A very excellent introduction to Hiroshima is a visit to the Castle, pretty much in the centre of the city. It has an excellent set of displays, starting with the geography of the region which – surprise, surprise – explains why the city developed as it did where it is.
Once a group of five small villages spread across the Otagawa river delta, in the late 16th century a fuedal lord recognised the opportunity to create a military, administrative and commercial centre to control the whole region. With a lot of land reclamation the islands of the delta became a thriving city, with a beautiful castle built in the centre in the 1590s. As one of the displays records drily:
Festivals were among the few forms of entertainent offering release to the townspeople from their harsh lives under the caste system. Lord Fukushima brought the people of Hakushima out to tramp down and harden the riverbanks through Ryoya Odori (two-night dance), and, of course, there was Sunamochi Kasei (literally, sand-carrying help). Although many such festivals have faded away, the wisdom of those townfolk who converted unavoidable hard work into a form of entertainment is still clear.
I wil be introducing many such festivals when I return home.
The displays continue with examples of social and military history through the Edo, Tokugawa and Meiji periods, and the reward for climbing five steep storeys to the top is a wonderful view of the city in its delta.
The Castle was destroyed on 6 August 1945 as it is less than one kilometre from the hypocentre of the atomic bomb. It was rebuilt in 1958.
Mayhem and I also visited the lovely Museum of Contemporary Art, which had curated from its own collection an exhibition on Landscape and Memories. Some very nice pieces, including several reflecting on war and place. A series of photos, for example, of how Japanese war installations (artillery gunplacements, aircraft hangars) had been re-used as car parks, or farm sheds, and such. And a rather good piece about 9/11 which is difficult to describe.
As you would expect, the memory of 6 August 1945 pervades the city. I don’t know whether it is felt as a burden, or an obligation, or an opportunity, or all of those things and many more besides. I would think it difficult to wrap words around all the meanings, which is perhaps why there is so much put forward in art and symbol and silence.
It is now a very handsome modern city, raised from horror, somehow having to go forward while always keeping one foot firmly stopped on a moment brighter than the sun 74 years ago.