Spotlight: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

Sixty-seven years ago on August 6th, the city of Hiroshima, Japan, woke up to a day that seemed like any other. By 8:15am, however, the unthinkable had occurred and Hiroshima’s residents became the victims of the world’s first atomic bombing.

Whatever your beliefs on the motive behind the bombing (was it necessary? was it overkill? did it really change the course of the war?), the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum doesn’t try to change them. It merely sets out to present a picture of what happened to the city on that fateful day and to that end, it does an absolutely stellar job.

A model of the center of Hiroshima before the atomic bomb fell

The practical nature of the exhibits is thorough and well-presented – you learn what led Japan on a path to war, how and why Hiroshima was chosen as a bomb site and the groups of people who were in Hiroshima on the day the bomb was dropped. And then you see the results – shadows on the steps where a human once sat, an intact lunch box with blackened rice inside, a pocket watch stopped forever at 8:15am. The piles of children’s school uniforms are perhaps the most emotional. Of the A-bombs victims, over 10,000 were middle schoolers who were on work duty in the city center that morning.

A model of the center of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb fell

It’s a lot of information and emotion to process, but when it becomes too much, the best thing to do is wander the Peace Park. On an island in the city center – the virtual hypocenter of the blast – a now serene swathe of green covers the once-decimated quarter. Monuments to the victims dot the tree-lined paths. Leukemia victim Sadako Sasaki’s statue, with its surrounding thousands of colorful cranes, beckons you closer to read the messages of peace amongst the origami. Nearby, the flame of Peace flickers brightly, to be extinguished only when the last nuclear weapon has been destroyed. And at the far end of the park, the skeleton of the A-bomb dome, formerly known as the Industrial Promotion Hall, keeps silent watch over the scene.

Hiroshima’s A Bomb Dome

Hiroshima is a loaded word. You can’t say it or hear it without calling forth some image of what happened here on August 6th, 1945. It’s a subject we sort of tiptoe around with our Japanese friends and acquaintances. Yet while Hiroshima could have harbored bitter resentment in her post-bomb years, what greeted me on my last trip instead was a city intent on leading the way down the path to peace and a world free of nuclear weapons. This city may not have the cultural clout of Kyoto or Tokyo, but it’s worth checking out on a week-long or two-week trip to Japan.

The Hiroshima Peace Site has loads of information on the museum itself as well as the park.

44 thoughts on “Spotlight: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

    • Mikalee, there are alot of displays in the museum that are moving – like the burned-out lunch boxes with the food still intact – but the models were what stopped me in my tracks. It really hammers home how devastated this city was.

  1. I visited this location back in 2006. It was definitely an eerie experience but something that everyone in general should visit – especially if you are interested in going into global affairs.

    • Karolyn,
      Thanks for the comment. You’re right – it’s not exactly an uplifting location but definitely something that should be visited. I’m glad you had the opportunity to go!

  2. My partner is part Japanese. We often discuss whether or not we would stop by this place if we manage to visit Japan in the future. Just seeing Ground Zero in NYC made me tear up. I fear I’d make a real Western spectacle of myself at that haunting place. =/

    • Hi Smile Scavenger,
      Thanks for the comment. For me, Hiroshima was a place that definitely evoked difficult feelings – doubly so, since I am both an American and a military spouse and there was admittedly guilt mixed in with the sadness. But it was so worthwhile and there’s a real feeling of hope as well.
      I hope you get to visit Japan someday soon!

  3. I visited this about five months ago–it’s an incredible museum with thoughtful and moving displays. As you say, it’s definitely a must-see if you visit Japan. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention.

    • Hi llanwyre,
      Thanks for the comment. I agree that it’s definitely a sight to include if you have the time while you’re in Japan. I hope you enjoyed your trip – where all did you go?

  4. Thanks for sharing this post that contains such intricate details along with the photographs of the museum.The country is peace-loving and courageous enough to stand upright after the sad history of Second World War.

  5. I just visited the park last week as they were getting ready for the peace ceremony. The whole place was very moving. I love how they are trying to turn such a terrible thing into something positive for the whole world.

    • Hi stoddart34,
      Thanks for the comment. I’ve only ever seen the peace ceremony on TV here in Japan but I would love to catch it in peson someday. You’re right – out of tragedy has come something quite positive and hopeful.

  6. I visited the place a few years ago, it was an unforgettable experience. At one point it was too much , I have to go out .

