With a population of nearly 1.2 million, Hiroshima is Japan's tenth largest city and the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture. It would not be, however, a place of global significance but for the atomic bomb dropped on it in 1945.
Until the late 14th century, most of today's Hiroshima city lay under water on the shore of the Seto Inland Sea at the mouth of the Ota River, dotted with several islets. In the late 16th century, a castle was built on one of the islets by a local warlord, who is credited with giving the fledgling castle town its present name. During the Tokugawa period (1603-1867), the town expanded through a series of reclamation works into a thriving capital of a feudal domain with the castle and an ancient Shinto shrine called Itsukushima on an offshore island.
After the fall of the feudal Tokugawa regime and the birth of modern Japan in the mid-19th century, Hiroshima became a “city” and the capital of Hiroshima “Prefecture,” both appellations introduced by the new government. In the early 1870s, the city's old castle was converted into a local garrison of the newly created national army and then into a divisional headquarters in the late 1880s. During the 1894-1895 Sino-Japanese War, the city served as a temporary seat of the imperial general headquarters and a key port of exit for troops and supplies shipped to battlefronts. During the second Sino-Japanese and the Pacific wars (1931-1945), hundreds of thousands of conscripts passed through the port of Hiroshima on their way to widely scattered battlefields. Hiroshima was thus a city of considerable military, as well as of economic and cultural, importance in Japan long before 1945. Outside the nation, however, the city was little known until a single atomic bomb dropped on the city on the morning of August 6, 1945, by U.S. military forces completely transformed it.
Hiroshima was neither the first Japanese city destroyed by air raids during the Pacific theater of World War II, nor was it the only atomic-bombed city. Nagasaki was attacked with a second atomic bomb and demolished on August 9, 1945. By then, nearly half of Japan's 200 or so cities had been bombed and laid in ruins. Tokyo had been bombed more than 100 times and, on March 10, 1945, approximately 84,000 citizens had been killed in a single day by some 380,000 conventional fire bombs dropped by 325 bombers. What made the bombing of Hiroshima so unique and apocalyptic was that it was the first city ever attacked with a new bomb capable of instantaneously obliterating a large city. The Hiroshima bomb killed an estimated 70,000 people instantly and 70,000 more by the end of 1945. Compare this number with that of Tokyo, and the difference is stark and dramatic. Moreover, the atomic bomb left often lethal, long-term after-effects on most of its survivors.
Information on details of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was suppressed for nearly a decade, first by the Allied Occupation authorities, then by Japan's own government and mass media. The official silence was finally broken in March 1954 by the news of a Japanese fishing boat accidentally exposed to radioactive fallout from a U.S. thermonuclear bomb test on Bikini Atoll and the death of a crew member half a year later. The news triggered a nationwide public outcry against nuclear bombs and sudden attention to the long-ignored atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. An international conference was convened by a group of anti-bomb activists in Hiroshima in August 1955, an event that has since become an annually observed tradition.
In 1949, Hiroshima was named Peace Memorial City by law. In subsequent years, its tragedy has been told and retold in numerous photo albums, books, paintings, films, plays, and television programs both inside and outside Japan. The city has thus gradually evolved into a popular destination for domestic and international visitors attracted by its image and reputation as a global symbol of peace and opposition to nuclear weapons.
One of the few buildings left standing near the hypocenter after the atomic bombing was Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, built in 1915. The vertical blast that assaulted the building from above immediately after the detonation of the bomb completely gutted it of its material contents and human occupants. Miraculously, however, the steel frame and walls of the central section of the building were left standing. Known as the Atomic Bomb Dome, it has since been preserved as a ghostly witness to the tragedy and was registered as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1996.
In 1952, the area adjacent to the hypocenter was rebuilt as a Peace Memorial Park with a Peace Memorial Museum at its southern end, facing to its north a memorial cenotaph and, just outside the park's perimeter, the Atomic Bomb Dome. Carved on the cenotaph is an inscription that reads in a literal translation: “Rest in peace, for the error shall not be repeated.” The cenotaph houses a roster of the names of all known victims of the Hiroshima atomic bomb who have passed away. It listed 263,945 names on August 6, 2009. The museum was designated an important national cultural property in 2006 and the park a national site of scenic beauty in 2007. The museum is now visited annually by nearly 1.5 million people, including approximately 200,000 foreigners.
Cities, Global Conflict and Security, Peace Activism, United Nations, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), War, Weapons
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