When people think of places in Japan, it’s easy for famous places like Tokyo Tower or Kiyomizu-dera Temple to come to mind. But far to the west of Japan, one of the most important places in the country has been drawing people to it for over 50 years. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, originally built in 1954, is dedicated to the purpose of educating the public about the events of the bombing that took place on August 6th, 1945. Over time this park has grown to accommodate a number of memorials and monuments, each with their own history and perspective to add to the story of the atomic bombing and what followed. While the park’s Peace Museum is known for its stark and informative atmosphere, many of the structures in the Peace Memorial Park try to communicate the ideals of the bombing through more emotional and abstract messages. If your travels to Japan include a trip to Hiroshima, take some time to visit this famous Japanese Peace Park for these memorable sights.
The Atomic Bomb Dome is perhaps the most well-known image at the Memorial Park due to its historical significance. Located very close to the hypocenter of the bomb explosion, the Dome’s structure remained mostly intact due to the downward force of the blast. During the reconstruction of Hiroshima, a controversy arose over whether the Dome should be demolished or preserved as a memorial of the bombing. The pro-preservation movement won popular support, and in the late 1960s the site was to be permanently preserved by the city of Hiroshima. The Dome has since become recognizable around the world as a reminder of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and was designated a World Heritage site in 1996, 51 years after the bombing. When you visit the A-Bomb Dome, it’s easy to get lost in the many conflicting things that surround you; between the dilapidated building sitting next to a modern high-rise and the bleached beams and brickwork surrounding by a grassy lawn, it’s no wonder the sight is so well known around the world.
Certainly the most eye-catching sight in the park, the Children’s Peace Monument is a memorial to the children affected by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In particular the monument is dedicated to Sadako Sasaki, who was present at the bombing at a young age, and later died in 1955 after developing complications from being exposed to atomic radiation. While she was hospitalized she made a personal goal to fold 1,000 origami cranes before her death. As such the Peace Monument is largely themed around these origami cranes, with the main structure bearing a statue of Sadako holding an oversized origami crane, and thousands of origami cranes being preserved in exhibits surrounding the monument. This monument really helps emphasize the longevity of nuclear activism by centering the lives and perspectives of children affected by the bombing.
While the Memorial Cenotaph is small in stature, its value can’t be underrated. The cenotaph contains the recorded names of all the victims of the Hiroshima bombing, covered by an arch symbolically providing shelter from the atomic blast. One of the first memorial monuments built for the park, the Cenotaph was also given an epitaph which memorializes the victims in hopes that nuclear weapons will never again create new victims. This refrain of nuclear awareness can be found all over the park and in the museum, but is felt most strongly at the Cenotaph site where it accompanies the names of the victims.
As the Hiroshima memorials have expanded and grown in scope, they began to include more groups that were affected by the bombing. In 1967, an advocacy group for student victims of the bombing organized the construction of a tower to memorialize the students who were mobilized in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing. Their loss is especially tragic as they were victims of circumstance and not directly working in the war effort. The structure of this tower memorial, with many tiers of platforms, emphasizes how the victims of the bombing weren’t just a numerical loss, but the loss of a country’s future in its youth.
Hiroshima is a beautiful city, both because of its seaside location, and how it has regrown and developed in the wake of being impacted by a tragedy on the scale of the atomic bombing. Journeying to the Peace Memorial Park, where you’re taking in the somber atmosphere as you’re surrounded by the Ota river, is a feeling you can’t experience anywhere else in Japan. While many visitors to Hiroshima might be inclined to make the museum their primary spot to visit in the region, don’t ignore what else can be found in the Peace Memorial Park. The range of experiences and messages the various symbols and monuments showcase help illustrate the depth of the issue that is atomic weapons, and will hopefully leave you more informed after visiting this memorial park to Japanese history.