On Aug. 6, 1945, on a clear and sunny morning the U.S. B-29
bomber, Enola Gay, took off from the Mariana Islands. At 8:15 a.m.,
it dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of
The explosion occurred less than half a mile above the city and
destroyed 90 percent of the downtown buildings. Estimates suggest
that 145,000 people died by the end of that year, and countless
thousands have perished since.
Sixty years later, I am standing inside Hiroshima’s Peace
Memorial Museum, staring at a wall-sized photo of the devastated
city taken a few days after the bombing. Total silence is all
around me. Museum visitors from several nations stand open-mouthed,
trying to formulate a response to the wasteland confronting
Ever since school history classes, I’ve been intrigued from afar
about how Hiroshima responded and rebuilt its city and population.
As my Shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto sped across western Japan,
I tried to imagine how modern Hiroshima would look; how it would
feel; how it would go about its daily business with such a
historical burden. No guidebook could prepare me for what I
I arrived at Hiroshima station on a similarly clear, sunny
morning to be welcomed by a bowing, baseball-cap-clad train
maintenance team, patiently waiting to board and clean the spotless
carriages. During the bus ride downtown, modern, mid-rise Hiroshima
showed itself to be softened by parks, spliced by rivers and
fringed by hills. European-style trams trundle down broad
thoroughfares flanked by glitzy shopping malls, coffee shops and
five-star hotels not quite what I had expected.
Like most visitors, my first stop was the A-Bomb Dome,
Hiroshima’s most poignant memorial to that catastrophic August
morning. Seeing it close up for the first time, it is quite hard to
absorb the historic significance. The once classic European-style
green-domed exhibition hall is now a twisted skeleton of steel and
masonry. Though gutted by fire, it somehow remained partially
standing. An inscription reads “everyone in the building died
The A-Bomb Dome’s modern context represents the rebirth of the
city. It sits on a lush, green lawn at the confluence of the
Motoyasu-gawa and Ota-gawa rivers.
Rising behind it are the city’s baseball stadium home to the
pro-league Hiroshima Toyo Carp and several modern office towers.
Adjacent is the Aioi-bashi Bridge, featuring a stark brass and
black-ink depiction of the city two months after the bombing.
Crossing the river, I entered the triangular Peace Memorial
Park, featuring 64 monuments and commemorations to the bombing and
its aftermath. Here, multinational visitors move slowly between the
statues, stopping to read explanatory notes from multilingual
tourist guides. Weaving between them are uniformed Japanese
schoolchildren, diligently studying their park maps.
The pleasant, tree-filled park embodies Hiroshima’s hope for a
nuclear-free future. Walking the streets of this captivating,
energetic modern city, it is impossible not to share the sentiment.
Such complacency, though, is dispelled inside the Peace Memorial
Beautifully designed and curated, it tells Hiroshima’s
post-nuclear story in uncompromising detail. The illustrated
extracts of writings and spoken testimonials by survivors and the
blood-curdling photographs of wounds and injuries are meant to
display the evils of nuclear weaponry.
Sixty years have passed since the bombing, and touring Hiroshima
today is emotive rather than distressing. No city in the outside
world has the motive or dedication to protest more strongly against
nuclear proliferation. Between 1968 and August 2004, Hiroshima’s
mayors wrote 588 protest letters to the heads of nations conducting
nuclear weapons tests. Each is displayed in the Peace Memorial
A City Reborn
Yet as evening descends on the bustling main streets, the neon
glow of commerce, shopping and nightlife adds a rejuvenating
ambience. Stores on the main streets are elegant and expensive; the
chic boutiques along Jizo-dori could grace the streets of New York
City. Ambient bars like Otis and Opium are classy and relaxing. And
scores of exquisite Japanese restaurants are dotted around
But Hiroshima also harbors another rich secret, which (though
well known by Japanese tourists) is often missed by other visitors.
The island of Miyajima is home of the floating Itsukushima Shinto
shrine one of Japan’s most revered sites.
Determined not to miss the early morning ferry, I jumped onto a
tram and then took a taxi to the modern port district. From there,
it was a 20-minute boat to the well-behaved and clearly
tourist-trained, wild deer that welcomed me to the island, hoping
no doubt to relieve me of any spare food. Undoubtedly, the shrine,
which fronts a charming island attractively clad in trees and
foliage, is best viewed on a sunny day.
During my visit, the clouds were low and a drizzly rain lingered
in the air. But staring back across the waters at the city of
Hiroshima, I pinched myself again and again unable to comprehend
the beauty of the view. Sometimes, at times like these, the weight
of history just takes over.
Japan’s shinkansen bullet trains are fun and fast, spotlessly
clean and very expensive, but an essential part of visiting.
Launched in 1964 the brilliant white, snake-like trains were
originally designed to travel at around 125 miles per hour. Today,
they zip across Japan’s picturesque countryside at up to 185 miles
per hour. There seems to be no more exciting or efficient way to
travel across the country.
The bullet train network spreads across Japan’s main island of
Honshu, linking Tokyo with most major cities, including Kyoto,
Osaka and Hiroshima. Reserved tickets can be purchased in advance
from the rail station, as can cheaper non-reserved tickets, for
which seating is provided on a first-come, first-served basis in
designated carriages. Trains leave and depart to a rigorously
enforced schedule. So clients can sit back and enjoy the (extremely