Today I finally set foot in Japan for the first time. Big anti-climax. HUGE. No taxis, no one who spoke English to meet, greet or assist. A ludicrously long wait for a taxi, actually. There was a well-meaning old taxi marshall, who eventually rang someone up and yelled at them until they sent more cabs to the port. Mind you, it was long conversation. The person at the other end was clearly unwilling!
We went to the Peace Park. This is the park that the bomb was dropped on. It’s big and T-shaped and easy to spot from the sky (and probably wasn’t called the Peace Park back then…). There are a series of memorials and fountains set up, including an arch with the names of all who died on the day and as a result over the longer term from the effects of the radiation. There is also the Children’s Memorial, which is in the shape of the bomb but has a bell hung inside, which you ring for world peace. If only it was that easy! The symbol of longevity is the crane (bird) and a young girl called Sadako who had leukaemia tried to make 1000 origami cranes so that she wouldn’t die. She did 1300 but she still died, but the crane has now become the symbol of Hiroshima’s hopes for peace in the world and the bell clanger is a brass origami crane. We rang the bell, for what it’s worth…
Hiroshima is not a pretty city. In fact, it is downright ugly. Hardly surprising, considering, but still… When the air was safe and they started to rebuild, the thinking was clearly “Get it up fast and make it useful – to hell with pretty”. It is a very utilitarian place. Only marginally less stark than some Soviet suburbs in Eastern Europe. They were often just concrete blocks with window holes. At least in Hiroshima, they have tiled over the concrete, but they just bunged them on – no need for pattern or colour. It’s also a surprisingly untidy place. I expected a Japanese city to be clean, efficient and modern. Not here. The electricity supply that was strung up all those years ago is still there – the streets are a spaghetti maze above your head of telephone and electrical cabling. We were surprised they hadn’t buried it all by now, but, as I said, it’s a very utilitarian place. Ain’t broke? Don’t fix it. Mind you, if it costs 30 quid to get a taxi for 15 minutes, maybe they just can’t afford to dig holes!
The important thing to see was the Peace Dome. This is an old brick building near where the bomb hit. It was the Industrial Promotion Hall, built in 1914 and had a dome on the top. The roof of the dome was vaporised by the bomb blast, leaving only the struts behind. They left it just as it was, as a permanent reminder of what happened on 6th August 1945. Very poignant. And very necessary, because the entire city was razed to the ground and nothing whatsoever remains other than that. But anyway, we came, we saw, we paid our respects, we took photos, bought a t-shirt, some postcards and a couple of cranes and then we left.