Hiroshima: Peace Memorial Park and Shukkei-en Garden

So far my blog posts have been fairly happy little things about the wonderful experiences I’ve been having as a TRIAD Fellow. However this blog begins on a more sombre note, as on the morning after we returned from Kyoto, my parents and I hit the express ways for a long road trip south west to visit the city of Hiroshima.

Hiroshima of course needs barely an introduction, so famous is it for the catastrophic circumstances of 6th August 1945 when the city was struck by the world’s first atomic bomb in the closing stages of World War II. As soon as I knew I was coming to Japan for four months I knew that I would be compelled to visit the city to pay my respects and to experience the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park for myself. Fortunately a visit to Hiroshima was also high on my parents’ itinerary and so today was the day that I would finally visit.

It took a good four hours to drive there yet, while it was raining heavily in Kobe when we left early in the morning it was gloriously sunny by the time we arrived at the Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Kōen, to give it its proper name– the perfect conditions for viewing what is in fact quite a beautiful public space. The sakura was out at full capacity too and it was rather wonderful to see so many people enjoying this historic space together.

Designed by the Japanese architect Kenzō Tange and completed in 1954, Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Kōen is a public park for world peace which memorialises the direct and indirect victims of the atomic bomb, and exists to remind the world of the horrors of nuclear warfare. The park was built on an open field created by the blast in what used to be the city’s busiest downtown area. Understandably the park features many memorials, monuments and museums to the tragedy as well as wide open spaces for people to enjoy.

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One of the most famous sites at Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Kōen is that of the A Bomb Dome. This building, formerly the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall, was situated just 160 metres from the hypocentre of the blast. However, while all inside were killed and the building itself seriously damaged and completely burnt out, miraculously it remained standing. It had remained standing ever since and in December 1996 it was rightly added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a reminder to the world of the tragedy and as a symbol of global peace.

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Another significant site at the park is the Children’s Peace Monument. This monument was inspired by the death of Sasaki Sadako who was exposed to radiation as a result of the atomic bomb at the age of two. When ten years later this developed into leukaemia she sought to fold one thousand paper cranes, determined to outwit death (in Japan the crane is a symbol of longevity and happiness). Sadly Sasaki died before she could fold her one thousand cranes but her classmates continued on her behalf and later called for a monument to be erected in her memory. The Children’s Peace Monument was built with contributions from over 3,200 schools and donors in 9 countries. At the top of the monument is a bronze statue of a young girl lifting a golden crane entrusted with dreams for a peaceful future. An inscription reads ‘This is our cry. This is our prayer. For building peace in this world.’

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Surrounding the Children’s Peace Monument were hundreds and thousands of paper cranes donated by visitors to the park and since woven into ‘ropes’ or ‘paintings’. I donated a crane too.

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Other significant feature include:-

The Flame of Peace, which will only be extinguished once the last nuclear weapon on earth has been destroyed.

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The Cenotaph, which contains the names of all known victims of the bomb.

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And the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, in which are buried the ashes of thousands of unnamed victims.

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With all this very sombre thought I needed something to lighten my mood. Luckily the cherry blossoms at the park were on splendid form today.

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And this rather cool cat was on hand to bring a smile to my lips too.

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Once we had finished exploring Hiroshima Heiwa Kinen Kōen we had time to visit Shukkei-en Garden, also in Hiroshima. Shukkei-en was created in 1620 for daimyo (domain lord) Asano Nagaakira, just after the completion of Hiroshima Castle. With a central pond designed to look like Xi Hu (West Lake) in Hangzhou, China, Shukkein-en displays many other features typical of daimyo go round, including several teahouses. Interestingly the name Shukkein-en literally translates as ‘shrunken scenery garden’, reflecting the various miniaturised sceneries as one follows the meandering paths around the pond.

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Not content with a ‘go-round’ garden we decided to venture out to a go-round sushi restaurant (more accurately called ‘Kaiten Sushi’). It was fun ordering from the smart screen device above the table, even if it did take us a while to work out that the food was not going to be brought to us by a waiter or waitress but would come to our table along with the other dishes on the conveyor belt, and that we were one of around 8 tables assigned the same name and colour and so all those pink dishes we grabbed off the belt were in fact probably destined for other tables!

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