Grief Tourism

Travel to areas affected by natural disasters, places where people were murdered, etc.

Hiroshima: Tourist Destination & Plea for Peace

19th June 2006

It was a cruel event that made Hiroshima the tourist attraction that it is today. The United States War Department, in accordance with the Manhattan Project, issued the final order for the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on July 25th, 1945.  On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., the first atomic bomb in the world, flown by the “Enola Gay,” dropped the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT on the unsuspecting city.  The bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy,” was to change the path of history forever.  There was no escape from temperatures that reached over 4,000 degrees, as over 90% of Hiroshima was completely destroyed.  Perhaps the saddest part of August 6th were the hundreds of innocent victims left dying or dead in the streets, the majority of whom were civilians, not casualties of combat. The immediate death, the devastating effects of radiation, and the immeasurable psychological damage left to the survivors haunt us today.

In 1946, the Australian soldiers, part of the occupation forces sent to Japan, were among the first to view the scene of the tragedy. In the harbor of Hiroshima lay the remains of the once seemingly invincible Imperial Japanese Navy.  As aircraft carrying Japanese soldiers from the ruins of their empire flew over capsized and shattered battleships, hundreds of starving, ragged people struggled along a road to survival. Unaware of the dangers of radiation, the soldiers hurried through a broken city, where acres and acres of wood and tile and shells of concrete buildings lay across their path. The city of Hiroshima had been reduced to shambles, and yet, even in the face of this incredible disaster, the Japanese people somehow maintained a serene composure. 

Some 60 years later, Hiroshima is once again a beautiful city with little trace of the tragedy, a tragedy the world would like to forget. The old Castle of the Emperor Tojo has been restored and Main Street looks much the same. Smiling Japanese children, wearing T-shirts with American slogans and sharing McDonald’s Happy Meals, welcome visitors and pose for photographs. Overhead, the blue and sunny skies seem to defy the ugly grey of August 6th, 1945.

The Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima covers an area of over 122,000 meters and every year on this fateful day since 1947, the mayor delivers a declaration to remind us all of the need for worldwide peace. As we listen to the tolling of the Peace Bell, we offer silent tribute for the victims and the survivors. The Peace Memorial Museum, on the grounds of the Park, contains models and panoramic scenes of a once-ruined city, recorded testimony of survivors, and fervent messages of hope for the future. In the center of the Park stands the “The A-bomb dome,” purposely designed to reflect in startling realism the catastrophe of the atomic blast. The visiting hours at the Hiroshima City Museum are from March 1 – November 30; 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; December 1 – February 28, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and August 1-31 from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Admission is 50 yen for adults and 30 yen for children, ages 6 to 18. Guided tours are available and group tours are free.

Atomic Tower in Hiroshima

While visiting Hiroshima today, perhaps with some sense of guilt along with grief, we must ask a question. Was the bombing, in fact, a brilliant military maneuver in an ongoing war for democracy, or was it an unfortunate beginning to the widespread fear that remains with us today? A choice was made, a road was taken, and in the words of Robert Frost: “and that has made all the difference.” The tragedy of Hiroshima leaves us to contemplate the very real possibility of a final Armageddon, an empty planet and a lost civilization.

Sharon L. Slayton

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