原爆ドーム Genbaku Dome - World Heritage in Japan

 World Heritage in Japan


I’ve lived my whole life as a Japanese person, but when I went overseas I realised I know practically nothing about Japan. So now I’m learning about Japan’s World Heritage Sites, from oldest to newest. Those who are interested, and even those who are not, come along for the ride.

原爆ドーム Genbaku Dome

撮影協力 / メルボルン総領事館 Thanks to the Consulate-General of Japan, Melbourne


 ○○○○○ 恒久平和の大切さを世界へ訴えるシンボル 原爆ドーム ○○○○○ 


話を原爆ドームに戻して。原爆ドームは、チェコの建築家ヤン・レツル氏による設計で、広島県内の物産品の展示・販売をする施設「広島県物産陳列館」として、1915年に元安川沿いに建てられました。中庭のあるヨーロッパ風の建物で、全体は窓の多い3階建て、正面中央部分は5階建ての階段室、その上に銅板の楕円形ドームが載せられました。当時は川面に映えるモダンな美しさから、広島名所のひとつに数えられていました。今はまったく違った意味で広島名所のひとつになっているのが、なんとも皮肉な気がします。その後名称を「広島県立商品陳列所」、1933年には「広島県産業奨励館」に改称。そして、1945年8月6日午前8時15分を迎えます。原子爆弾が炸裂したのは、広島県産業奨励館から南東約160m、高度約600mのところで、建物は爆風と熱線を浴びて大破し、 天井から火を吹いて全焼。爆風がほぼ真上から働いたため、建物の中心部は奇跡的に倒壊を免れたものの、館内にいた30人余りの人々は全員即死したと伝えられています。戦後、頂上の円蓋鉄骨の形から原爆ドームと呼ばれるようになりました。





○○○ Genbaku Dome: A symbol for the world to know the importance of peace  ○○○

This time we introduce Hiroshima Prefecture’s Genbaku Dome, which was added to the World Heritage register in 1996. Actually, its proper name is the ‘Hiroshima Heiwa Kinenhi’ (‘Hiroshima Peace Memorial’), but as most people know it as ‘Genbaku Dome’ (‘Atomic Bomb Dome’) I willcall it that throughout this article.
As you may already know, Genbaku Dome is a structure that was hit by an atomic bomb in the final days of the Second World War. It is a present-day reminder of the destructive power of nuclear weapons, carrying through the ages a hope for their abolition and for world peace. It is considered a ‘negative world heritage’ site – a place telling us of a terrible disaster caused by humanity and warning us never to do such things again – but this is not a UNESCO definition or classification. Other negative heritage sites are the Island of Gorée, which was a central base of the slave trade; the Auschwitz concentration camp where the Nazis carried out mass killings of Jews; and the Australian Convict Sites, ruins of penal sites built by the British Empire during its colonial expansionist period.

Genbaku Dome was designed by Czech architect Jan Letzel and built in 1915 as the ‘Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Products Display Hall’. A European-style building with a courtyard, it had three storeys with numerous windows, with the central front section housing a five-storey stairwell up to a copper-plated oval dome. At the time it was one of Hiroshima’s most famous places for its modern beauty reflected in the river; now, it is famous for an entirely different reason. Its name was later changed to ‘Hiroshima Prefectural Products Exhibition Hall’, and again in 1933 to the ‘Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall’. Then came the 6th of August, 1945, 8:15am. The atomic bomb exploded only 160m southeast of the hall, at a height of around 600m; the building sustained heavy damage from the blast and the heat rays, and it burned from the ceiling to the ground. Because the blast was almost directly above it, the middle part of the building miraculously did not collapse. However, the 30 people inside were all killed instantly. After the war, the steel-framed dome gave it its new nickname of ‘Genbaku Dome’.

There were opposing opinions regarding preservation of the dome; some said it ought to be preserved as witness to the calamity of the atomic bomb, while others argued that it should be demolished as a hazard and an unwanted reminder of the horrors of the bombing. As the city was rebuilt and the rubble disappeared, arguments piled up over how we should think about the dropping of the A-bomb, about nuclear weapons in the world, and about how to transmit the awful experiences of the victims and survivors. But in 1966, the City of Hiroshima decided to preserve the building permanently. They did extensive fundraising appeals, and thanks to good-willed donations from both in and outside Japan it has undergone large-scale restoration and preservation work three times up to the present day.

On a personal note, I went to Hiroshima when I was back in Japan few years ago. There were demonstrations all over the nation protesting the security bill, and I encountered a small one in Hiroshima. The crowd holding up placards calling for peace was about half students, half elderly. Maybe it was because it was in Hiroshima, which has actually experienced a nuclear bomb, but this one seemed somehow the most moving of all the anti-bill demonstrations.

This has been the final of the articles on Japan’s World Heritage sites, but I hope to keep learning and writing about Japan and its various aspects in future.