Internet Stranger, today is a special day in the life of the Travelerette. Normally I try to cram as many jokes into one itinerary as I possibly can. In the tagline for my website, I even promise that I offer 1 million laughs. That is so many laughs! But today on the Travelerette, we are visiting Hiroshima, and I’m afraid that laughs will not be appropriate for the rest of the day. There won’t be any chuckles or giggles either. So join me as we explore Hiroshima’s tragic past and try not to cry too much in public. (I can pretty much guarantee that we will fail miserably on that score.)
Morning: Hiroshima Peace Park
Even if Hiroshima had no historical significance, it is still a city people would want to visit. It is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture, it is just a short trip from sacred Miyajima, and like any other decently-sized Japanese city, it has great food, lovely parks, and many shopping opportunities. But sadly, the reason that many people visit Hiroshima is to reflect on its status as the first city ever to be struck with an atomic bomb on August 6th, 1945. All of the major monuments to Hiroshima’s sad past can be found in Hiroshima Peace Park.
I recommend setting aside an entire morning to be able to really be able to engage and reflect on the artifacts and memories of the dead that you will find in this park. Ordinarily I love walking tours, but for Hiroshima I preferred to explore on my own so I could really be alone with my thoughts. You can find an excellent map that provides explanations for the over 50 monuments and memorials in the park. Here were some of the ones that spoke the most to me. I have chosen to limit myself to eight because, as you will see, the number eight is highly significant in Hiroshima.
eight important memorials in hiroshima peace park
1) The Children’s Peace Monument is probably the first thing you will see when you approach the park. It is dedicated to Sadako Sasaki and the other children who were victims of the atomic bomb. Sadako was a little girl who was not killed during the bombing, rather she died of leukemia at the age of 12 because of the exposure to radiation that she had absorbed from the atomic bomb.
In the United States, Sadako is well-known because of a book called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. The book is similar to Sadako’s true story, though certain elements have been fictionalized. In real life, Sadako believed the Japanese legend that if you make 1,000 paper cranes, your wish will be granted. Her wish was to have a world without nuclear weapons. That is why the monument is decorated with cranes. Though Sadako’s wish was not granted, children and adults from all over the world send cranes to Hiroshima as a symbol of their desire for world peace.
2) The Memorial Cenotaph in the middle of the park is shaped like an arch so that you can see the Atomic Bomb Dome directly on the other side of the Pond of Peace. It is shaped like an ancient Japanese house because the idea is that the arch is serving as a shelter for the souls of the people who were killed in the bombing. The stone chest under the arch contains the names of all the victims of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japanese or otherwise. The list is almost 300,000 names long and names continue to be added to it.
This photo of the view through the cenotaph is a popular one, so you’ll probably have to wait on line in order to take the picture. This felt so peculiar to me, like I was some sort of tragedy tourist. But if this blog post helps to educate even one person about the horrors that happened in Hiroshima, then I hope it was worth it.
3) The Peace Bell is a traditional Japanese style bell that is rung with a wooden log. You might see this type of bell at any Buddhist temple in Japan. But this bell is different for two reasons. The first is that it is decorated with a map of a world without borders. The second is that the point on the bell where the log will hit the metal to ring the bell is inscribed with the atomic symbol. This means every time someone rings the bell, it is meant to symbolize a wish to end atomic weapons. I encourage you to ring the bell when you visit Hiroshima, but just once please!
4) The Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall is dedicated to mourning the victims of the atomic bomb. There is a sister memorial in Nagasaki, which is the other Japanese city that was subjected to the atomic bomb. There is no charge to enter the hall.
The most powerful room in the hall is the Hall of Rememberance, pictured above. Each element in this hall is significant. The basin in the center is pointed to the time 8:15 AM, when the bombing took place. The basin is also supposed to be giving water to the victims who died thirsty because of the bomb’s searing heat.
The image on the wall is of Hiroshima after it was bombed. It is a mosaic made of about 140,000 tiles because those were the number of people who had died because of the atomic bomb by the end of 1945. (The number is much higher now because so many died of radiation and cancer for years after the bombing.)
5) The A-Bomb Dome is the most instantly recognizable visual symbol of the atomic bomb. It used to be the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall until the A-Bomb was dropped directly over it. Everyone inside was killed immediately, but the walls and wires of the dome were strangely unharmed. I gather that this is paradoxically because the building was right underneath the blast, but I don’t know enough about bombs or architecture to understand exactly why. Because of the dome’s symbolic significance, it is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
6) The Peace Clock Tower uses symbolism that can be found in many other monuments in the Peace Park. Once again, the number 8:15 AM is significant because the clock chimes at 8:15 AM every morning to express a wish for world peace. As with the bell, the sphere is meant to represent the world and all of humanity. The pillars of the clock represent the hands of the people of Hiroshima supporting the world in peace.
