Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
Trip End Apr 04, 2006

Loading Map
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of Japan  ,
Friday, July 22, 2005

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land

- G.K. Chesterton

Last Stop
Hiroshima. Our last stop. As I'm a bit of a World War II history buff it is somewhere I've always wanted to visit. And I'm assuming it needs no introduction to anyone who may be reading this; it is known throughout the world as the first city in history subjected to nuclear warfare with the atomic bombing of the city by the Americans during World War II. It is Western Honshu's largest city and since that fateful day in August 1945 it has become a byword for the devastating effects of the atom bomb. It's for this reason alone that millions visit the city annually. Most come to pay their respects at the Peace Park and museum but the city itself is lovely and the fact it was rebuilt, seemingly bigger and better, is eloquent testimony to the power of man over destruction. Where once there was nothing but ashes as far as the eye could see there now stands a modern city that still contains an old-world feel with its old trams and sunny disposition.

How did it come to this?
I've avoided a history lesson in my TravelPod entries up to now but it's sort of needed here to explain why the bomb was dropped here in the first place. I'll try to keep it brief... if you don't wanna read it just skip the next paragraph. Okay?

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the US naval base at Hawaii's Pearl Harbour, starting the Pacific war of World War II. Although the early days of the Pacific war went well for the Japanese (in rapid succession, the Philippine's, Indonesia, Malaya and Burma fell to the seemingly unstoppable Japanese forces) the tide was stemmed in New Guinea and, in June 1942, the US Navy won a decisive victory at the Battle of Midway by sinking Japanese aircraft carriers. Although Japan had launched its campaign to secure the "Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere", in which she would free her neighbours from colonization and help them develop like the West, the brutal and exploitative reality of Japanese occupation meant there was no support from these potential Southeast Asian allies. Nor was there a likelihood of military cooperation between Japan and Germany, who both eyed each other suspiciously despite the non-aggression pact they had between themselves. By 1944, with the US capture of the Pacific island of Saipan, Japan was clearly heading for defeat in the war. The country was now within range of US heavy bombers, but there was a determination to fight to the bitter end, as exemplified by suicidal kamikaze pilots and the defending forces on the islands of lwa-jima and Okmawa who fought to the last man. In March 1945, Tokyo was in ashes and 100,000 were dead fallowing three days of fire bombings. The government insisted that the emperor system remain inviolate when they put down arms, but no such assurances were offered by the Allies and in July 1945 they called for Japan's unconditional surrender. Japan failed to respond, providing the Allies with the excuse they needed to drop the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6.

Why Here?
As a garrison town, Hiroshima was an obvious target during World War II, but until that dark day in August 1945 it had been spared Allied bombing. It's speculated that this was an intentional strategy by the US military so that the effects of the atom bomb when exploded could be fully understood. Even so, when the B29 bomber Enola Gay set off on its mission, Hiroshima was one of three possible targets (the others being Nagasaki and Kokura) whose fate was sealed by reconnaissance planes above the city reporting clear skies. When "Little Boy", as the bomb was nicknamed, exploded 580m above the city at 8.15am it unleashed the equivalent of the destructive power of 15,000 tonnes of TNT. Beneath, some 350,000 people looked up and saw the sun fall to earth. In less than a second a kilometre wide radioactive fireball consumed the city. The heat was so intense that all that remained of some victims were their shadows seared onto the rubble. Immediately some 70,000 buildings and 80,000 people were destroyed. Two days later, the USSR declared war on Japan, while the next day, the second A-bomb exploded over Nagasaki. With millions homeless and starving, and the country brought to its knees, it was a breathtaking understatement for Emperor Hirohito to broadcast, on August 15, 1945, that the war had "developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage". For his subjects, gathered at wireless sets around the country, the realization of defeat was tempered by their amazement at hearing, for the first time, the voice of a living God.

Only the beginning
But the dropping of the bomb was only start of the suffering for the people of Hiroshima. By the end of the year, 60,000 more had died from burns, wounds and radiation sickness. The final death roll is still unknown, the figure offered by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum being 140,000 (plus or minus 10,000). Many survivors despaired of anything growing again for decades in the city's poisoned earth, but their hopes were raised on seeing fresh buds and blossom on the trees less than a year after the blast.

Hiroshima Today
The reborn Hiroshima, with its population of more than a million, is now a self-proclaimed "city of international peace and culture", and one of the most memorable and moving days to visit the city is August 6, when a memorial service is held in the Peace Park and 10,000 lanterns for the souls of the dead are set adrift on the Ota-gawa delta. For all Hiroshima's symbolic importance, though, it's important to put the number of those killed into context. During the World War II battle of Okinawa, 265,000 people were killed in a few weeks, more than in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the second city the A bomb was dropped on) combined, while close to 200,000 died in Tokyo in a single night of allied bombing in 1945 - and the Japanese themselves are said to have brutally massacred a similar number of soldiers and civilians in Nanking, China.

A quick Visit
We had limited time in the city; the following day I was due to get the ferry to Korea and B was heading back to Tokyo for the flight home to Ireland. We walked around the memorial park on our last night in the country taking a few pictures (see the pictures posted here for more info on the city). The following day I spent an all too brief period in the museum which I found, very surprisingly, delivered a very balanced view on the reasons for the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and its people. There was certainly no anti-U.S.A, us-against-them feel from the museum presentations, some of which were very graphic. I hope to get back some day to give the museum a proper going over.

Moving on
With our time in Hiroshima, and Japan, drawing to a close myself and B said our teary goodbyes and I boarded the train west to Shimonoseki for the overnight ferry for my return to South Korea and my third visit to Camp Korea.

PS: Hope you enjoyed the history lesson?... sorry!
Slideshow Report as Spam

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: