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No.168 (7/23/10)

Hiroshima: The City of Peace

By Robert Finley
Chief Writer

In the western portion of Honshuu, within the Chuugoku region of the island, sits a city unlike no other. Most people are familiar with Hiroshima as a result of the frightening and controversial decision by the U.S. to detonate an atomic bomb there and in Nagasaki. This terrifying event endures as the city’s defining event in history, and in the 65 years since, has transformed it into a place to remember the dangers of war and to promote the message of world peace.

Hiroshima stands as the capital of the Hiroshima Prefecture, and can trace its history back hundreds of years. In 1589, warlord Mouri Terumoto founded the city along the Seto Inland Sea’s river delta coastline. Terumoto was on the move from a previous castle he owned in Aki Prefecture, and had Hiroshima Castle built in just four years.

Of course, Terumoto was dubbed a warlord in part because of his violent nature, which saw him involved in the Battle of Sekigahara, where he lost Hiroshima (among other fiefs) to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who would hold onto the property for the rest of the Sengoku period.

Hiroshima's modern history began in 1871, when it became the capital of its eponymous Prefecture. Several unique establishments were erected during the 1870s, such as a government-sponsored English language school (one of only seven throughout Japan), and the Sanyo Railroad, which was expanded into Hiroshima as a result of the city's growing urban center. Modernization continued over the next few decades, which brought the construction of landmarks such as the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall in 1915.

History took a darker turn for the city and Japan in general, as Japan embarked upon a series of military campaigns which culminated in the beginning of World War II in the Pacific. Hiroshima was apparently an ideal location for the military at the time, as they established a headquarters for the Second Army and Chuugoku Regional Army there.

As conflicts between nations grew, whether they were directly involved in military conflicts of the war or not, Japan began to formulate a plan to attack the U.S. This plan, dubbed the Hawaii Operation or Operation Z) resulted in the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on the Pearl Harbor. Emboldened by the strike, the U.S. declared war the next day and was thrown into the multi-front war.

Japan proved to be a very formidable enemy in the Pacific. The U.S. began to consider a much more terrifying option. Researchers from the U.S., U.K., and Canada began the Manhattan Project, a project to develop the atomic bomb. American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer led the team, which was active from 1942 until 1945, when the first atomic bomb in history was dropped on Hiroshima on Monday, August 6 of that year.

The devastation that resulted from the bomb still stirs strong reactions in people. The fact that a majority of the 100,000-plus people killed were civilians has been a major motivation of continued protests regarding the controversial act. The city, which had spent close to 400 years being developed into an urban hub in the Southwestern portion of Japan’s largest island, was in complete ruin.

On the heels of this wartime disaster, a natural disaster tragically fell upon Hiroshima. The Makurazaki Typhoon landed in Hiroshima Prefecture, and took the lives of more than 3,000 people in mid-September 1945.

The people of Hiroshima, possibly emboldened by the horrors of war, decided to fully embrace the ideals of peace and began to take official steps to transform the city into a beacon of peace, and remove the stains of violence. In 1949, Hiroshima saw the Hiroshima Peace Memorial City Construction Law passed, which not only provided financial assistance for the rebuilding process, but it also allocated land to the city that was once controlled by the military and the national government. The mayor at the time, Shinzo Hamai, also took up the initiative to proclaim Hiroshima a City of Peace, so that the entire world would know that Hiroshima is dedicated to peace and peaceful social issues.

Today, you can visit Hiroshima and see the scars of war that still exist today, but more importantly, you can experience the legacy of peace the people of Hiroshima have established. The city has its own international airport, and is home to the Mazda Motor Corporation, which accounts for over 30 percent of the city's gross domestic product! There is even a Mazda Museum with some very fun, unique cars to check out.

The historical landmarks are fascinating and oftentimes beautiful. Hiroshima Castle, built by Terumoto, still stands to this day. There is a myriad of museums, such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Hiroshima Museum of Art and the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum. Every year, a commemoration is held at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to remember the bombing. Visitors from around the world come to support the ideals of peace that are recognized during the ceremony.

Hiroshima, like Osaka and a few other cities, is also known for its okonomiyaki. If you don't know it, you must try it! It's a pancake-like meal made up of a mixture of egg, cabbage, moyashi (sprouts), and pork, among other ingredients.

The city is highly regarded in many rankings, such as the travel company Lonely Planet’s ranking system, where it is listed as one of the top cities of the world. Everyone living in Japan should experience in the wonder of Hiroshima’s origins, the solemn message of its ruins, and the beauty of what it has come to represent to the world today -- a City of Peace.

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