18.11.2008 - 20.11.2008 18 °C
Ever since the morning of Monday 6 August 1945, the city has been synonymous with the use of the world's first nuclear weapon.
And I'm struggling to put into words just what it feels like to walk around the city today, especially if you've just spent a few hours in the Peace Memorial Park and it's neighbouring museum.
I've never visited a museum before where I was so overwhelmingly compelled to stop, study and digest each exhibit. All of them. It took hours. Using photos, videos, scale models, eye witness accounts, survivor stories, charred and mutilated artifacts recovered from the flattened city, transcripts of communications between presidents, prime ministers, war generals and scientists... the full horror of that day in August is transmitted with staggering force.
Whatever your personal opinion of the bombing of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki three days later) - a brutal and indiscriminate act of mass murder, or that it was a necessary step in the quest for an end to the war - it doesn't really matter in the end. If you visit Hiroshima now, and spend time amongst the memorials and walk the museum, there is only one conclusion you can possibly reach - what the hell are we still doing with nuclear weapons over half a century later?
There's a wall inside the museum covered top to bottom with typed letters from the Mayor of Hiroshima. Every time there's a nuclear weapons test somewhere in the world, the Mayor writes to the government of the country responsible expressing his disgust. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of them. It's as if the city of Hiroshima itself has become the biggest anti-nuclear weapons protest organisation on the planet.
Then on a slightly smaller scale you have people such as the World Friendship Centre (WFC), and they were my hosts in Hiroshima. Set up by an American in 1968 (to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the bombing), the Hiroshima WFC was founded as a place where people from all corners of the globe could meet, talk and exchange ideas. And given the location, the focus of these meetings was, and still is, peace. Grounded in more than just flower power idealism, for the last four decades the centre has continued to provide travellers with a roof over their heads and a base from which to explore the area.
They even leave tiny folded peace cranes on your pillow.
The volunteers at the WFC encourage each guest to search out local food from community restaurants, and without exception every single one of their dining recommendations was on the money. Top pick for me was the small eatery right next door that served up one dish and one dish only - fresh and delicious okinomiyaki. There's something special about having your food prepared on a hot plate right in front of you, before using a deft combination of metal spatula and chopstick to scoff the thing down.
Miyajima, an island about one hour's tram - train - boat trip from the centre of Hiroshima, is an attraction that needs no tip off. The island is the site of one of the most iconic, and certainly one of the most photographed, views in all of Japan - the floating shrine O'Torii.
Miyajima is almost just as famous for it's deer - and they're the most human-friendly (i.e. food chasing) deer you'll ever meet.
More appealing to me than either of these was the prospect of hiking up Mount Misen. The summit, 535m high, was well worth the late afternoon slog to scale, rewarding everyone who makes it with cracking views both back inland and out to sea.
The top of Misen is also the best place to look back at modern day Hiroshima, and reflect again on the events of sixty three years ago, and wonder if we've learned anything at all.