I suppose that the word Hiroshima brings up atomic bomb images in most of our minds. But besides its tragic backstory, the city is very much alive with cultural history and offers a glimpse into a past that many still recall like it was yesterday. Join me as I have the rare opportunity to see it through the eyes of an actual survivor.
I didn’t plan on visiting Hiroshima. But seeing that I had a few days to spare, I decided to spend my last few days in Japan exploring it.
Sure, Hiroshima isn’t the place you’d go to get a taste of Japan’s best restaurants. It’s also not where you can party up a storm, or experience the thrill of live entertainment. For me personally, it had much more appeal than Osaka or Nagoya. Hiroshima offered me the opportunity to see something ‘real,’ something that could and would change my life. It went above and beyond delivering on that promise.
I have always been a bit of a history buff and a train geek, so the Shinkansen Nozomi bullet train from Tokyo to Hiroshima was my preferred method of transport. I didn’t even consider other options since it’s the fastest and the most comfortable way to travel just about anywhere in the world.
An image of a radioactive wasteland like Chernobyl wasn’t exactly what I was picturing. I knew the city was thriving, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. To be frank, I was elated to be greeted by friendly faces in a city that built itself up from the ground.
My Experience Aboard the Shinkansen
My clear ‘touristy’ vibe helped a lot because the ticket operator at the Shinjuku Station kept offering me a window seat on the train. He insisted that I sit on the right side, and I wasn’t quite sure why.
It took a good twenty to thirty minutes of travel until I saw the breathtaking site of Mount Fuji whizzing by the window. Suddenly the ticket seller’s insistence at that seat and that side of the train made sense. It was a beautiful experience. Buzzing along at 300 km/h and watching the Japanese countryside go by was simply awesome.
The trip from Tokyo to Hiroshima probably took about four hours. It’s roughly the same distance as San Francisco to Seattle, or Chicago to Washington DC. I suppose a quick flight would cut the transit time down to two hours (or less). Then there’s the idea of passing through security, waiting, boarding, taxiing, then deplaning, and getting back to the city center. I can be exhausting, to say the least.
In Japan we ride the train!
After arriving in Hiroshima, I settled in at the Sheraton. I gave my legs some time to stretch out after the trip, and got ready to submerge myself in all that Hiroshima had to offer.
As far as efficiency goes, Hiroshima is arguably one of the most beautifully laid out cities I’ve seen with wide streets and sidewalks that all make sense. They probably learned a lot from the rest of the world, who was almost planned through with their major cities by the 20th century. See here, Hiroshima rebuilt itself completely, and man did they do a great job.
As I was exploring the streets, one of the most prevalent things was the scores of children being led by adults. Kids were everywhere. Everywhere! After being confused there for a while, I learned that it was school field trips I was witnessing. The adults were teachers. In Japan, all school kids take field trips to Hiroshima at least once in their lives, which makes perfect sense.
It all made sense.
See Hiroshima through the Eyes of a Local
The Hibakusha are the survivors of the atomic bomb attack. People who had been exposed to the radiation of the bombings, and the term literally translates to “explosion-affected people.” I met one of these folks, and if one word could sum him up, it would be awesome.
The Hibakusha was walking with me and my friend Chris on a walking tour. He showed us some hidden spots and the actual Hypocenter. Truth be told, I don’t think we would have found it on our own.
The Hibakusha was 69 years old, and he was born right in the year the bomb dropped, 1945. I recall him being very wise, and he talked to me and Chris for quite a while about his experiences.
Unlike many of the kids exposed t the radiation, the Hibakusha we were talking to was defined into Class 4. If I recall correctly, that means that he was still in utero when the bomb hit Hiroshima. He was fortunate to be one of the few to grow up without any major health side effects.
Navigating Our Way through the Museums
Hiroshima is home to quite a few museums, most of them obviously depicting the story of WWII and the atomic bomb and they’re all worth seeing. One of the most famous landmarks which remained standing after the bombings is the “A-Bomb Dome,” and as you can see, we took a fair amount of pictures. It’s basically the biggest “attraction” in the city, if you want to call it that.
Was it hard to make my way through the museums? Well, it wasn’t easy, but it was an eye-opener. I learned so much, and it’s odd to think that I knew all the answers before I visited Hiroshima. You see, with the Japanese folk, you get to hear another side of the story, their side, and it’s an honest story that doesn’t come with a bucket load full of “what if’s” and “why’s.” I don’t think I’ve ever had a low-down of facts before in my life. I sat there, taking it all in and trying to learn from it.
Life Lesson Learned
We met some amazing folks, had some epic experiences, and we got to see a lot of breathtaking sites, but beyond what we saw and experienced, we learned a valuable life lesson. The People of Hiroshima and Japan don’t hate the American’s for what we did. In fact, it seems to be the opposite. I had somehow believed that they despised Americans for the bombings, and suddenly, it was like enlightenment in the best way.
What the people of Hiroshima – those survivors – hate, is the fact that man made a weapon that could cause endless destruction. They hated that man had invented a weapon that had a sole purpose taking lives. Finally I understood their philosophy. It wasn’t about them. It was about us all, as people.
After seeing what they had to go through in order to rebuild their lives, I believe that the Hibakusha, all of the Japanese for that matter, are some of the most peace-loving and forgiving folk on earth. Especially given their past, the folks here only have a simple wish: don’t use nuclear bombs. Ever again. It’s that simple. Wow.
At the end of the day, the two days we spent in Hiroshima were eye opening, and I would have missed out on an opportunity of a lifetime had I not decided to get on that train in Tokyo. In conclusion, I see Hiroshima is a solemn reminder of how a horrific past can pave the way to a bright and hopeful future.