7) The Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students is one of the saddest monuments in Hiroshima. It is dedicated to the Japanese middle school and high school students who were conscripted into working in weapons factories to make up for the fact that at this stage in the war, Japan did not have enough adult workers to support the manufacture of new arms. After the war was over, the Japanese government did not enshrine all of the mobilized students in the Yasukuni Shrine for war heroes in Tokyo. So the families of mobilized students who were killed in Hiroshima created their own monument here.
8) Because each monument is sadder than the last, we end with the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound. This mound houses the ashes of victims of the atomic bomb who were never claimed by friends or relations. To this day, there are over 800 atomic bomb victims in this mound who have never been identified.
Address: 1-7-20 Otemachi
At this point in your day, I’m assuming that you’ll need a lunch break, and I highly recommend the Hiroshima oysters, which are a local delicacy. One of the best spots in town to get oysters is Ekohiiki, which is right near the Hiroshima Peace Park. The staff speaks English and it’s easy for a solo diner to walk in and get a seat at the counter.
The lunch set is a great value and, as usual with a Japanese set lunch, kicks things off with rice, miso soup, and pickles. The soup here was special because it added clams to the typical clear miso broth. I never say no to bonus clams!
Then came the main event. There was a luscious barbecued oyster, fried tofu, fried chicken, and salmon sashimi. None of those things sound like they would go together, but individually they tasted great. So I recommend eating each dish one at a time so as not to mix up the flavors. My favorite was the smoky bbq oyster. Hiroshima is famous for the size of its oysters and this one was very plump and tender.
Japan isn’t known for its desserts, so I was pleasantly surprised that one was included with my meal. It was a sweet coffee jelly topped with a layer of custard. The slight bitterness of the coffee jelly was perfectly complimented by the mild custard. Coffee jelly is so popular in Japan that Starbucks serves a coffee jelly Frappuccino there. I really think it needs to catch on here in the US!
Travelerette Treasure: I saw that someone had put this Coke Zero high up by the grate in the ladies’s bathroom at Ekohiiki. Why did someone do this? It must have been difficult to get the bottle up there, so what was the purpose? If you have any idea, please leave your thoughts below.
Afternoon: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
Address: 1-2 Nakajimacho
Hours: 8:30-6 Every Day, Open longer in August
Price: 200 Yen
The Hiroshima Museum is dedicated to education about the effects of the atomic bomb and to housing artifacts from the atomic bomb explosion. The East Building has been under construction for quite some time, so when I was there I was only able to see the Main Building. But the East Building is set to reopen in March 2017, so you should be able to see much more than I did when you go visit.
Even with only half of the exhibits open, I was still very moved by the displays of objects that had belonged to the citizens of Hiroshima. Most of the exhibits in the main building are about the suffering of atomic bomb victims, so I don’t recommend this museum for children. I hope the information I have provided below will help you decide if this museum will be too intense for you and your traveling companions to experience or not.
three facts about the atomic bomb in hiroshima
1) Many of the victims of the bomb were killed because of burns incurred from the extreme heat of the explosion. Their clothes were often obliterated as you see from the school uniform pictured above. It was possible for the victims’ skin to peel off and yet for them still to survive in pain for several days before dying from their burns. Many of the objects on display belonged to the Junior High School students living in Hiroshima at the time.
2) The dirt and debris from the mushroom cloud turned radioactive and was absorbed by water vapor in the sky. When it rained, this radioactive debris combined with the water vapor created “black rain” that stained Hiroshima and exposed its citizens to further radiation poisoning. This fragment of a wall, pictured above, is an example of a building damaged by black rain.
3) Many world leaders and celebrities have come to the Hiroshima Museum and left their messages and signatures. These messages are on display at the end of the exhibits in the main building. I was curious to see the names of leaders from former South African president F.W. Deklerk to Boris Yeltsin because it was just as interesting to see the countries that hadn’t sent a representative as it was to see the countries that had. The only American President listed was Jimmy Carter, and he went in his capacity as Former President, not while he was still in office.
