I grew up putting the accent on the second syllable of Hiroshima, so it sounded like a short sharp exhalation or sneeze, with a short ‘i’ sound. It’s actually said with the accent on the third syllable, drawing out the iiiiii. This makes it sound much softer, more poetic. Either way, the name of this city had a particular macabre resonance from as early as I can remember: the idea of a city that was completely nuked was weirdly fascinating for someone brought up on Raymond Briggs’ ‘When The Wind Blows’, Greenham Common and Ban the Bomb bumper stickers.
So even though the mood on the bullet train to Hiroshima was pretty buoyant (3 and 5 year-old boys tend to do that, especially on super-fast, super-cool trains, with super-kind fellow passengers that buy you chocolates and super-unusual train lunches that come in real earthenware pots, decorated with octopuses) I sat in fear that we might be subjecting ourselves to too much reality, by including the horror-linked Hiroshima in our itinerary.
Well. First off, Hiroshima train station is like an extremely high-end department store that just happens to have trains running in and out of it. Also, as we left the station I clocked about four massive, smart hotels and the most unfeasibly delicious bakery since that one I dreamt I was running with Mark Ruffalo in Scarborough. The pictures above show a small fraction of what we bought and scoffed. And then driving through town confirmed that this isn’t a horror-show: Hiroshima is a fairly chilled out, relatively modestly sized and evidently prosperous city. I don’t know why I expected anything else given that the bomb fell 72 years ago.
In fact ‘Little Boy’ (the death-brother of Nagasaki’s ‘Fat Man’) has left barely any trace of it’s air burst 1000 feet above the city. This shell of a building above is the only edifice still standing that pre-dates the bomb. Our guide tells us that it’s the former City Prefecture: it was only a few hundred metres laterally from the hypocentre, yet the dome and many of the walls are left structurally intact. Apparently the copper of the dome’s coating completely melted as the equivalent of 15KT of TNT detonated almost directly above it, meaning the atomic energy travelled vertically down through the open dome and then out through the windows, preserving many of the walls.
Cool fact! Sheesh. Then our guide tells us her father lived in the city and was four years old when the bomb fell. He survived because he was out of town at the time. Those cream buns at the station tasted really good but suddenly we’re soberly reminded that we aren’t here to carb-load. Adam, myself and the girls go round the Peace Memorial Museum, where famous artefacts like the ‘stopped watch’ and melted glass bottles are displayed. It’s an amazing place. We all learn so much and some of us cry quite a lot at the photographs.
It’s a weird thing, tourism in a place like Hiroshima. What are we there for, if not for a sense of ‘what it must have been like’? Really though? Like, we want that? To know what it was like to have your home blasted off the face of the earth? No: we want to remind ourselves that times have changed; we’ve come so far from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and we have the cream cakes to prove it. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial flame burns permanently until the moment of total nuclear disarmament and the City government is now an eminent anti-nuclear campaigning force. The Peace Watch counts down the days since the first A-Bomb. Children make paper cranes and add them to the multicoloured display in the Peace Gardens. It’s comforting to see and hear this.
Except we haven’t, have we, come so far? We’re digging out the bumper stickers again. This time, it’s because one of the most unredeemable assholes mankind has ever produced managed to con his way into the American Presidency and now wants to talk big with North Korea’s own Fat Man. The Peace Watch also counts the days since the last nuclear test and it’s a scarily small number. It’s beyond ridiculous that we might be on the bullet train towards another Hiroshima.