To me it is evident: Travelling is not always about having fun! One should also have the chance to explore the kinds of atrocities, that man is capable of committing, while travelling. The reasoning is always the same: Sometimes a religion has to be aided in victory, sometimes a utopian society needs to be enforced in the face of any opposition – see the Top 5 on Phnom Penh on this topic – and sometimes a few lives are extinguished to save many more.
The latter was, if I remember correctly, one of the reasons given for the deployment of the atomic bomb in Japan over Nagasaki and Hiroshima!
Should you visit both Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan on which the atomic bomb were dropped?
I would say yes. But, what if you can only visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Nagasaki, where most tourists don’t go, is a truly beautiful city that is worth a visit in any event. Hiroshima has the advantage that one can visit both the Peace Memorial Park and the atomic bomb museum on a day trip, for example, from Kyoto. Thus it depends on how much time you have allocated to your Japan trip. If you are having a difficult time choosing, I would suggest Nagasaki. I preferred the concept of the park, the museum and the atmosphere in this city.
The atomic bomb in Nagasaki
The Nagasaki Peace Park is filled with statues, commemorative plaques and remains of the bomb drop. It is located only 200 metres from the bomb site. When you are walking across the park to the Nagasaki peace memorial, you may initially not even notice the remains of walls in the grass, until you read the plaque in front of it and learn that this used to be the location of a prison, and that these are the only remains of the building that was closest to the Nagasaki bombing site. One has to remind oneself that the four metre high and 25 cm thick walls were made from steel enforced concrete and not brick. On the day, 134 people died in this place instantly.
In the Peace Park’s immediate proximity is the Nagasaki ground Zero, over which the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It exploded 500 metres above the ground, at 11:02 on August 9th 1945. It is called atomic bomb hypocenter and marked by a black monolith.
What impressed me immensely when visiting Nagasaki is the fact that the whole park, in fact the whole city at this location is built on a two to three metre high pile of rubble. At the end of the park there are stairs leading down to a little river, where one can see through a glass showcase Nagasaki’s original ground level, which was dug up here and preserved as is for posterity.
Nagasaki, by the way, was not the primary target of the atomic bomb drop. Actually the Americans had intended to drop the bomb over Kokura, an industrial city. But on August 9th Kokura was under cloud cover, which is why they decided upon Nagasaki as an alternative target. There the bomb was dropped at a height of 9000 metres over north Nagasaki.
So how many people died in Nagasaki?
The Nagasaki bombing caused, according to the commemorative plaque, 73,884 fatalities and left 74,909 injured. The population of Nagasaki in 1945 was estimated to be around 240,000. Unimaginable numbers!
After a visit to both parks it was time to see the atomic bomb museum, which is located just next to the bomb site. Many exhibits demonstrate the effects of temperatures of several thousand degrees. One can see half-melted porcelain plates and charred metal objects. There are also photographs of the charred bodies that were found. Then there is information on the kinds of problems survivors had to face as a result of radiation. There were people who died a few days or weeks later from leukaemia, as well as people who survived for 40 years, only to die from cancer after all this time.
I was moved to tears by a photograph at the museum’s exit: A boy, perhaps ten years old, who arrived at the cremation site with his baby brother. The brother was tied to the boy’s back with a cloth and already dead. He therefore had no other choice but to leave his brother there and stand to attention in a last effort to pay his respects, before disappearing alone into the darkness. The scene of standing to attention with his brother tied to his back – here I have found the picture online – was captured by Joe O’Donnell, a US military photographer, for all eternity.
Admission to the museum is 200 yen for adults and half for children.
How to get to Nagasaki Peace Park: The tram stop Matsuyama-Machi is right next to the park. The journey from Nagasaki train station takes a quarter of an hour.
More things to do in Nagasaki at present day
Foreign quarters and harbour district
Luckily this also exists! Even though I came here out of curiosity about the atomic bomb in Japan, I was surprised by the beauty of Nagasaki, a city surrounded by green, wooded hills. Nagasaki was, during the self-imposed 200-year period of isolationism, the only harbour city, where contact with foreign traders was allowed. In 1858, friendship and trade treaties were signed with five countries. Foreigners were allowed to live in quarters near the harbour. Since most foreigners in Nagasaki were from the Netherlands, the Japanese simplified things and just called all of them Dutch. The houses, which were inhabited by foreigners back in the day, can today be admired on Hollander Slope.
It is a beautiful part of Nagasaki on a hill by the seaport. You can grab some Nagasaki food in the quarter, or get a coffee, but prices are a little higher here than elsewhere.
When you are done admiring Hollander Slope, you should go down to the bay. On the one hand, because of the great view, but also because this was the first place on my travels where I got to see the construction of a cruise ship from afar (to the right in the back of the image).
