Sixty-one years later Hiroshima is a city full of hope for mankind

On the ill-fated morning of Aug. 6 th , 1945 a B-29 bomber named the Enola Gray dropped the first nuclear bomb ever used on populated target, annihilating the city of Hiroshima, Japan.

It was estimated that the surface temperature at ground zero rose to an unimaginable 5,000 degrees Celsius, fusing together plates in kitchen cabinets, melting bicycles tires to their rims and vaporizing objects into shadows. The radius of total destruction measured 1.6 kilometres, and roughly 90 per cent of Hiroshima’s structures were either irreparably damaged or utterly destroyed. Under the shadow of a 6 km high mushroom cloud, it was said that grass would never grow again on the desolate landscape.

Sixty-one years later, Hiroshima is still marked by that day in history but over the years has blossomed into a vibrant, bustling city. Not only has the grass grown again, Hiroshima is now home to over a million people.

Arriving into town at speeds over 300 km/h in a shinkansen (bullet train), our mood became somber knowing that the first day would be spent delving into Hiroshima’s tragic past.

First on the list, and a short tram ride away, stood the UNESCO World Heritage Gembaku Domu (A-bomb dome), which continues to stand in ruins shadowing the city’s past. The skeleton of the 1915 structure designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel has been purposely left in ruins as a reminder of the destructive power of nuclear weapons.

The dome itself stands above a pedestrian bridge away from the Peace Memorial Park, which is host to several memorials. One of the most emotional is a statue of young Sadako, who developed leukemia in the nuclear fallout. According to a Japanese legend, Sadako attempted to fold one thousand paper cranes in the hopes that if she did, she would recover. Sadako passed on after completing 644 paper cranes and her school mates folded the remaining 356. To this day millions of cranes continue to be folded and sent from all over Japan to be placed at her memorial.

After a stroll around the park we queued up for the impressive Peace Memorial Museum that offered a filmed (English version available) raw account of that fateful day and beyond. The museum hosts several grave reminders of mankind’s capabilities with an atomic weapon, including a shocking before and after model of the city, a child’s carbonized lunch box, several unsettling photos and even an imprinted shadow of what was once a person. The museum reverberates with one hopeful wish: that nuclear weapons are to be never used again.

Having spent the day understanding the city’s past we were keen to explore its present and eager to indulge in some local specialties.

Hiroshima is most notable for its savory buckwheat noodle filled pancake, dubbed the Hiroshima-yaki. Okonomi-mura has three floors of lively restaurants that specialize in this local delicacy. Locals and tourists alike come here to fuel up and catch some of the national baseball league or a sumo match on TV, depending on the season.

The remainder of the day melted away in a sento (public bath house), where we went through the rituals of the Japanese bath. Everyone proceeded to enter the bathing area elaborately dressed in their birthday suits and went through the motions of sitting down and efficiently scrubbing, rinsing all remnants of any soap and finally soaking away their daily stresses in the hot, soothing waters.

Retreating to the confines of our "cozy" business hotel room we reflected and planned out the following day’s events over a scalding cup of green tea and several unrecognizable snacks from a futuristic vending machine.

The following day started off with a bowl of miso soup, rice and a piece of salty grilled salmon before hopping on an early morning tram and heading out in search of Hiroshima’s pre-atomic past. Fudo temple remains one of the few traditional structures that survived the explosion and offers a good point to drop in a coin and put your hands together in hope of a nuclear-free future.

Although reconstructed, Hiroshima castle offered a glimpse into Hiroshima’s past, back to the days of 1589. Several colorful carp lazily swam around the castle moat, the source of the nickname Carp Castle.

The rest of our day would be spent strolling the main avenues and taking in Hiroshima’s energetic atmosphere – a dynamism that offered no sign of its dark past but only hopeful eyes on the future.

Mike Crane is a freelance travel writer and photographer specializing in décor photography.

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