come to a secret Japanese samurai castle hidden away in the forest. At least that’s what it feels like. The castle was built at the end of the 16th century and was then in use until 1945. It was re-constructed in 1958.
Hiroshima also has the exceptionally picturesque Itsukushima island. It is covered for the most part in a primeval forest, but is also home to a shrine which is built in a bay and a torii standing in the middle of the water. In fact, the shrine and its torii are recognized as UNESCO world heritage.
Unquestionably the real stars of the island are the deer, though, which are extremely trusting towards humans – even to the extent that they will try to steal the onigiri which you were planning on having for lunch from you.