2. Before the Bomb

“During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Hiroshima City was the leading castle town in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions. During the Meiji Restoration (1868), Hiroshima City was redeveloped as the capital of the Hiroshima Prefecture. Built on a delta, boasting the three natural treasures of sea, rivers and mountains, and graced by large trees, the city attracted schools and businesses and developed thriving commercial districts. However, the steady accumulation of various military facilities indicated that Hiroshima was developing two faces: academic and military. The heavy industries that began to develop in the 1920s had turned into military plants by the latter half of the 1930s. Prior to the atomic bombing, the entire harbour had taken on the military ambience of the Kure naval base.”

At the very beginning of the exhibit, the museum details the early history and development of Hiroshima, from its beginnings as a castle town during the Tokugawa period, through its rise as an industrial city in the Meiji era, and up until its status as a naval base at the time the bomb was dropped.

In this section, it is emphasised that Hiroshima was a large and important military base during the war, and much attention is paid to the atrocities Japan committed in south-east Asia and the influx of forced Korean and Chinese workers in the factories. Personally, I was surprised to see such candidness in a Japanese museum, as most of them either skip over such issues or ignore them altogether. According to Philip Seaton in ‘Japan’s Contested War Memories’; “From the museum’s point of view, these mentions of Japanese aggression do not delegitimize Hiroshima’s peace message. They demonstrate that Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum has recognised the need for Japanese aggression to be acknowledged for the Hiroshima narrative to maintain its global currency.”

I was pleased to see a Japanese museum acknowledge Japan’s less savoury actions in the context of the museum’s message of a ‘need for peace’, as it shows that those in charge of the museum understand that peace cannot be achieved until all sides admit their wrongdoing.

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