The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is the largest of Hiroshima's sites related to the atomic bomb. Designed by renowned architect Tange Kenzo (1913-2005), the museum opened in 1955, and in 2006 it was designated an Important Cultural Property of Japan.
The museum consists of two adjacent buildings inside Peace Memorial Park. The main hall houses an extensive collection of artifacts from the time of the bombing, while the east building is focused on peace education through a variety of media. The main hall recently underwent major renovation, and its collection is now even more powerful and moving.
Visitors enter the main hall's expansive exhibition rooms via a narrow and dimly lit hallway, lined with sizable photographs whose subjects range from a young girl in bandages to the bomb's mushroom cloud as seen from above. This newly added section is designed to convey a sense that one is trapped, much as victims of the bomb would have felt.
Next, a sequence of rooms tell the story of Hiroshima's A-bomb experience in depth, with the focus progressing from the material to the human. The bombing and its aftereffects, which even today continue to impact the people of Hiroshima, are explained through photographs, illustrations drawn from memory by survivors, and numerous objects. A mangled and scorched child's tricycle is among the artifacts, while some of the most moving pieces are among the smallest in the exhibit: tiny paper cranes folded by a local girl, Sasaki Sadako (1943-1955), as she lay in a hospital bed dying from leukemia caused by exposure to radiation.
The Main Building of the Peace Memorial Museum closed its doors in 2017 for renovation and fortification against earthquakes, and after two long years, the wait is finally over. Opened on April 25, just before Hiroshima Flower Festival and the unprecedented 10-day Golden Week holidays, the newly renovated Main Building Exhibition Hall is an emotional journey that combines photographs, artwork, artifacts, and stories from survivors to paint a complete picture of the events and aftermath of August 6, 1945.
The exhibit opens as visitors make their way down a darkened hallway, illuminated only by the soft spotlight on a black-and-white photograph of a young girl in bandages. As visitors proceed, they are met with large panels of photographs of Hiroshima along with captions from eyewitnesses in Japanese and English before coming to 3 larger-than-life photographs of the infamous mushroom cloud. The photos, complete with people looking on in the foreground for perspective, give visitors a sense of the overwhelming size of the blast in terms that are easy to understand. The rough black walls of the exhibit provides a stark contrast to the photographs, adding another level of focus and emotion. Visitors are kept in a state of semi-darkness, paralleling the darkness and uncertainty that followed the bombing.
From there, the exhibit proceeds chronologically from the bombing to the effects of radiation, black rain, the ensuing firestorm, and the survivors in post-war Hiroshima. Raw snapshots of the aftermath, including photographs that openly depict children suffering from burns, soldiers with radiation poisoning, and bodies lined up on the ground, may be hard to face for some visitors. But these photographs are perhaps the most powerful deterrent we have against nuclear weapons, and without them, the picture of what happened on August 6 would be incomplete.
From photographs to actual artifacts such as the well-known charred bento box and twisted bicycle, the exhibit carefully explains each one in Japanese and English, and provides an audio tour, as well as explanations in sign language. Two particularly moving exhibits are the Story of N, which focuses on the struggles of a hibakusha family, and the famous story of Sadako Sasaki. The two stories highlight the realities of life after the bombing in two very different ways, illustrating that no two hibakusha experiences are alike. There is also an exhibit dedicated to non-Japanese hibakusha as well as non-Japanese who lost their lives on August 6.
As the exhibit comes to a close, gradually, the darkness turns to light, ending with a moving message of hope as visitors walk into a bright hallway with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Peace Memorial Park. Walking down the hall to the exit, visitors have time to reflect on the exhibit and to think about what peace means to them as they look out at the vibrant city of Hiroshima before them. First-time visitors and returning visitors alike will find something to take away from the renovated exhibit which reminds us all of the significance and relevance of August 6, 1945.
Curatorial Division, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum