A visit to Hiroshima is one of the non-negotiable stops on our journey. In case you forgot to listen in history class, it was the first city on which the United States dropped an atomic bomb during World War Two.
Today Hiroshima is a beautiful city. It is the southernmost stop on our journey, and thus it is often the warmest. Flowers are beginning to bloom in Hiroshima in February and the river and mountains are lovely. In the middle of the city, the site of the epicenter of the bomb, there is a memorial peace park with statues and monuments and trees and benches. A pleasant, yet sobering, stroll. The museum sits at one end of the park and the familiar memorial dome at the other.
I have visited several WWII museums – the D-Day museum in New Orleans, the Holocaust museum in DC, the Nanjing Memorial museum in China, and the Hiroshima museum. While a full review of each museum probably belongs on a different site, I can summarize. Most graphic – easily Nanjing; highest quality (read most expensive) displays – holocaust; most comprehensive – DDay. Most sobering – definitely the Hiroshima museum. It would probably fall right under the Nanjing museum for level of graphic content as well. It’s not a fun visit, but it is an important one.
There is some bias in the museum, as there is in every WWII museum. I don’t want to spoil it for a visitor, but I will say that their intent is to instruct the world on the horrors of atomic weapons and plead with citizens of the world to never allow another city to fall victim to an atomic bomb.
I think the most sobering moments for me are not in the museum, but in the city itself. We will ride a street car in Hiroshima. This is a unique opportunity in itself, and it will allow us to rub shoulders with the people of Hiroshima. What I was not expecting the first time I rode one was that those people would be senior citizens. It shouldn’t have been surprising as we visit during a work day. If the children are at school and their parents at work, it makes sense that most of the people who would be out and about would be elderly. Japanese people tend to ride public transportation in silence, so we do not strike up conversations. But it is the most awkward silence as all I can think of is “where were you?” When I realize that person was alive in 1945 I can’t help but wonder, “what is your story?”
The people of Hiroshima do a great job of welcoming Americans. They seem to understand that we had nothing to do with decisions made so long ago, just as we don’t hold them responsible for what their leaders chose to do back then. And the city itself is fully rebuilt and modern. I had read about Hiroshima many times, but nothing compares to being there. All the little moments. Encountering a volunteer in the museum who is willing to share his story, hopping in a taxi and listening to the wanna be tour guide explain what the city was like before it became “the A-bomb city”, these are the moments I’ll never fully recreate in a classroom.
This is our Japan trip. It’s why we don’t take a tour bus.