27.07.2020

Hiroshima — a Phoenix City. The History of Restoration

On the 6th of August 1945, Hiroshima fell victim to the first military use of nuclear weapons in the history of the humankind. The number of people who perished from the explosion’s immediate impact is between 70 and 80 thousands. After such a disaster, everything looked like bringing the city back to life would be impossible, and that the 350-years long history of Hiroshima had come to an end. However, just like in Stalingrad, the city’s residents found in their hearts enough strength to challenge the Death itself and, despite the pain and suffering they had to go through, help Hiroshima rise from the ashes. This article will tell you more about how it happened.

First days after the A-bombing

The idea of restoring their cities after global catastrophes is not new to the Japanese people: the frequent floods and tsunamis left them with a bitter, but prominent experience. Hiroshima residents, too, got down to work just a few days after the tragedy – and started by dissembling the rumble. People would gather any possessions that survived the explosion and fire, and, step by step, start winning back their city and their lives. What truly stands out is that a local streetcar was back in its tracks already on August 9 (three days after the tragedy). For many, this streetcar became one of the symbols of hope for the eventual revitalization of the whole city. As a tribute to this modicum of hope, several streetcars that survived the bombing have been restored and are still running.

Beware of radiation!

Unfortunately, the people who had experienced the impact of nuclear weapons for the very first time in their lives, had absolutely no idea of the terrible danger to which they were continuously exposing themselves – by staying close to the epicenter of the explosion, drinking the contaminated water, plowing the soil... The name of this danger was radiation sickness. By the end of 1945, the number of people who died from the distant aftereffects of the nuclear explosion amounted, according to different sources, to between 90 and 166 thousands. In 5 years’ time, the overall number of the A-bomb victims (including those who died of cancer) reached or even surpassed 200 thousands.

At that time, the notion of “radioactive pollution” did not exist yet, and so people continued to live and rebuild their houses exactly where they used to be. Even the higher mortality rate in the first years after the war (as well as the illnesses and genetic disorders manifested in newborn children) were explained away by the factors having no relation to the A-bombing. Fortunately, though, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did not have the maximal destruction capacity and exploded in the air, which meant that their radioactive particles were mostly dispersed in the atmosphere and did not touch the ground. The most profound damage was done by the explosion wave and the fires. Relatively quickly, the radiation background in Hiroshima lowered enough to the life to become safer, and has stayed within the normal range since.

Against the rumors

Radiation and a radiation sickness — it was at a high price that this knowledge was gained, and the rumor mills were working relentlessly. It was even rumored that nothing would grow on Hiroshima’s scorched terrain in the next 75 years. However, the following spring already, despite all premonitions, oleander trees blossomed on the adjacent hills, which became a huge inspiration for the people engaged in restoring Hiroshima. Life was slowly returning to the city.

People were slowly returning, too. Already in January 1946, Hiroshima established a City Restoration Bureau and lined out the reconstruction road map. Despite the chaos that reigned immediately after the war, the military defeat, the shortage of food and other resources, the dramatic changes in the social life during the occupation, the Japanese people moved on. Against all difficulties, the restoration of Hiroshima was marching ahead and received massive support both from within and outside the country. An especially big role was played by the “Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law” adopted in 1949.

Memory about the bombing

One of the very few buildings that survived the bombing, partially though, was the Chamber of Trade and Commerce, built in 1915 from brick and therefore preserving its carcass despite the damage. Next to it, the Peace Memorial Park was founded. The ruins of the building were kept as a memorial and have since been known as the Genbaku Dome (Atomic Dome).

In 1958, 13 years after the tragedy, the population of Hiroshima went back to its prewar numbers and exceeded the mark of 410,000 people. In April of the same year, the Hiroshima Restoration Exposition was held. It was probably this event that made many Hiroshima residents truly feel for the first time that their city was on its way back to normal life. The construction of the Peace Memorial Museum and the beautification of the Peace Memorial Park were rapidly progressing. The Hiroshima Castle, too, was partially rebuilt.

In 1964, as a tribute to A-bomb victims, the Flame of Peace was lit up in the Peace Memorial Park – to continue burning until all nuclear weapons in the world are destroyed.

It must be noted that the city’s reconstruction sparked numerous discussions. The architects of the new Hiroshima were facing an important dilemma: how to incorporate the city’s tragic past into its brand-new panorama? As described by Mr. Kenji Shiga, Director of the Peace Memorial Museum, several government officials had suggested to destroy any remaining ruins and, thus, give the city a completely fresh start. The others, on the contrary, insisted that the remnants of the tragedy had to be carefully preserved as a lesson for the generations to come. Anyway, the discussions ended in the mid-60s, when the city’s leadership resolved to keep the Atomic Dome intact. This resolution obtained further powerful support in 1996, as Hiroshima’s Atomic Dome entered the UNESCO list of world heritage under the number 775.

Peace and Prosperity

After the war, Japan went through a period of turbulent economic growth, also known as the “Japanese economic miracle”. Hiroshima’s population, too, was growing rapidly, which soon allowed the city to open numerous factories and restore the industry. In 1965, several surrounding villages and rural districts, too, were merged with Hiroshima, which made the city into the 10th biggest Japanese city by the beginning of the 80s.

Hiroshima residents are striving to achieve sustainable world peace, sparing no effort to raise the world population’s awareness about the necessity to abandon nuclear weapons and achieve universal disarmament. In a way, the restoration of Hiroshima was not only a matter of saving the city, but also of achieving a greater goal. Today’s Hiroshima is an originator of numerous peace promoting initiatives, such as the International Conference of Mayors for Peace, the International Youth Conference for Peace in the Future, the International Animation Festival… Additionally, it is an active participant of the international twinning movement and has seven sister-cities all around the world. In 1972, Volgograd, too, became twinned with Hiroshima.

Written by Sergey Babenko


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