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Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Listed under Museums in Hiroshima, Japan.

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Some events are behemoths ploughing their legacy through history – possibly none more so than the story of Hiroshima and the Enola Gay. I've known parts of this story for years and I've seen image after image of the 'A Bomb Dome', the shadow left in the pavement by a person obliterated by a nuclear bomb while waiting for the bank to open, and of course photo after photo of the mushroom cloud, so it was hard not to form an opinion about what it will be like to visit Hiroshima before I arrived. I had imagined the famous layout of the Peace Park, the bomb dome and the museum from photos, and as you can see by this drawn out preamble I'm finding it difficult to give an impression of what it was like to actually be there without colouring it with all my expectations. It was both larger, emotionally – if that makes any sense – and less formal than I thought it would be.

I was there on a sunny weekday and there were school groups everywhere. Kids in yellow hats and sailor suits in groups, both big ones and small ones. The sun and kids made the A bomb Dome seem less foreboding, but it also made it seem more sad. Lots of kids died when the nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and even more in the fall out of radioactivity which followed. It was particularly touching to see the school groups bringing their strings of paper cranes to add to the thousands which decorate the children's memorial. The sad story of Sadako, the 13 year old girl who thought that folding 1000 origami cranes would starve off her leukaemia. Being read the story of Sadako in primary school must have been the first time I'd heard of Hiroshima. She has her own section in the museum telling her story as well being remembered at the children's memorial. High School kids had been drafted in to work groups to demolish buildings in a fire path that day, which was designed to help fight the fires that would potentially come from American blanket bombing – Hiroshima had been expecting bombing though out the previous months but had escaped it, we now know why – it was because the American's wanted to these their atomic bomb on a relatively intact city so Hiroshima had been spared. Kids in the work groups were working outside around the city so these kids were thumped with the worst kind of exposure to the bomb – the kind where they were critically burned but many were able to get home and die in agony in their parent's arms. My sanitised school books gave the impression most people had been obliterated by the bomb, but lots of people were only terminally maimed and lingered on for a few days covered in burns. Grizzly. Though the museum has a large display of the clothes and belongings of these 12 to 16 year olds, donated by their parents, the stories are told in a less graphic way than I did just then, which I thought was respectful when it could have sensationalised.

The really surprising thing about the museum is how generous the Japanese have been regarding their own conduct. They could have presented the facts as they are and made themselves look much more the innocent victims, but the museum is quick to take credit for the violence the Japanese are responsible for as well as their suffering. The history books have been written in the favour of the allies, but the story is told here in very matter of fact way and I learned a few things I didn't know:

The American's had initially planned to bomb Germany but changed their minds because they thought if the bomb failed to explode the Germans would be in a better position to learn from the technology and they didn't want to give away their secrets.

There were multiple cities selected to be 'tested', a list which includes Kyoto – but Kyoto was taken off the list because the American's thought the Japanese would be more deeply scarred by the destruction of their ancient capital and wouldn't be as open to overtures of friendship – read trade - in a post war world. The final decision to bomb Hiroshima was only taken hours before the attack.

American scientists were in place to watch the bomb and its effects from a distance and established a clinic in Hiroshima after Japan's defeat where they continued to monitor the health of the survivors, but didn't offer them any medical care.

America had to move fast towards the end of the war to make sure they were able to test their bomb before the fall of the Pacific, and despite the history books telling us that this was the decisive final act to finish the war, the material available here, which includes letters, memos and the diaries of officials very high up in the US military, suggests that this was done more as a display of power in front of Russia, who the US thought were going to win too large a slice of the world's pie in the aftermath of the world war.

Grim and gritty stuff, but done in a bare, honest way that under-sensationalises and takes the perfect tone of sadness and desire for peace. I was most impressed and moved. This place is a learning experience for both those who know a lot about these events already and children or people just learning the story.

The cost of entry is a ridiculous 50Yen. You can pick up an audio guide for 300Yen but unless you only have time to rush though it won't give many additional insights to what you can read about the artefacts, unless you can't read either Japanese or English – then it's a very good idea.

Written by  Kat Mackintosh.

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