On August 6, 1945 an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. This event killed over 100,000 people, with many more people suffering from the effects of radiation for the rest of their lives.
When I learned I would be traveling to Japan and reviewed our itinerary, my heart sank a little when I saw we were visiting Hiroshima. I felt grateful to have the chance to visit the site of one of the most tragic and important events in human history, but also felt a sense of hesitation. It’s hard to visit a site known for devastation by your home country.
We first visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum which presented facts about the bombing, stories from survivors (and victims), and showcased artifacts that were damaged from the bombing.
The image above depicts an aerial view of Hiroshima. The A-bomb was dropped about 600 meters above the ground which instantly generated a fireball. The red ball in the image above shows the size of the fireball one second after the explosion (280 meters in diameter.) That fireball grew in diameter as the seconds passed.
There was one story in particular that stuck with me from my time in the museum. A young girl named Sadako Sakasi was only two years old when the bomb dropped. She escaped the bombing with no injuries, but was carried by her mom in the “black rain” (radioactive dust and ash created when a nuclear weapon explodes.) Sadako and her mother survived the bombing and went on to lead seemingly normal lives. Ten years later, Sadako developed leukemia and was given, at most, one year to live. (After the bombing, there was an increase in child leukemia cases.) Sadako was hospitalized and her hospital roommate told her that, according to Japanese tradition, if you make 1,000 paper cranes your wish will be granted.
Sadako spent all her free time folding paper cranes with the wish of surviving. Her classmates would bring her paper from school so she could continue folding. Unfortunately, within one year, Sadako died. She is now known as the symbol for innocent victims of nuclear war.
Her classmates published a collection of letters in order to raise funds to build a memorial to honor her and all of the children who had died from the effects of the atomic bomb. Now people all over the world continue to fold paper cranes in an effort to support peace for our world.
Within the museum, they have a table where people can learn to fold their own paper crane to contribute a wish for peace in the world. I cherish the paper crane I made while in Hiroshima; it will always serve as a reminder of what I learned visiting the memorial.
After making my paper crane, I went outside to visit the rest of the Peace Memorial Park. The Memorial Cenotaph perfectly frames the Atomic Bomb Dome – the most famous part of the Peace Park.
You can see the Atomic Dome centered off in the distance behind this Memorial Centotaph
The Atomic Bomb Dome is nearly the exact site of where the bomb was dropped. The Genbaku Dome (its name before the bombing) was the only structure left standing after the explosion. Though the people inside the building at the time were killed instantly, the dome maintained its structure – eerily marking the nearly exact location of where the bomb was dropped.
Though this was an emotional experience, I left Hiroshima with a sense of peace (a common theme I found throughout my travels in Japan.) This was one of the worst tragedies in history, however the Japanese people came back from it stronger, and more peaceful than ever. They have memorialized the victims, but are moving forward with positive messages of peace. We, as Americans, were openly welcomed by Hiroshima Museum staff and felt a sense of global responsibility for the events that happened.
Though the city of Hiroshima was decimated less than 100 years ago, they have rebuilt their city beautifully. We walked by the river, observed their fruit stands, and admired the architecture of the city.
Have you ever visited Hiroshima or another site of tragedy such as the concentration camps in Poland or the 9/11 Memorial in New York? There are a few things I’ve learned are good to keep in mind when visiting sites of tragedy, especially when traveling in groups.
- Be sensitive. Don’t speak or laugh too loudly.
- Be respectful. Save controversial political discussions for after you leave the site.
- Don’t take silly selfies with the site in the background. It’s important to remember places like Hiroshima, concentration camps, etc., are sites dedicated to memorializing lost lives. So be respectful when taking photographs.
- This idea was showcased on a website called “Yolocaust” where an artist shamed people for taking disrespectful photos in sensitive places by reminding them of where they were.
What advice do you have when traveling to a place that memorializes tragic events in history? I would love to hear about where you have visited and how it made you feel.
Peace for the world, always.
For more on my time in Japan:
- Japan Recap
- Tokyo: A City of Technology and Tradition
- Kyoto: The Heart of Japan
- May Peace Prevail on Earth: Mount Fuji
- Exploring Miyajima Island
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