Today I went to Hiroshima. As you should know, the city is known as the first city to have an atomic bomb dropped on it. On August 6th1945, during World War II, the Allies exploded a bomb over the city, vaporising thousands in a single moment. A reported 200,000 citizens died, mostly instantly during the blast; other perished from the resulting fires and subsequent radiation poisoning. A large area below the hypocenter was totally flattened, destroying centuries of history in a second. Not exactly mankind’s finest hour.
I wasn’t sure why I was so intent on going there. To be honest, maybe it was partly down to morbid curiosity, but it was also because this was one of the most significant places in human history. I’ve seen pictures of the famous A-bomb dome so many times – the building that still partially stood after the blast and was left untouched to become a symbol of the terror that mankind can do to itself. Being just a couple of hours away, it seemed right that I visited it whilst in Japan.
When I first turned the corner and saw the dome, it was with excitement and sorrow. Here I was, an English tourist with blue skies above, over sixty years on from when it all happened. I couldn’t help but to imagine what the blast must have looked and felt like, not that anyone would have been able to realise the experience at this exact point, such was the magnitude of the blast. Today, there are still survivors in Hiroshima, outside the main blast area. The dome is in Peace Park – an area dedicated as a memorial for the victims and to celebrate the idea of peace going forward. The area is full of tourists, and in the air you can hear guides relaying the terrible stories of the event.
The place is indeed peaceful. Sparrows fly around and settle on ruins, oblivious to what they mean. A Japanese man lays stretched out on the grass nearby, comatose. Now and again you hear a gentle bong of the peace bell rung by tourists. Statues, ponds, the river, tall green shrubs, and pink cherry blossom trees fill the area. Beauty out of horror.
Hiroshima contains other interesting sites, too. The baseball ground nearby is a stark contrast to the importance of the adjacent park. The city is wide, friendly and welcoming. Tourists are invited in and treated well, maps and directions given freely. I visited Hiroshima Castle – a splendid building rebuilt several times during its long history, looking beautiful in the spring cherry blossom. Tourists and locals slowly plod around, admiring, and I feel calm just walking around. Inside is plenty of displays – katana swords, Samurai costumes, the history of the castle. I chat to a Frenchman with the same camera as me and see some of his castle shots. The view from the top is impressive, although you cannot get away from the A-Dome in the mid-distance.
I decide after my thoroughly-enjoyable stroll around the city to go to the Miyajima shrine a little further on. It’s supposed to be an amazing sight – a big orange gate built in the water. The sun does not have much time left in the Japanese sky, so photo opportunities might be plentiful. A train ride and then ferry stands in my way.
Oh wow. How do I describe this? Please just take a look at the photos! It doesn’t sound much, but this is magnificent. The shrine is absolutely huge, but the setting is breathtaking. I’m such a lucky traveller, too, as although I picked what I thought might be the best day of the ones remaining to visit, nature as provided an almost perfect backdrop for it. I’m here just minutes before the sunset, and I can’t fail to take a great photo. I click away around it, in front of it, underneath, behind. I take a few of some couples for them, and get one or two in return. My feet are wet as I plod into the sand for a good shot. The half moon shines above in the darkening blue sky, while the mountains await the golden disc. The bay stretches out all around, and I feel privileged to be here. I want to tell everyone right now how wonderful this setting is! This is what makes Japan so special.
Eventually, I realise that I’ve seen enough, as the light changes and the ferry waits to depart. Deer stroll around just yards away, as much the locals as the men an women here. I depart with a camera and head full of memories.
We shall never know if dropping the bomb resulted in a better future for us all than if we hadn’t. Maybe the war with Japan would have dragged on with further loss of life. Maybe without the clear demonstration of destruction and death an atomic bomb caused, it would have led to something far, far worse down the line for us. The decision was made, and the results are history, if regrettable in what was thought had to be done. Would you kill one person to save a hundred? Destroy 200,000 to potentially save millions? May we never get ourselves so enveloped in such hatred and power that a similar decision awaits us. The beauty of Hiroshima and the surrounding area is a reminder of what life should be like.