Walking through Hiroshima is strange to say the least. In many ways, it is a city just like any other in Japan: its finger on the pulse of the modern and new, with trams ringing through the streets and children in their baseball kits heading to a local game. But unlike other Japanese cities, it is impossible to escape the cold shadow of its history. Every building is relatively modern and the roads are a thought-out grid system, a reminder of how little of Hiroshima was left standing after the A-Bomb was dropped on an August morning in 1945, and how much needed rebuilding.
The use of the atomic bomb is a controversial subject even today, with many considering it a war crime, and others arguing that by ending the war in the Pacific, it ultimately saved lives. The museum doesn’t go near this debate, and avoids getting into any of the politics of the war itself. It simply presents you with the facts.
The museum is split into sections: personal accounts, damage done to the buildings, the development of the bomb itself and the physical effects of radiation. There are some grizzly and truly sorrowful artefacts on display, including singed and shredded school uniforms, charred lunch boxes, watches stopped at the exact moment the bomb fell, and even the burnt skin of a child kept as a keepsake by a grieving mother.
After viewing the exhibition it is difficult to take much more in. Across the bridge from the museum stands the ‘Atomic Bomb Dome’, one of the only buildings that withstood the blast and remains untouched today. It was so close to the hypo-centre that everyone inside was incinerated, but because the blast came from almost directly above, the building’s walls were able to withstand the downward pressure and did not collapse. There are still signs of the immense heat given off by the bomb, as you can see metal girders that have been warped out of shape and glass that has melted.
We were really affected by this visit, and felt sadness right through to our bones. However, sat by the Atomic Dome looking over the river that runs past, you can’t help but feel faintly hopeful. Many thought that because of the radiation, nothing would ever grow in Hiroshima again. But the museum, the Dome, the city itself is overflowing with plants and flowers and trees. It has built itself up from rubble and despair to the vibrant city that stands today. As bittersweet as it may feel and especially in our current world where fear can often seem to trump hope, it is important to remember that cities can be rebuilt, people can thrive and flowers will grow again.