On our first afternoon in Hiroshima, we decided to visit the Hiroshima Peace Park. Within the park, you'll find the A-Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Museum, the Children's Peace Monument, the Flame of Peace, and the Cenotaph for bomb victims.
A few weeks ago, I showed my children a video on Hiroshima from BrainPop, so my oldest daughter was very excited about seeing the A-Bomb Dome in person. We took the streetcars from our hotel to the Genbaku Dome-mae (A-Bomb Dome) stop. As we started walking over to the Dome, my oldest started yelling, "I see it! I see it! And it's even bigger than I imagined it would be!" I love seeing my children become excited about history.
The Dome is a UNESCO World Hertiage site, and is considered a symbol of Hiroshima. On August 6th, 1945, the building was severely damaged and burnt by the the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare. The building had a lot more to it than you'll see today, but since the dome was in the center of the building, it managed to survive the blast. It was crazy to think that only 68 years ago, the place where we were standing had been leveled. The heaviness in your body was unavoidable when you thought of the horror that had taken place in that very spot.
We walked across a bridge to the main area of the park. In front of us was the Children's Peace Monument, based on the story of Sasaki Sadako, a junior high girl who died of luekemia, caused by the bombing 10 years after it happened. She believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes, she would get well. Today, people from all over the world fold paper cranes to be sent to this monument in Hiroshima.
We then walked to the Peace Flame, another monument dedicated to the victims of the bomb with an additional symbolic purpose to console the spirits of all the A-Bomb victims. The flame has been continuously burning since 1964 and will continue to burn until the world is free of nuclear weapons.
Near the Peace Flame was the Memorial Cenotaph. It was built on August 6th in 1952. It holds the list of victims' names killed by the bomb. The cenotaph carries the epitaph, "Rest in Peace, for the error shall not be repeated." Through the middle of the cenotaph, you can see the Peace Flame and the A-Bomb Dome behind it. It's arch shape represents a shelter for the soul of the victims.
After walking through the park, we then went to the Peace Memorial Museum. I had heard that some families opted to skip this with their children (or they walked through certain parts quickly) because there were displays and exhibits that were so distressing. Our children are 5 and 4, but we wanted to take them in. I don't want to scare my children, but I also don't want to shelter them. I wholeheartedly believe that you can teach children about terrible events in history, using those events to cultivated a sense of responsibility, compassion, and determination to keep similar events from happening again.
The first half the museum was about the events leading up to the bombing. It had a lot of war history, and told visitors where the bomb was dropped and what happened immediately afterwards. The second half of the museum was about the bombing victims themselves. This was the half containing pictures, artifacts destroyed in the blast, and an eerie display of victims immediately after the blast (statues with skin hanging from them). My girls asked a lot of questions and were obviously taking a lot in. They haven't said too much about it since, but I know it made a lasting impression on them. Check out the picture below of what my children did when they saw a wall covered with a picture of Hiroshima after the bombing.
Hiroshima is a place that everyone should visit if they spend time in Japan. Part of me felt a little awkward walking through the museum, knowing that it was MY country who had caused such devastation, but I never once encountered anyone in Hiroshima that was less than friendly. I wholeheartedly believe that we have a responsibility - to the victims, and to future generations - to go to Hiroshima and learn about those terrible events so that history is never repeated.