The original Hiroshima memorial museum and park opened in 1955, only ten years after the city was destroyed and more than 70,000 people were killed by an Atomic bomb. The long-term focus on Peace and the 3-pillars of sustainability in the original planning of the Peace Park is inspiring. Now, in May 2019, after 10 years of renovation and stability work for earthquake resistance, the entire Hiroshima Memorial Museum has reopened to the public and is an excellent example of sustainable tourism in Japan.
On my way to the Peace Park, my ten-minute cycle route was a smooth and comfortable ride along traffic-free, shaded riverside paths, past grassy slopes, benches, playgrounds, picnic areas, and beautiful trees. For many residents who use these paths daily, they are taken for granted as common community assets, but these traffic-free grassy pathways that extend from sea to mountain are rarely found in other cities in Japan. These paths, gardens and parks are a part of the Hiroshima community’s social equity which all visitors and residents have free access to use.
It was only once I reached the park that I realized that my lovely riverside commute to the city center is thanks to the vision of the Hiroshima city planners who designed these public green zones as important aspects of rebuilding Hiroshima as the city of Peace. Hiroshima peace park was planned carefully using principles of sustainable tourism to build social equity for residents while creating tourism appeal and new income streams to the city.
I had intended to reach the museum by its 8:30 am opening time to avoid the crowds, but took time instead to first wander through the park taking in the powerful significance of the A-bomb dome, listen to the sound of the river and trees, make note of the T-bridge point of reference for the pilots dropping the bomb, expressions on the statues and the memorials, and feel grateful for the shade of the trees.
On this visit, I made an attempt to view the park from a planning perspective. The thought of where to provide shade for comfort, benches for rest and contemplation, as well as the necessary visitor services, trash-cans, restrooms, and toilets. These are all essential elements of a tourist attraction, but I truly appreciated the quiet comfort of the Peace Park design.
Hiroshima peace park pic.twitter.com/sTcajxrAsd
— jjwalsh / InboundAmbassador (@jjwalsh) May 23, 2019
While walking around the park I took the chance to admire the well-thought-out design and layout of the park. At the Cenotaph in the middle, looking through the arch to the eternal flame and the A-bomb dome while dropping a coin offering into the box and bowing in respect. Walking to the other side of the flame with Sadako’s children monument at my back and looking past the flame, through the Cenotaph to the museum. The clear lines of view between the park’s key features is a beautiful and clever aspect of Kenzo Tange’s design.
The natural elements of grass, trees, and the rivers are key concepts that make Hiroshima a destination of peace studies, international conferences as well as personal contemplation.
Once I bought my museum ticket it was after 9:30, a crowded time of day for school groups and tour buses. Progress was slow as I worked my way through the museum in time with a tide of school children’s red hats, older children in uniform, as well as a mix of international and domestic visitors.
Despite the lively chit-chat of excited students on a school trip and travelers enjoying their vacation surrounding me outside in the park, once we entered the museum, there was a respectful hushed atmosphere and I never heard any conversations above a whisper. I was grateful for the quiet, there were no announcements or background music or any noises from displays. Many international visitors had earpieces for the audio guide and many school children scribbled on note-boards as they went through.
The remodeled displays at the museum are impressive. There are many large photos, tastefully displayed bilingual descriptions, and well-spaced out artifacts of interest. The combination of the dark viewing rooms, large photos, and items in glass cases help visitors see the detail of objects and stories without betraying personal emotions to strangers around you.
The loved one’s belongings display area showing everyday personal items which were the only trace left of a family member or friend killed in the blast. Items of clothing, books, bento boxes, or name tags are powerful and truly heartbreaking when you hear the story of how they were donated.
The museum curator related interesting stories to my son’s group of junior writers about the items on display in the museum. According to the curator, many people want to donate items, but are deeply attached to the items as their last connection to a lost loved one and simply cannot let it go. Some people get to the museum with an intention to donate the item on multiple occasions but cannot release it. These items have become family heirlooms being carefully kept in the butsudan altar of a family’s home for generations, to be displayed once a year during Obon. I keep this story in mind and have more appreciation for the significance of every donated artifact on display.
On every visit, I am reminded of not only the terror and loss but also the many years of hardship and discrimination that the people of Hiroshima had to go through. The museum and park is a meaningful tourist attraction. Every visit changes and motivates you to try to live your own life and affect your own community and society. In my case, this visit helped me focus on creating more value and meaning to interactions with others and the jobs I choose to do each day.
The park’s overall design is very effective in allowing contemplation and meditation of Hiroshima’s devastating legacy. Take time to sit and digest what is learned from the museum while relaxing in the shade of the park, along the river. This well-designed natural beauty helps the spirit heal and make plans on how to apply more meaning to everyday life.
Generating funds to redesign Hiroshima in this way was made possible by the passage of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law which funded construction of the Peace park, Peace Boulevard (100 meter road), the riverside grassy paths up to Hiroshima castle and Hiroshima’s only open expanse of grass in Central park (Chuo-Koen). The designers were also able to improve the city’s branding and get local as well as international public support for the project via design contests for the park’s design.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum is an excellent example of a sustainable tourism product. Its success is due to successful collaboration between private and public officials, rallying the support of local residents and building a brand with innovative engagement strategies. These are the same key aspects of any case of a successful sustainable tourism product in Japan.
The museum supports the living legacy of Hiroshima’s heritage, while the surrounding parks and nature help people heal and live healthier lives. The planned combination of space, nature, information, and meaningful memorials help promote peace while creating social equity for residents and meaningful experiences for visitors. Hiroshima’s legacy is still as relevant today as it was when the Peace Park opened in 1955.
As one of Hiroshima’s main attractions, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is an important asset of social equity- preserving the heritage of Hiroshima’s dark past for the benefit of future peaceful generations. The experience is always thought-provoking and hits the emotions hard, but this time I was particularly impressed by the planning, design, and layout of the museum. A lot can be learned from the historical significance of this facility which due to its operational success has significantly affected millions of international visitors to ‘give Peace a chance.’
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