One of the top sites to see in Hiroshima is the Peace Memorial Museum. As an American, it was a very interesting experience.
First, the logistics. It’s open most days from 8:30 am until 6:00 pm, which is somewhat surprising since most places in Japan don’t open until at least 10 am. There are audio guides for rental at ¥300, but I passed since I read earlier that most explanations were in English as well. What surprised me though is the extremely cheap admission: ¥50 or 50 cents! I don’t think I’ve ever been in a museum that was this cheap that wasn’t free. I suppose they don’t want to turn anyone away for paying too much.
The museum is separated into two buildings and the first room you enter describes the events leading up until the bombing. There are displays along the perimeter describing Hiroshima’s history, from the early 1600s leading up until World War II. The room being dimly lit seemed to add to the somber mood.
From my education growing up, the descriptions didn’t seem to be skewed towards Japan or anti-American. The reasons given for why the United States dropped the bomb was to cause a quick end to the war. With a topic that could very easily be subtly described in one country’s favor, the Hiroshima Peace Museum was pretty neutral and didn’t place excessive blame on the United States.
There were also some artifacts in small display cases, including a watch that stopped right when the bomb detonated. Pretty incredible to look at.
Another display showed the difference of Hiroshima before and after the explosion. Virtually all the buildings within one mile were destroyed. The only ones that survived were heavily reinforced concrete buildings, mainly to guard against earthquake shocks.
The target for dropping the bomb was a T-shaped bridge at the connection of two rivers – used because it was very easy to identify from high altitudes. The actual bomb exploded 800 feet to the south-east due to crosswinds.
The museum is located 1/3 of a mile south of the bridge so I got the chance to walk across it a few times while in Hiroshima.
This before-and-after highlights the A-Bomb dome, the remains of which are still standing almost 70 years later. Prior to 1945 it was used primarily for art and educational exhibitions.
Another prominent feature of the museum is the letters from the mayor of Hiroshima. For every nuclear test that is carried out in the world, the mayor sends a letter of protest and displays a copy in the museum. Each time a protest letter is sent, the mayor hopes it will be the last.
Continuing on to the second building shows more artifacts from the atomic bombing.
Finally, there were paper cranes folded from Sadako Sasaki – a Japanese girl who was diagnosed with Leukemia due to the bombing and set out to fold 1000 paper cranes for good luck. She died at the age of 12.
A museum volunteer saw me reading her story and approached me with some origami paper. With basic English, he taught me how to fold a paper crane. It remains one of my best travel experiences from Japan. I still have the crane and it will go into my box of prized possessions.
The museum was very well done. It’s strongly conveys a message of peace and eliminating nuclear weapons rather than placing blame. It was a little strange at first, but I didn’t feel unwelcome at all for being an American. The museum and surrounding memorial park is the main reason people visit Hiroshima and for good reason – it was incredible.