The epicenter of the world’s first atomic bomb is marked with little more than a stone.
It sits without ceremony in the midst of Hiroshima, Japan, a simple reminder that over 68 years ago, the splitting of an atom destroyed the city.
You could easily pass through the arteries of Hiroshima and never see the hypocenter. But take a moment from dining on sushi and ramen, to seek out the monument and stand at the center of a defining moment of history.
Then, walk along one of the six rivers running through the city, earning it the name “City of Water”. Wave at the boats ferrying visitors past the Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome), one of the only structures left standing after the explosion.
A trip to Hiroshima requires a respect for the history entwined with the now bustling city. But it is not a depressing place; rather the city has emerged from the ashes of disaster to become an outspoken advocate of world peace.
Paper cranes flutter in the wind in Hiroshima Peace Park. They hang in strings by the hundreds, forming colorful scarves around the statues they adorn.
The Peace Flame flickers, but will not go out until the world is free of nuclear weapons. It has burned continuously since 1964.
Each day, fresh flowers are placed at the cenotaph in the park, a concrete arch covering the empty tomb containing the names of those killed from the bombing.
Visitors are quiet as they take in the shock of standing in a place that changed history. They are quieter still as they tour the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which is dedicated to spreading education about the bomb.
Inside the museum, artifacts include a slab imprinted with the shadow of a man killed by the bomb, his outline permanently marked because of the extreme heat of the explosion. A melted tricycle reminds viewers the effects of the war.
One might expect Hiroshima citizens to be resentful of Americans because of the atomic bombing. And while some might be, the general atmosphere in Hiroshima is one of reaching out a hand in friendship. Museum guides are eager to practice their English, and restaurant employees are glad to hand out menus with large pictures to point at.
But where to stay when you don’t speak Japanese? The World Friendship Center on the south side of the city houses visitors from all corners of the world. A map in the traditional Japanese style house is covered with pins representing the many origins of its visitors.
Another option is the Crowne Plaza Hotel. A pricey choice, but worth the investment because of its proximity to the Peace Park, a five minute walk to the west.
The breakfast buffet at the hotel merges western and Japanese foods – seaweed with your cereal anyone? The toilets available in the western-style rooms may also surprise visitors - each features a bidet.
After a day of touring the historical side of the city, plan a day to take a ferry out to nearby Miyajima Island. Miyajima is viewed as a sacred place of worship in Japanese. The hour long-ferry ride begins in Hiroshima Peace Park – press your nose to the window of the covered boat and fishing rigs take in their catch, and the coastline of Japan melt away.
Arriving at the island, you will be greeted by miniature deer as friendly as dogs. Do not feed or harass the deer; they are seen as “messengers of the Gods. ”
The island can be traversed by foot. First, snap a picture by the towering red Tori, a traditional Japanese gate traditionally found near the entrance of a Shinto shrine. If you arrive at low tide, you can walk out and stand by the base of the Tori.
Walk through the streets filled with tourist shops, and buy a momiji-manju a maple-leaf steamed bun filled with a bean paste, known as Hiroshima’s sweet.
The most prominent shrine on the island is the Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, painted a brilliant orange-red. Wash your hands and give an offering before entering, and speak in hushed tones.You can purchase a prayer amulet or tie a prayer to the rails along the shrine.
The shrine is formatted like a board walk, and as you move through you may see a traditional Japanese wedding – a priest adorned in gilded garb will perform a ceremonial dance that visitors may stop and watch.
Returning to Hiroshima, after working up an appetite, there is one dish you have to try before leaving the city: okonomi-yaki. It is a dish unique to Hiroshima, consisting of flour crepes fried with vegetables and noodles, smothered in a special “okonomi-yaki sauce.”
Like many aspects of the city, the dish has origins tied to the atomic bomb. After the explosion, residents of Hiroshima residents scrounged what the food they could find, leading to the present day combination of okonomi-yaki.
Now, you’re filled to the brim with good food and good travel. You’ve tasted the history of Hiroshima and immersed yourself in the culture. You’ve observed the destruction of the atomic bomb. But furthermore, you have experienced the life of city that has risen from tragedy like a phoenix.