How to get to Hollander Slope: The tram stop Ourakaigan-Dori is located between the harbour area and Hollander Slope.
City centre and Nakashima River
During your Nagasaki visit I would recommend you to walk along the river here and to take a few nice pictures of the various stone bridges that cross the river. The oldest bridge with two arches is Megane-Bashi bridge (translates as Spectacles Bridge). It was built in 1634 and has survived all of time’s trials and tribulations, including the atomic bomb.
At the Nishihamano-Machi tram stop is the Hamano-Machi Arcades, one of the typical Japanese indoor shopping streets. To walk through it, to eat something, to browse in a 100 yen store or to shop for clothes and food specialities is definitely rewarding.
Recommended hotels in Nagasaki to book online for your stay
Are Hiroshima and Nagasaki still radioactive?
No for both places the radioactivity has gone down to normal mainly for two reasons: The bomb exploded in the air and so the grounds were not contaminated that much and also the bomb was much weaker compared to the Chernobyl accident.1 Hence no need to worry about the Nagasaki radiation.
The S-Peria Hotel Nagasaki delivers good value for the price. I stayed there two nights and was quite happy. The rooms are small, but everything was tidy, clean and well organised. The hotel is about a 500 metre walk away from the train station. Check for best rates in the S-Peria Hotel Nagasaki here.
Do you like Nagasaki hotels close to the train station. Well, how about one in the train station itself with excellent reviews from its guests. Then you must check out prices and rating of the JR Kyushu Hotel Nagasaki.
Check out more hotels in Nagasaki and select the criteria, that are important to you, yourself.
The atomic bomb in Hiroshima
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is designed in such a way that the park’s axis points to the atomic bomb dome, which is kept as a memorial.
Here one also feels dispirited, when one walks through the park. I was especially impressed by the Children’s Peace Monument, which was dedicated to all the children who became victims of Hiroshima’s atomic bomb. The monument was inspired by the death of Sadako Sasaki, who died from leukaemia at the age of twelve. As a consequence of her death her schoolmates demanded such a monument be erected. Inside the museum an entire section is devoted to this moving story. That is also where the paper cranes, she had made in the hope they would bring her luck in order to survive the leukaemia, are on display.
After crossing the Motoyasu-Gawa River one eventually reaches the place that almost everyone has already seen on TV – the atomic bomb dome. But what was this building’s purpose before it became the atomic bomb dome? It served as the exhibition hall to Hiroshima’s prefecture, built by Czech architect Jan Letzel. The green dome quickly became emblematic for Hiroshima. But with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at 8:15 on August 6th 1945, the dome became what it is today: A memorial for the power of destruction of an atomic bomb.
The bomb in Hiroshima Japan exploded 600 metres above the ground, almost straight over the dome. By the side of the road, a stone of red marble marks the exact spot of the explosion, 160 metres to the southeast. The only reason the building is still standing today is that the bomb’s pressure hit this place from above, thus not tearing down the walls. After long discussions it was decided in 1967 to keep the dome in the condition it was in ever since August 6th 1945, including the debris that is scattered all over the ground.
The atomic bomb museum in Hiroshima follows a very political concept. The conclusions the world is meant to draw from the bombing are placed before the part where the effects on the individual victims are outlined. From the political section, the following statement really stuck with me: The United States supposedly dropped the bombs because they were interested in quick end to the war. This was the only way to ensure the United States’ occupation of all of Japan. If the Second World War had lasted any longer in East Asia, help from the Soviet Union would have been required and Japan would not have been occupied by just the United States. What really happened may perhaps come to light in the year 2035, or never. After all, all historical events can be interpreted in a variety of ways. You should plan two hours for the whole of the museum. The ground floor features the political section, straight after the entrance, while the top floor details the fate of the bombing’s victims.
Some survivors’ skin hung off their hand in shreds, as one exhibit illustrates. A model of the atomic bomb is also on show. It stretches the imagination to think that a three metre long and half a metre wide atomic bomb over Hiroshima could cause this amount of destruction and Hiroshima deaths. More than 70,000 people died instantly, some ten thousand more died within a year of the bombing of Hiroshima. The museum also shows objects, which were exposed to enormous amounts of heat and melted as a result. It also illustrates the late onset effects of the bombing through exemplary photographs of victims. Impressive is also the stone with a shadow of a human – also known as the Hiroshima shadows – that shows how the bomb extinguished every traces of a human being down to his shadow.
Admission to the museum costs 50 yen per person.
