Through a series of coincidences, I was well prepared for Hiroshima. I read the book that I received as a gift in Kyoto on the bicycle trip, and finished it on the first day in Hiroshima. The book tells seven tales of (fictional) people that died shortly after world war two – including one about a woman who died of radiation sickness from the Hiroshima bombing. Even though the other stories don’t talk about Hiroshima, the stories describe well the circumstances under which the bomb was dropped. They cover the treatment of Koreans (at the time a colony) in Japan; they talk about discrimination of Japanese in California; the fate of hopeful young men that are drafted for the war are covered, and that of women who went into prostitution out of desperation; and of course, they cover the direct suffering in war: the dropping of the A-Bomb, the carpet-bombing, the Kamikazes.
Compared to these human stories of suffering, today’s Hiroshima was quite the opposite: a vibrant city full of good energy. The city center, where the bomb did the most damage, has been converted into a huge park. Peace Memorial Park, as it is called, is hosting the excellent A-Bomb museum. The museum hosts an amazing exhibition, with extensive information in Japanese and English – not to be taken for granted! The museum kept a good balance of being personal and factual.
Surprising as it may sound – the dropping of the A-Bomb in Hiroshima was destructive – but not excessively so. For example, roughly as many people (200,000) died in the carpet bombing of Tokyo. But then again, here the damage was done by one single bomb! And not only that – people who were exposed to the explosion are suffering results to this date through increased cancer rates or because they were born handicaped due to exposure in the womb.
At the same time, I was surprised how robust nature is. Within a week after the bonbing, trees that seemed dead started to break out again, and many trees that were as close as 800 m to the explosion live to this day and are scattered throughout the park.
The museum was very personal, as it described in detail the fate of many people – victims, nurses, doctors, soldiers. For one victim, Sadako Sasaki, there was even a memorial outside in the park. The girl died ten years after the bombing from leukemia, and is known worldwide for folding thousands of paper cranes, expressing her desire to live.
The personal aspect was complemented by many, many scientific facts that merciless described the dropping of the bomb, the effect it had on the city, on the people, the details of what was going on in the human body, the design of the nuklear bomb, and much more.
An interesting detail was the decision to build Peace Memorial Park. When reconstruction of Hiroshima started, city planners decided to establish a park dedicated to peace and the abandonment of nuclear weapons. At the time, people considered this a waste of space and money, considering that the people had many urgent immediate needs. In retrospect, this was a visionary decision.