  7. Thanks for the post and congrats on the fresh pressing. This is a really important museum… it’s too bad people have to travel to Japan to see first-hand the impact of nuclear weapons. Relevant quote: “Nuclear weapons are the scourge of the Earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the Earth itself.” – Phil Berrigan

    • Thank you, thelivingnotebook! I feel honored to be freshly pressed and privileged to be able to share Japan with wordpress readers. And you’re quote speaks volumes – I hope no other city has to create the same memorial as Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) did.

  8. I visited this place a few years ago, while in Hiroshima for my work. Aside from being in a daze afterwards from the pent-up emotions, I really admired how this museum was non-judgmental. Rather than blaming those who dropped the bomb, it explains the facts, and shows the effects. The judging is left to the care of each visitor.
    I couldn’t help but be amazed at the contrast between the events depicted in the museum and the bustling city that Hiroshima has become once again. A tribute to the Japanese people.

    • I agree, inukshuk. Unlike some other museums (such as the one attached to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, for example), the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum didn’t try to pick sides or make excuses for Japan’s role in the war. It was one of the most balancede presentations I’ve seen anywhere.

  9. This is a beautiful post. I covered the Hiroshima bombing in my University dissertation; I would love to visit the city, to see this wonderful museum which they have created. I love the message of this post aswell, it’s a very humbling thought on this dreary Thursday afternoon.

    • Hi Anna,
      Thank you for the comments. I hope you have the chance to see Hiroshima for yourself someday. Knowing so much about the subject already, I am sure you’ll appreciate what they have done there.

  10. I toured Japan back in 1983, and was so impressed by the country and its people. I also visited the Peace Memorial, and found the most striking artifact to be the set of three white marble steps that were in front of a home in Hiroshima. The steps had a dark gray dirty mark in the center of them. When I read the plaque next to them, I read that a man was sitting on his front steps when the bomb exploded, and he was cremated into these marble steps. The “dark gray dirty mark” was his cremated shadow left behind!

    • Groovygiggles, that was one of the most emotional displays for me. It sounds like it made a strong impression on you as well if you remember it still so vividly after nearly 30 years.

  11. Absolutely incredible post. I probably never would have known this type of memorial existing… The only thing I have seen like this is in Oklahoma City at the bombing memorial. Walking through memorials and seeing memories of children is never easy to see.

  12. I have read a Hindi writer’s prose which he has dedicated entirely to his feelings on seeing the shadow of the man. It was so emotional to read that and I felt the same emotions today. I don’t know whether I would be able to do so or not but I would want to visit the place once in my lifetime to get the feeling of how close we are to destroying ourselves by way of using weapons of mass destruction.

  13. Oh my. 10,000 middle schoolers and countless others lost to the bomb, cancer, and falling debris. I’m adding ‘visit the Hiroshima peace museum’ to my list of things to do before 25′.

  14. Very nicely written. I traveled Japan a couple of years ago and visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial during one of our stops. Thank you for bringing these memories back to me so clearly and concisely. I hope you also got a chance to check out the Children’s Peace Monument while you were there.

    Thanks,
    Sonya

    • Hi Sonya,
      Thanks for the comment. When I was young, I had actually read a book on Sadako Sasaki and her goal to fold 1000 cranes, so the Children’s Peace Monument was the one thing I absolutely didn’t want to miss while in Hiroshima. It was heartbreaking but beautiful at the same time.
      I hope your trip to Japan was a wonderful experience for you!

  15. thank you for sharing. i’m one of those people that has a really bizarre interest in disasters like this one (not in a glorifying way..just..in a weird way) – that model gave me chills. your writing is very sensitive and considerate, and i think this post was super well done.

    i’m half japanese, but have never travelled to japan – though i’d like to. this was wonderful insight into the japanese culture, so thank you.

    and also, i saw a comic the other day..in it, a boy and his father are watching TV and on the screen is a mushroom cloud and the words “anniversary of hiroshima bombing” (or something along those lines) while the caption reads ” ‘what terrorist group did that?’ “

    • Wow, powerful comic, littlecitybot. And thank you for the compliments. I think Hiroshima, as with so many other things, shouldn’t be a question of what was right or wrong, but just of what happened and what we all can learn from it. And as for an interest in disasters, I myself was always very drawn to the Holocaust as a kid – books, films, pictures. Maybe it had something to do with trying to learning enough to make an incomprehensible tragedy make more sense. I hope you have the chance to visit the Japan yourself someday … I have no doubt you’ll love it!

  16. Pingback: Spotlight: Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots | Uncovering Japan

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