At the Sunroute Hotel, where we spent the night, one of the drawers contained a comic book with the story of a Japanese girl and how she experienced and survived the day of the bomb drop. The last image shows a photograph of the author and the solution is that this is her story. Very impressive!
More things to do in Hiroshima at present day
Can you go to Hiroshima? Can you visit Hiroshima? Is Hiroshima worth visiting? Do people live in Hiroshima? Yes to all. Don’t worry about Hiroshima’s radiation. Further below I have explained why. Visit this city and its surroundings and don’t worry about the radioactivity. It is long gone.
So what to do in Hiroshima?
Hiroshima offers the typical Japanese mixture of temples, botanical gardens and countless museums, which can keep you busy for a while. There is also one of the typically large shopping malls. Close to the entrance of the mall, as seen from the Peace Memorial Park, we had dinner in one of the countless Hiroshima restaurants called Wa Ta Mi Japanese Dining. The idea is that you can order lots of little bites out of a variety of specialities. This way you can taste your way through various regions of Japanese cooking.
I had particular fun riding the tram. In spite of the presumably high costs, Hiroshima still keeps conductors on the trams. They ensure that everyone has gotten on or off the train before its departure and they give the driver the signal to continue by ringing a bell. You pay when you get off and you have to have the correct amount ready, for there is no change given. The trams are rather large and comfortable and one can easily take luggage on board, something that is less of a possibility on Nagasaki’s trams.
Outside Hiroshima you should not miss out on Miyajima Island with its famous O-torii gate off the coast in the ocean. The island can be reached effortlessly from Hiroshima by train as well as by tram (the stop on the mainland near the island is called Miyajima-Guchi for both). If you have a JR rail pass you don’t have to pay for the JR ferry to the island.
Recommended Hiroshima hotels to book online during your stay
Before I recommend any hotels in Hiroshima to you you might ask the question:
Is Hiroshima still radioactive?
The answer is, that the radioactivity and radiation in Hiroshima have gone back to normal mainly for two reasons: The bomb exploded in the air, which resulted in less soil being contaminated, and the bomb was much weaker than the Chernobyl incident.1
The hotel Granvia Hiroshima conveniently lies right next to the main train station of Hiroshima. Most guest, that stayed there, were happy with their stay and gave it an excellent rating. Get the best price for Hotel Granvia Hiroshima here.
The Rihga royal hotel Hiroshima is situated inbetween the Hiroshima castle and the atomic bomb park in a central city location. Shopping possibilities are also nearby. The guests give the hotel excellent ratings and especially mention the good views you have from most of the hotel rooms. Get the cheapest price during your stay in the Rihga royal hotel Hiroshima.
The grand prince hotel Hiroshima gets mixed reviews by its guests. Especially room sizes and conditions are criticized. Therefore the hotel’s location is right at the ocean. Make up your own mind by reading more reviews and check on the prices on the grand prince hotel Hiroshima.
In the hotel Sunroute Hiroshima I stayed myself twice. It is a five minute walk to the atomic park and right next to the long stretching Hiroshima peace boulevard. The rooms are of a decent size according to Japanese standards and the service was nice. And since I stayed twice there already I obviously give the Hotel Sunroute Hiroshima a good rating. Book it for a decent price here.
The oriental hotel Hiroshima also lies at the Peace Boulevard, but it is neither close to the train station nor to the peace park. But it gets good ratings from its guests. And the view from the rooms in the upper rooms seems to be quite nice. Check out here, whether the rates of the oriental hotel Hiroshima convince you.
Check out more hotels in Hiroshima and select the criteria, that are important to you, yourself.
For your travel planning
To reach Nagasaki, you take the Shinkansen train line until Hakata and change to the lumbering regional train (the only lumbering train I have been on in Japan) to Nagasaki. To reach your destination in Nagasaki you can change to the tram or take a taxi.
Hiroshima is on the Shinkansen train line. So whether it will be from Tokyo to Hiroshima by bullet train (another expression for the Shinkansen), Kyoto to Hiroshima or Osaka to Hiroshima; just easily take the Shinkansen train. After your arrival in Hiroshima you can reach your destination or the Peace Memorial Park by tram. If you only want to visit the Peace Memorial Park, you can also do this on a day trip from Kyoto, for example.
If you visit both places and want to go from Hiroshima to Nagasaki by train, that really is not a big deal. Go from Hiroshima to Hakata and then switch trains to Nagasaki.
When is the best travel time?
The best time to visit Japan for the best Hiroshima and Nagasaki weather is from April to September. It depends on what else you want to do. If you come here for the cherry blossoms, the end of March to the beginning of April is the best time. But if you want to hike up Mount Fuji, for example, then June until August is the better time.
Another great destination that has more to offer than just fun is Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
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