When I told people I wanted to visit Hiroshima, many could not understand why I would go out my way to visit a place of such destruction when I could spend my time visiting other happier places. However the World Wars have always fascinated me and the thought of going somewhere like Hiroshima was extremely interesting. I think it is important to learn about the country’s history you visit no matter how gruesome and sad it might be.
I also had a family connection as my great-aunt Agnes who I knew well was one of the first nurses on the scene in Hiroshima. We have pictures she had taken in our home of the state she found Hiroshima in when she arrived, however the pictures could never tell the full horror of what happened on the 6th of August 1945 at 8.15am.
We went to the museum early thinking it would be best to get there first before all the crowds came. However it also proved to be a good move as it explains all the memorials in the peace park and what they are for. The museum was a mere 50 cents to get in and you could get audio guides for $3.
The museum started off explaining the pre-war history of Hiroshima and the events that leaded up to the war, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was not a one-sided view and it explained about what the Japanese did during the war. In the centre of the room there were large-scale models of the city before and after the bomb so you could understand the true devastation caused.
Everyone knows the story behind the atomic bomb and how it was the first ever atomic bomb was used as a weapon in history. However there were some things that I did not know, such as there were many cities that the US had lined up as possible targets however out of the four, Hiroshima was the first choice due to the fact there were no allied prisoner of war camps. The other reason that Hiroshima was picked was because the weather, as the pilots needed a clear line of sight to drop the bomb on the target (which was the main bridge) the clear weather in Hiroshima that day sealed its fate.
The actual blast from ‘little boy’ (the name of the bomb, called so because it was shorter than the others) was 600 meters above the city however what resulted was intense heat rays which exceeded a million degrees Celsius at the instant of detonation creating a massive fireball which burned, destroyed and crushed nearly all buildings within a 2 km radius. What also made it even more tragic was the fact that school and college children were put to work outside before the blast to clear ‘fire lanes’ in case of an airstrike meaning that there was nothing to shield them from the power of the bomb killing them by their thousands.
The museum carried on by explaining how the atomic bomb was made and how and that some of the atomic bombs tested since Hiroshima are 1,000 times stronger than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima! It also explained what would happen if there was ever to be a nuclear war with a diagram showing just how many countries still had nuclear weapons.
We found it strange that the gift shop was in the middle of the museum however I think it was a stopping point for anyone who is too young or maybe to emotional to handle what lay past the corridor which was truly disturbing.
As we walked down the corridor we were greeted by a model of what the streets looked like after the bomb had hit followed by models of people who had survived the blast but who had been caught in the huge fireball which had melted their skin. I cannot put into words how horrific this image was as you started to imagine the pain and suffering the people must have faced.
The room also contained many artifacts that had been donated by families of victims, some of which was the only way they could identify their family members. Some of these were extremely upsetting as you saw the charred remains which once belonged to a young child such as lunch boxes, clothing, children’s toys, shoes and watches which the families either recognized or had their name written on them. Reading the stories that went with each item was chilling and brought a tear to my eye on several occasions.
The next room contains pictures and remains of some of the buildings, showing the damage caused by the blast. One item on display was the ‘shadow in the stone’ which used to be the steps of a bank that was at the centre of the blast, the heat had stained the stones white except for one dark area which was where someone had been sitting waiting for the bank to open. The pictures were very distressing showing images of people who had been burned by the blast even though they were several km away and made me think of the scene than my Great Aunt Agnes would have faced when she had arrived.
We continued on and had now reached the after effects, which at the time were not known when the bomb was dropped and has been an important lesson on the effects of nuclear weapons. Many people who had survived the bomb died a few days later due to their burns however what they didn’t realize when they dropped the bomb was how lethal the radiation was. Due to the extreme heat many people were extremely thirsty, so when rain began to fall they drank it even though it was black, it contained radiation as well as all kinds of different things and infected more people as well as staining walls as a lasting reminder.
There was then a picture of a mans hand with fingers missing but long black nails in its place, at the time the bomb went off he had his hand out the window and he lost his fingers, what grew back were deformed black nails which if he cut would bleed very heavily. All along the wall were stories of people who died a few months after the blast with radiation poisoning the most horrible being a preserved tongue which had been preserved to show the purpura spots caused by the radiation.
It then moved onto the children of the blast, and in particular Sadako Sasaki, a small girl aged 2 at the time of the bombing, who overcame the initial injuries sustained however fell victim to leukemia 10 years later due to the radiation poisoning. She was given at most one year to live and every day she folded hundreds of paper cranes, in the hope that the stories were true and if she folded 1,000 paper cranes she would be granted a wish by the Gods, however she did not survive and she was buried with all the paper cranes that she had made. The little girl became a symbol for the innocent lives lost and a memorial was made in her honor.
We spent almost 2 hours in the museum and I can honestly I have only ever felt that emotional when visiting the killing fields in Cambodia. The lesson is a hard one to take but one that should never be forgotten and you cannot imagine the horror and pain that the people went through at the time, or the feeling you get walking through the museum until you have experienced it yourself.
The museum did give us an opportunity to learn more about the sculptures in the park and why they had been built and gave us a much clearer understanding of each one…..
It also gave me a sense of admiration for my great Aunt and the all the doors and nurses that risked their own lives to help, the images will stay with me forever and I cannot imagine how much worse it would have been for the people on the ground at that time.