The first time I visited the Peace Park and Memorial in Hiroshima was in 2000, the year I got transferred to work in the city. It was the first place I visited after I got settled in here. I remember that as I walked through the park, I was very conscious of being from the “side” that dropped the bomb on the city and felt like I owed an apology to every Japanese I saw. That feeling was only magnified after visiting the museum, where all the horrors of that fateful day were on display.
However, it didn’t take long for that feeling to disappear, as the reality of living in Hiroshima began to take hold. I found it to be a greener city than most I had experienced at that point. And the Peace Park, at the centre of the city, is a living, breathing park, used by locals in their everyday activities – cycling, jogging, singing, and just hanging out. It became a favourite place for many of the teachers I worked with to have lunch, or to meet up after work and have a few drinks by the river (often sitting right at the dome to do so). Life goes on.
Of course, I’ve been to the memorial ceremony that happens every year on the anniversary of the day that the Ebola Gay dropped the atomic bomb just over the city on August 6, 1945. When that terrible event happened, those who were not immediately killed in the blast were suffering from severe burns, and thousands of people jumped into the many rivers that cross the city in order to find some relief. But so many jumped in that they completely clogged the rivers. Eventually, the bodies were removed and cremated, and those ashes (along with many others) were put together into a memorial mound just west of the epicentre, across the river. The mound is in a quitter part of the park, and I always find it to be a moving place. While I was visiting, numerous people came to pay their respects, light incense, and say a prayer. Many people left flowers, or more poignantly, bottles of water, for the victims of that day.
In the original neighbourhoods that made up what is now the Peace park, there was an old temple called Jisenji temple, and it had the graves of various people within its compound. But on the day the bomb was dropped, everything was obliterated, save for one tomb, that of Kuwait Okamoto, a councillor to the Asano house. The capstone was toppled in the blast, but the grave remains. Nearby lies the monument to the 20,000 Korean victims of the blast.
On the morning of August 6th, there is always a ceremony involving a lot of speeches by various dignitaries, followed by the release of doves. I went to the ceremony back in 2001, but was not able to see it today, as I could not get a hotel room in the city the night before. But I was there in the afternoon when there were multiple performances happening throughout the park by various choral groups. Of cours, the real draw is in the evening, when people place lanterns on the river I rememberance of all the lost souls from that day. Even though I’ve been to ceremony many times, I had only done the lantern once, the first time. But I decided to brave the long lines this time, wrote a message of peace on my green lantern, and finally placed it on the river. Unfortunately the wind kept blowing out my candle, but at least my lantern didn’t topple over like so many of the others. The wind and the choppiness of the river did not help much. Of course, if you wait until later in the evening when the river changes course, you may find that more of the lanterns stay afloat.
As I write this, a typhoon is starting to hit Japan, which will mean a lot of rain in the next day or two, and certainly this afternoon was a bit cloudy and gloomy as a result. But the clouds broke at sunset, and we had a lovely sunset behind the A-bomb dome, made even more magical by all the candles that surrounded the fence. Most of the candles had designs and messages on them that were drawn on by children. Photographing those little beacons of light was a lovely way to end my visit to the Peace Park.
Quality of Monuments: Clearly the A-bomb Dome is an iconic site that is known around the world, and really needs no explanation. There are a number of monuments around the park, most are very understated, but all have plaques explaining what they are.
Memorial Grounds: Quite a large park in the middle of the city. Even when it’s really crowded, for example, on August 6th of any year, there’s still plenty of room to move around. On any other given day, this is a pleasant place to walk around, have lunch, and/or just relax.
Visitors: As this is a World Heritage site known all over the world, it has a constant stream of visitors, both international and Japanese, including plenty of school groups.
Photographer Notes: The dome is really the focus here, and looks particularly photogenic in the late afternoon when the shadows are long. If you are lucky, you’ll end up with a nice sunset behind it. At night, if your image is colour-balanced properly, it will appear normally, as a grey building in white light. However, if you don’t check the colour balance, the dome will appear green because of the lights (more of an issue with film – basically, if you shoot tungsten film it will appear normal, if you shoot with normal film it will be greenish).
Memorial site: Hiroshima Peace Memorial (A-Bomb Dome), aka Genbaku Dome
Location: Naka-ku, Hiroshima
Established: The only building near the epicentre that survived the blast is what we know as the A-bomb Dome. The park was established on April 1, 1954. The A-bomb dome was registered as a World Heritage site in 1996.
Internments: Over 70,000 bodies were cremated and their ashes now lie in the memorial mound.
Hours: The park is open 24 hours a day.