This year, Natascha went out to find the place where the world's first atomic bomb (except for the test bomb) exploded on 6 August 1945. We have both been to Hiroshima several times and have visited the memorial monuments in the Peace Park, the area that was completely destroyed by the atomic bomb. But as the actual hypocenter of the atomic bomb neither lies within the Peace Park, nor is it advertised or signed, it is not a place many tourists visit. It is somewhat to the east of the easily recognizable T-shaped bridge connecting the tip of an island in the river with the two river banks that was the official aim for the pilot Paul Tibbets, who dropped the bomb over the city of Hiroshima.
A small sign next to a dentist's office proclaims that this is the spot where the uranium bomb called “Little Boy” exploded in a height of 600 m above the administrative and commercial centre of Hiroshima. It was the first military use of an atomic bomb ever, and killed approximately 70,000 people on the spot; the after-effects of burnings and radiation killed even more.
Most of the buildings were completely destroyed by the blast, so there's little left below the point of the detonation. The only building left at least partly standing in the immediate vicinity was a domed, multi-storeyed industrial exhibition hall which soon became called "atomic bomb dome" (genbaku dômu) and became a symbol and memorial of the nuclear destruction.
The northern part of the nearby river island – which was turned into a wasteland by the explosion – was made into a memorial park (the Peace Park) in the 1950s, combining dozens of memorials for different groups of victims with a museum complex and a cenotaph, a symbolic, empty grave commemorating all those who died in the atomic bombing and its aftermath. This number, which includes everyone who was affected by the nuclear explosion and has meanwhile died, has climbed to a total of over 300,000.
For years after the nuclear bombing, the US authorities denied journalists access to the area, suppressed all publications about the effects and rejected all moral responsibility for the damages caused by the bomb. On 11 April 2016, US Foreign Minister John Kerry was the highest-ranking American politician ever to visit the memorial. Along with other foreign ministers attending the G7 ministerial meeting, he laid a wreath at the foot of the cenotaph – a saddle-shaped stone memorial reminiscent of grave goods in ancient Japanese tombs and arranged in one axis with the "atomic bomb dome".
The peace park and its memorials became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996.
Is it worth visiting?
A visit to the peace memorial is a gripping experience. It is definitely thought-provoking and also offers a lot of information about a major historical event that few people now are old enough to remember and which is nevertheless still relevant – today there are about 15,000 nuclear weapons around, most of them far more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.
On the other hand, getting up close with the history and the effects of the atomic bomb can be disturbing. Especially the museum has a lot of photographs and exhibits that are difficult to digest.
How to get there
The peace memorial park is in the centre of the modern city of Hiroshima. You will need about half a day to see the monuments in the park and the museum (currently the museum is partly closed for renovations).