Day 10, 11 and 12 of an Amazing time on the Island of Japan
TR Robertson ….Our next stop would be a rather somber part of the tour as we headed to Peace Memorial Park, the park that honors the dead and shows the horror that resulted from the first A-bomb dropped on any country. The Park is dedicated to the “elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community”. As we began our walk through the park, the first structure we stopped at, known as the A-bomb Dome, was the partial concrete and brick/mortar remains of a large building formerly known as the Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall. The remains are held up by steel girders and a domed metal structure that resembles the original dome. This building was built in 1915 and on the morning of August 6, 1945, at 8:15 am, the first atomic bomb ever used as a weapon was detonated almost directly over this building. A watch was found on one victim that stopped exactly at 8:15 am, the moment of the detonation. As we strolled through the park, a protest was going on over one of the bridges as a very emotional Japanese man was shouting into a sound system about the kidnapping of numerous Japanese citizens over 20 years ago that are still being held in North Korea. We also stopped at the Children’s Peace Monument, the Eternal Flame which will remain lite until all nuclear weapons disappear and a large sculpture covering a stone sarcophagus which contains the names of the Japanese citizens and military personnel killed on the first day. We then entered the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to see the permanent displays from this event. The building is under renovation and redesign, but there were still a number of exhibits on display.
The history behind this event and what came after is still debated to this day. The war in Germany was drawing to a close. Hitler would soon be dead and Europe was attempting to try and recover from this devastating war in Europe. Attempts had been made to the Japanese government to come to the peace table and end the hostility and killing in the Pacific. Many options were discussed by the United States military and allies. Operation Downfall was designed as a complete invasion of Japan, not favored by many due to the possible massive loss of American and Allied lives as the topography of Japan would allow the Japanese to entrench themselves for a long war. The United States estimated 130-220,000 troops could be killed from the invasion. Japan had estimated that a war on their island could result in 20 million deaths of Japanese military and citizens. Also discussed, but dropped, was the possible use of either chemical (poison gas) warfare or biological warfare. The continued bombing of major cities in Japan was having some effect but not enough to bring the Japanese leadership to the peace table. Over 63 million leaflets had been dropped listing 12 cities that would be bombing targets by the United States and could suffer from firebombing raids. In March 1945, in Tokyo alone, the conventional bombings that took place actually killed more people than in the a-bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Five initial cities were listed as targets for bomb drops – Kokura, Yokohama, Niigata, Hiroshima and Kyoto. The American military leadership and President Truman finally decided that 4 cities in Japan would be bombed with atomic weapons, one at a time, to force Japan to surrender. Kyoto was one of the cities on the table for bombing, but was replaced by Nagasaki and Niigata was also dropped. Cities were picked based on size potential for maximum destruction, importance of the cities to the Japanese war effort and whether the cities had adequate air raid warning systems. Hiroshima was a port town, military depot and important manufacturing city and had never been bombed and as a result their air raid system was minimal.
On the morning of August 6, 1945, the B-29 Super Fortress Enola Gay, under the command of Colonel Paul Tibbets, Jr., took off from Tinian Island. Only three people on board knew about the specific mission and the power of the bomb, called Little Boy (original called Thin Man), on board. Once over Hiroshima, the bomb was dropped and the detonation occurred some 1,900 feet in the air. It has been said that the bomb actually did not fully detonate or the devastation would have been worse, but the destruction was still staggering. The initial targeted site was a street intersection on Aioi Bridge, as the street crossed a river and formed a T-intersection which was to be used for the sighting target. The drop was close, but missed this specific target. The a-bomb used for the bombing of Hiroshima was a uranium gun-type bomb, different than the one that would later be dropped on Nagasaki. It had been tested secretly in the desert of New Mexico on July 16, 1945. The shell of the bomb and components had been taken secretly to Tinian Island in the Pacific and the uranium-235 projectile core brought to the island separately. An interesting sub-story is to look into the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and what happened to this United States Navy vessel after taking part in the mission of delivering parts for the bomb.
In Hiroshima, the devastation from the bomb blast extended in a 1 mile radius from the drop point, but the fires that were caused from the blast extended for 4.4 square miles. The center of the blast carried a firestorm with temperatures that reached 5,432 to 7,232 degrees Fahrenheit. It is estimated that the energy released was equivalent to 16,000 tons of high performance explosive. In the museum there are numerous displays of walls, metal girders, iron windows, adult and children’s clothing, glass that went through incredible changes due to the blast. The blast created a two-fold path of destruction. The intense heat from the initial blast then a reversal implosion of devastating wind. Also in the museum are several miniature dioramas of Hiroshima before the blast and after day one of the blast and many large black and white pictures from the blast. The entrance had a series of large pictures of the mushroom cloud and the resulting firestorm minutes after the blast. Toward the end of the displays in the museum was a section devoted to the relief effort launched to assist Hiroshima after the blast. There is also a section dealing with how those that survived attempted to find out about their families. Little was known at that time about the effect of radiation on humans and as a result many of the people involved in the relief effort were exposed to the radiation and would suffer later on. It is estimated that close to 100,000 people were killed on day one and 2-4 months later another 70-90,000 would die. The destruction of buildings was overwhelming. The Hiroshima Castle (Rijo Castle), which was built in 1589, was destroyed. It has since been rebuilt, in 1958, in its location close to the center of the blast site.
As the war ended, shortly after the bombing of Nagasaki, Hiroshima would begin to rebuild. Amazingly people returned to Hiroshima soon after the bomb was dropped and the radioactivity dissipated quicker than most thought it would, but the city was unsafe for a period of time, not only from the radioactivity but also from disease due to the number of bodies found daily. Controversy surrounding the keeping of a few of the structures that did partially survive the blast was debated hotly. Many thought keeping them would be too painful for relatives of those that survived. In 1966, the city council voted to preserve the remains of what is now referred to as the A-bomb Dome. Around this are a number of statues, memorials, peace bells, and offerings for those who were affected and those that are moved by what happened here.
After this most sober and historical visit we returned to the Hotel Granvia Hiroshima. Our group decided to take in another evening dinner together, this time to try the Hiroshima version of stuffed pancakes, fixed in a crepe like style. Just like the ones we had in Osaka, these were equally delicious. The next morning we are back on the bullet train to Osaka one last time. We wandered the streets close to the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka for some last minute shopping and a final small group dinner with several of those on tour with us. Tomorrow we leave for home from Kansai Airport via San Francisco to San Diego having had a most educational, fun filled visit to another first for the Robertson’s, a trip to the beautiful island of Japan.
Anyone else interested in traveling with us, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to stay in contact. Coming up in the next travel article will be pictures and captions from the trip. Also if you love plays, follow my reviews on plays from theatres and playhouses all over San Diego County.