Late Afternoon/Evening: Explore Downtown Hiroshima
After such a somber day, you deserve a relaxing afternoon and evening. I recommend taking the rest of the day “off” from tourism and just wandering around and exploring Hiroshima. The Peace City is no small town, well over a million people live here and there is plenty to keep you entertained. If you need some suggestions, here are
approximately top five best things to do in hiroshima
1) See the cherry blossoms! I know I sound like a broken record, but it really is the best thing to do anywhere in Japan if you are there for cherry blossom season. The prettiest ones I found (pictured above) were on the banks of the Motoyasu River, right next to the cherry blossoms. If you have some extra time, you can also buy ticket for one of the boats that goes up the Motoyasu River to Miyajima. I didn’t do that because I’d already been to Miyajima and I wanted to stay in Hiroshima for the rest of the day, so if you take one of these river cruises and the boat sinks, don’t blame me, Internet Stranger!
2) Drink a Hiroshima Cola. This is a locally produced soft drink that tastes deliciously like an old-fashioned sarsaparilla. The bottle is decorated with carp, which are also the mascot of the local baseball team. The drink is widely available, so just go into any store that seems to be selling soft drinks and pick one up.
3) Go shopping. Hiroshima has a ton of stores selling everything a person could think of, and some things a person could not possibly think of. My favorite stop was in a chain store called Don Quijote that is several stories high and sells all of the things in the world. I seriously think I saw my third-place figure skating medal from elementary school there. However, I opted not to buy it, and instead chose an electrical adapter, a tiny pair of scissors, a bottle of sparkly pink nail polish, and a box of momiji monju cakes.
The reason I decided to enter this store in the first place is that I was so excited to see a place named after one of my favorite novels, Cervantes’ Don Quixote. But all my hopes were dashed when I saw Don Quijote’s mascot.
How can Don Quijote’s mascot possibly be a penguin wearing a Santa hat? THERE ARE NO PENGUINS IN THE BOOK DON QUIXOTE! Why couldn’t it be a windmill or an old nag named Rocinante? I felt I would be driven mad trying to figure this problem out.
My other favorite store was an adorable women’s clothing boutique called Whim. I’m a little tall and curvy for most clothes designed for Japanese women, but I did find an adorable mini umbrella decorated with cherry blossoms that I keep in my purse all the time in case of emergency rain. The young women here were very friendly and let me practice my Japanese on them. The store is also conveniently located next to our next destination…
4) Hang Out in Alice Garden on 8 Shintenchi. Alice Garden is an adorable little Alice in Wonderland themed urban square. There are sculptures shaped like the different suits from a deck of cards and stairs you can walk up and down to make yourself bigger and smaller.
When the weather is warm, there are musical performances outside here. For me, it was a pleasant place to read a book (with no pictures in it) and keep an eye out for a white rabbit. There was also a food truck selling Alice Crepes with all sorts of goodies like chocolate and bananas on top. I deeply regret not getting one for myself as an “Unbirthday Present”.
5) Eat an okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki, which are Japanese pancakes made with flour, cabbage, egg, and other goodies. The exact ingredients are different depending on the city in which you purchase the okonomiyaki. Hiroshima is famous for layering the ingredients while cooking them instead of mixing them together first. The whole thing is then topped with noodles and a sunny side up egg.
I got my okonomiyaki at Okonomimura, which is located at 5-13 Shintenchi. This is an “okonomiyaki” theme park with 25 okonomiyaki stands spread out over three floors. I didn’t catch the name of the stand I chose, but it was the first one on the right when you exit the elevator on the third floor, and it was delicious! The chef asked me lots of questions mostly in my broken Japanese and mostly about why I wanted to learn Japanese, while he prepared my okonomiyaki and cooked it exactly as long as I wanted. It was so exciting to eat something fresh off the grill like that. That is what I call fast food!
Travelerette Tip: You shouldn’t need me to tell you this, Internet Stranger, but don’t put the okonomiyaki in your mouth right away because it will burn your tongue. I know this because I burned my tongue. Mash up the okonomiyaki with your utensils to let some steam emerge and mix up the ingredients and then you can eat it.
After the emotionally draining experiences I’d had earlier that day, it felt like a perfect way to end the day: a middle-aged Japanese man and a young American woman speaking in Japanese about what makes Japan so special. If Japan and the United States can go from enemies to allies in such a short amount of time, perhaps there is hope that Sadako’s dream of a world without nuclear weapons will come true some day too.
And That’s How to Have a Perfect Day in Hiroshima!
What would you do with one day in Hiroshima? Do you prefer Hiroshima okonomiyaki or Osaka okonomiyaki? And which drugs was the person who designed Alice Garden on and where can I get some? Please leave your thoughts below!
I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.