I AM looking at the river in which thousands of terrified people had jumped into trying to relieve the pain from their burning bodies. An estimated 66,000 people were killed in seconds when the United States of America dropped the atomic bomb – codenamed “Little Boy” – on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.
It neared the end of World War II and marked the beginning of the nuclear age. The epicentre of the explosion was where Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park stands today. It hosts the Peace Memorial Museum, exhibitions and several monuments.
It’s best to first get a sense of what happened on the ground in 1945 before exploring the park. The Peace Memorial Museum gives complex information on Hiroshima’s history and modern day nuclear weapons development. It’s a three-floor testimony of horror, but also of hope.
Exhibited are the remains of hair, schoolbooks and clothing worn by the victims on that day. One of the personal items is a broken watch that had stopped at the time of the explosion – 8:15am. Testimonies tell how the skin of the victims was peeling off and how many of them would drink the large oily drops of black rain to quench their terrible thirst.
In the large hall you can read letters from various Hiroshima city mayors and international politicians who signed pledges that nuclear weapons shall never be used again. In the west wing of the museum visitors can see what happened to wood, stone, metal and glass from the heat and giant video screens show footage of Hiroshima engulfed in flames.
With the pictures of the decimation of Hiroshima in your head, seeing the site that was hardest hit and is now the Peace Memorial Park is an emotional experience. Among the many monuments there is one that has fuelled the imagination of millions worldwide.
The Children’s Peace Monument is a statue based on the true story of bomb victim Sadako Sasaki. The school girl heard the legend that the crane – a sacred bird in Japan – lives for a hundred years, and if a sick person folds 1000 paper cranes, they would soon get well. Sadako managed to fold 644 paper cranes before she died of blood cancer. Children from all over the world sent folded paper cranes to Hiroshima with a wish for peace in the world, all displayed at the Childen’s Peace Monument.
A short walk from there stands the symbol of Hiroshima, known as the Genbaku (atomic bomb) Dome. Before August 6, 1945 it was the city’s old Industry Promotion Hall. All you can see now are its gutted walls and the ruins that support its dome, which was vaporised in the explosion.
The Genbaku Dome was the building closest to the epicenter of the nuclear explosion and the only one that remained standing. After years of debate on whether or not to tear it down, it was preserved as a memorial and became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996.
“Its registry on the World Heritage List is an indication that the human community is developing a common awareness that nuclear weapons must never be used again,” said Takashi Hiraoka, who was Mayor of Hiroshima back then.
To advocate world peace and commemorate the victims, Hiroshima City also sponsors the Peace Memorial Ceremony that is held every year on August 6. Thousands of people from all over the world – among them politicians, activists and families of the victims – attend the event, which is held in front of the Memorial Cenotaph in the park. It starts at 8am with a oneminute silence at 8.15 – the time when the clocks stopped ticking in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.